Stay at It When Things Are Going Well
Many of us are trying to change in some way or another. Perhaps we are trying to lose some weight, or become fitter, or to drink less. Many of us experience success at doing this, and when we start to feel the success we can feel really good about ourselves and really motivated to do more. However, that success can be exactly the time where things can fall off the rails a bit. It's almost like we take too much of our success for granted. The same thing happens in therapy – we find it hard to stay at it.
We begin at our worst
When we begin the process of therapy, things are often pretty tough for us. If things were going well, most people wouldn't bother with trying to change. So, for most people starting therapy means things are tough; relationships can be hurtful or full of conflict, we can have addictions which are out of control or we might feel that we have something big from our past that we need to sort out. Things can look pretty bleak and it can often take this bleakness to actually motivate us towards change.
So we start therapy
Even though it can be hard to start the process, once you get into it, people find it has its appeal. We can start to enjoy the process of having a place where we can talk about what's going on for us without judgement from the other person. We can experiencel freedom of letting go some of the things that we held onto for a long time. Further, we start to enjoy the interactions that we have with the therapist as well. A good therapist can make us feel confident, capable and understood in a way that we may be quite unfamiliar with.
“I feel good now – see ya!”
It's right about at that point that many people think that they are feeling so good that the need for therapy isn't there any more. They start to wonder about cutting back on therapy or giving it up altogether. On one level it makes sense; the bad times are behind us so why not cut ourselves a slack, save some money and call it done? And many people do that, and for some people it means that they hang on to the gains and don't go back to how things were.
We need reinforcement
However, a more common trajectory for people is that they need to keep experiencing the successes for a while for them to become entrenched and part of their everyday way of being. There is also another thing happening; many therapists call it the ‘honeymoon effect'. This is where we make the mistake of thinking that starting to feel good is the same thing as having our problems solved.
It's important for us to realise that these are quite different things. We can start to feel better, and our problems might be nowhere near being solved; it's just that we start to feel that more optimistic about the possibility that they might be solved.
Stay at it a little longer
If you're in therapy and are starting to feel good, my suggestion would be – hang in there a bit longer, and stay at it. See how things are after a few more weeks. Then, if things are still going well, by all means it might be time to exit therapy. However, if things start to look a bit shaky again, take this as an indication; the first flush of optimism that you felt was just the start of an ongoing process. To make permanent gains you need to keep at the process of change.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
– Tim Hill