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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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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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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keys to habits

One of the prime directives of our unconscious mind is to maintain our habits. An article in the New Scientist in 2018 suggests that ‘As much as 40 per cent of our daily behaviour is habitual’. No wonder changing habits is so difficult.

I highly recommend the excellent book ‘The Power of Habit’ by Charles Durigg. One of his fascinating stories tells of Eugene Pauly, a man who suffered severe brain damage, but was still able to function incredibly well, largely due to the fact that the part of his brain that dealt with habits and routine, was relatively unharmed.

When we talk about habits we are generally thinking of ‘bad’ habits such as smoking, drinking or biting our nails. Or we may be thinking about the ‘good’ habits that include things like regular exercise or eating healthily.

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your unconscious mind brain with words based on the unconscious and what it does

When you hear professionals, such as hypnotherapists and Neurolingistic Programming (NLP) experts talk about your unconscious mind, you can be forgiven for glazing over a little. What exactly is the unconscious mind? What’s the difference between that and the subconscious? What does it do and why does it do it?

Therapists and the like may naturally put great emphasis on the importance of understanding why we do things and understanding our unconscious. For many though, the bigger question could be ‘what is the point of an unconscious mind in the first place? If it creates so many problems for us, through creating phobias, anxiety, OCD and so forth, wouldn’t we be better off without it?’

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In my mind, there are three times of year when the time always feels particularly ripe for new beginnings.

If I ask any person, when they most start thinking about changing their lives or developing new habits, they’re bound to say ‘New Year’: Well yes, of course – resolutions. It’s become a bit of a cliche but just knowing it’s the first day of the year suggests the possibility of change.

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change your life (choose not to catch the ball)

I have been a therapist and coach for over 6 years at the time of writing this. I have lost count of the number of people I have helped over that time. Even so, I still get excited when a new client enters my office for the first time. As you can imagine, when you want to change your life, I am curious to know what challenges you are facing. I look forward to exploring clients, the aspects of your lives that you want to change. I love to learn what you hope to achieve.

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meandering path to improving your mood

How can you improve your mood? How do you feel today? Do you feel motivated? Driven? Excited? Glad to be alive? Or do you feel apathetic, bored, lazy or just plain down?

As a Life Coach and NLP expert, part of my job is to help people feel better. This might be a short term boost to motivation or positivity, or it might be a long term plan to improve your mood by changing your life.

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frog with low self-esteem offering flowers to princess

Low self-esteem is a constant theme that runs through much of my client work. By no means to do all potential clients come to me asking for help in raising self-esteem of course, but it often comes up as an issue.

One person comes to me about his relationship challenges and through exploration we come to the conclusion that his partner is not able to respect him because he does not adequately respect himself.

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