ball of string representing how long will it take

One of the questions I get asked in the early stages of working with clients, is ‘How long will it take to get better?’ When you are suffering from anxiety and depression, coping with a phobia or dealing with stressful situations, you want to get better as quickly as possible.

The traditional view of psychiatry is that you go and see your ‘shrink’ every Tuesday afternoon over a period of 2, maybe 3 years. You lie on her coach and tell her everything. How your mother didn’t love you. You father dropped you on the head when you were 6. All the traumatic experiences you endured, and of course every sexual encounter you have ever had. Through this the therapist has you come to some realisation that immediately makes you see the world differently. However once you often have that realisation you still need to work with it and come to terms with it.

Two or three years is a long time to be in pain, or confusion, or under stress. During this time, life goes on. You still have to go to work. There are children to care for. You have a relationship to maintain.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could just change instantly?

Sometimes it happens like that naturally. No therapists, no interventions, no couch. You wake up one day and you think ‘right, that’s enough of that’ and you become a different person. Sometimes there is a flash of realisation – a St. Paul on the way to Damascus moment. Other times it is really hard to know what made the difference. A small change of habit can be very powerful too: daily meditation; breathing exercises, taking up running; even getting up an hour earlier..

If some people can change overnight, why does it take years for others?

One possible reason is your ‘expectations’. You expect it to take a long time, so it does. There are several different ‘reasons’ why we get the expectation that it will be a long process.

  1. You got told you would be in therapy years.
    The traditional view of therapy comes from films, books and the actual experiences of many people. Some people talk about their therapist like their bank manager or their accountant. It is a long-term relationship. It’s also just nice to have someone you can trust that you can talk to about anything.
  2. Your problem is far too big, significant or overwhelming to overcome it any quicker.
    Sometimes when we have some issue, particularly if we have been experiencing it for a long time, we assume that it will take a long time to overcome. Even when we look for a quick fix like hypnosis, or Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) we suspect on some level that it won’t work quickly for us because we are too far gone, or too bad.
  3. You don’t actually want to get better, even though you think you do.
    There is a factor in change work called ‘Secondary Gain’. Sometimes a behaviour or a way of dealing with things has a hidden benefit of which you are not aware. This is a part of my early questioning of new clients. I want to find out if there is a benefit to the behaviour that might hold a client back from changing too soon, or at all. If there is, then it helps to find other ways to fulfill that benefit.

How long do YOU think it will take?

Sometimes I like to turn the question around and ask the client, what their expectations are. ‘How long do YOU think it will take?

They may say a year, or six months. They rarely say a week or a month. Part of my job is to manage their expectations. I could say, ‘it will just take one short session’, and in some cases this can actually be true. It is a risk though, because then someone who needs a little more time, or has not revealed something on a deeper level, could go away disappointed and feeling that the therapy has failed when they just need more time.

In my experience, six sessions can be a bit of a magic number for many. It can be very effective to raise expectations this high. It is often a surprise that I think it can be this quick, but six sessions is long enough that the client can adjust to the idea of rapid change.

It is based on experience too, the vast majority of my clients do experience at least some level of improvement in this time, and for many it is enough for them to be significantly better. If there is more to do, or the client simply wants to peel back more of the layers of self-awareness, then we can go on working together. On the other hand, if they recover more quickly, it’s hardly something to complain about, is it?

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person looking forward to a holiday

This sounds like a Coronavirus question, doesn’t it! “After the pandemic, what are you looking foward to doing that you have been unable to do so far?” To some extent that is a valid question, and I would be delighted to hear your answers. However this virus could be around a long time. We don’t quite know what would be possible and what won’t.

I also think that thinking in this way can be unhelpful. Not being able to put a timeframe on thes things means we experience frustration and longing. We may start taking risks just so we can fulfill those needs sooner.

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Leadership skills are usually the domain of work awaydays, school insets and high-level training courses. If I were to suggest that someone needs to improve their leadership skills, many would shrug their shoulders unenthusiastically.

  • I don’t have, or want, a leadership position
  • I wouldn’t want the responsibility
  • I just want to do my job and walk away at the end of the day
  • I hate managers, I certainly wouldn’t want to be one
  • I have enough trouble with my own problems

In spite of this, leadership is the one skill that you exercise every day, whether you like it or not. We are all leaders, and leadership starts with ourselves. Self-leadership is the most important leadership skill.

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a box of white eggs with one 'different' red one

“Why am I different?” – It’s a question I get asked a lot by my clients about themselves. “‘I try to be like everyone else. I try to fit in. I wear the kind of clothes that other people my age wear. I join in with the conversations that go on and try to look like I am totally on their wavelength. I pretend to be interested in all the things they like to do, and I take part in the socials. I turn up for the charity events and I even turn a blind eye to the things that make me uncomfortable.

“I don’t agree with some of the things people say, and some of it is just so wrong, on so many levels. I daren’t say anything though, so I just smile politely. That makes me feel really bad inside. It just emphasises even more that I am different, and I don’t think people would like me if they knew what I am really like.”

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Anybody who uses Facebook will be familiar with the insidious way in which it manages your daily experience. Click on a picture of a dog, and you’ll get flooded with pictures of dogs. You’ll get doggy treat adverts, dog adoption groups and cute videos of dogs cooking paella. In fact you don’t even need to have clicked. Such is the subtlety of the Facebook ‘algorithm’.

You only have to slow down or stop scrolling on your device to inform the social media site that this is something you are interested in and you’ll get more of it. It is almost impossible not to do that if something catches your eye.

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coping with coronavirus and social distancing

I don’t know with certainty if you can have too much of a good thing, but it’s definitely true that you can have too much of a bad thing. This is, without doubt, the most testing of times. Coping with coronavirus is unlike coping with anything we have ever experienced before and it is a massive ‘reframe’.

A reframe is when something comes along – an experience, a therapy, a different way of looking at things, that causes you to suddenly completely change your way of living and being.

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self-isolation cronavirus

With self-isolation a key response to suspected coronavirus symptoms, many of us are making contingency plans. In the school playground today, I heard people discussing the practicalities of working at home. They discussed using their laptops and talked about holding meetings through video-conferences through Skype and Zoom. They welcomed the opportunity not to commute. Some even felt that their productivity might actually increase because of it.

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Past hurt, couple scowling

Past hurt is inevitable. It is almost impossible to go through life without conflict. There are always going to be people in our lives with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

Marriage break-ups cause more rifts than just those between spouses. Children are swept up in drama, families take sides and friends are forced into awkward situations.

Sometimes there are feuds over money issues, and some people can even bare a grudge for years over a misplaced word or a throwaway sentence.

In an ideal world, perhaps, we would confront these people in our lives. We might sit down and talk it out with them. There might be a row to clear the air. We could seek forgiveness or agree to put the past behind us. These are mature ways to deal with conflict that can and do work for many.

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love

Some of you may know that as part of my involvement in the Vinings Natural Health team, I help run a Holistic Book Club. The club explores a wide range of alternative non-fiction from personal beliefs to spiritual beliefs and everything in between.

With all the reading and studying I do personally, it can sometimes be a bit of a chore to read something prescribed by a book club, and when the chosen title this time was ‘Proof of Heaven: a Neurosurgeon’s Guide to the Afterlife’ by Eben Alexander, I’m afraid I baulked.

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january

I’m writing this on 16 January, 2020, so I guess it goes without saying. But life in January does seem to follow some specific themes. Although there are positives, many of these are quite disheartening.

I think if I asked most people in the UK if this is their favourite time of year, not many would punch the air and say yes.

One or two might punch me instead.

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