The power of persuasion

Most counsellors would agree that when they see many clients for the first time they quickly see what they would benefit from. They can see the change that would greatly improve their lives and make them happier. Seeing problems and their solutions in others is not particularly difficult. All of us can spot what we can’t so easily see in ourselves. 

At the time of writing this, we are in “Big Brother” season on TV. Here is a good example of a group of people very forcefully and sometimes accurately pointing out each other’s faults but all together failing to see or accept their own. Simply being told is not enough to persuade us, even when need the change would be clearly to our benefit.

Can we really be changed by persuasion?

The professional persuaders, that is the advertisement industry has years of experience and skill in trying to get us to buy products and services. This is a much more modest goal than the one we have as psychotherapists and counsellors.

Advertising must work otherwise millions of pounds would not be spent every day across the whole range of the media. But there is a saying in the industry that half of that money spent is wasted, the problem is no one knows which half. 

It is possible to seduce, tantalise, manipulate, bully or even bribe someone into doing what we feel is good for them. It has been observed that some counsellers have misguidedly tried this on their clients, hoping that they could persuade them to do what they see to be the best thing for them.

We can be persuaded to try a new product or make resolutions to change our behaviour trying to give up our addictions and bad habits and replace them with healthier, happier alternatives. But is this the best way to make real change?  

Motivational speakers have the power to persuade us, we can quickly become enthusiastic about making some very sensible changes. But often that motivation fades before we have gone to bed. There is an exciting rush of emotion when we allow ourselves to be persuaded to become better people or overcome our emotional problems. We enjoy the potential of change; catching a glimpse of how much better we would feel, but then never actually making a change.

The limited power of persuasion

Persuasion provides a spark of motivation but if there is nothing for it to ignite it disappears as quickly as it appeared. That sensation can leave us feeling flat and even depressed. Giving us a sense of failure, which will reduce our confidence and self-esteem because we where not able to do what we felt was right.

Even if it is clearly to our advantage persuasion has very limited success in creating long term change.  Clients in counselling can go through this cycle of persuasion, motivation and then in-action each time reducing their ability to make lasting change, as it reduces the faith they have in themselves to achieve.

Making a lasting change in our behaviour to become happier and more fulfilled is a process that takes time, thought and effort. It is just like losing weight or getting fit, it’s repeating an action over time to get a result that is often slow in coming.

There is no quick replacement for consistent action over time.

This requires an emotional resilience to overcome the emotional pain and stress that comes from giving up old, destructive behaviours before we gain the benefit of better habits. Only after clearing this stumbling block do we start to feel the full benefit of positive change.

It is not uncommon to hear stories of how people have had a moment in their lives when they have turned a corner in their behavior. Like the alcoholic who refuses their last drink or the gambler who walks out of the betting shop for the last time.

But this kind of event is often misunderstood; they are not sudden moments of persuasive power. Rather they are the culmination of months and years of struggling to change. They descried the moment when the person is finally ready, the moment the scales have tipped towards a better way of living and realisation that the old behaviours come at too greater a cost.

All the habits and behaviours we acquire over a lifetime are there for a reason, they all have some kind of hook or power over us. They provide us with a satisfaction or comfort, even if it is very fleeting and comes with at a high emotional cost and painful side effects. If this were not the case why would we keep these painful habits?

We have to take the time to disconnect ourselves from the power of our bad and destructive habits.

The persuasive powers that have a lasting and significant impact on our lives are the ones we generate from within ourselves. When we find a conviction to change and overcome doubt and feel we deserve better, then we have reached a starting point for lasting change.

People need help to come to the undeniable knowledge of the need to change their lives for the better, to feel value and worth in themselves and feel they deserve to be happy. Then they have come to an insight and are convinced rather than having been persuaded. Then its the power of motivation that comes from within us rather than from outside of ourselves. We then feel more self-esteem as we make positive changes for ourselves rather than having been persuaded by others.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Darlington, Durham, DL2
Written by Kim Hamilton, Psychoanalytical psychotherapist AGIP UKCP CPJA
Darlington, Durham, DL2

Kim Hamilton trained as a Psychoanalyst at the Association for Group and Individual Psychotherapy in London. He has been in private practice since 1986 and worked with both individuals and couples. He also provides training in psychology and counselling to companies and industry.

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