A life motto of mine is “The only thing that won’t change is that change will occur.” This can either be change in one’s external circumstances, or it can be internal. Nothing in life stays the same.
The therapeutic counseling setting provides a place for change and growth in people’s personal lives and relationships. After all, that is what most people seeking counseling desire. Something in their realm of life is not going well. Usually the person knows this, but they feel stuck. They hope that some counseling will get them unstuck.
So, after sharing with the counselor the details of their particular “stuckness,” the new client looks to the counselor for tools that will create change. But change is hard. If it were easy, they wouldn’t necessarily be seeking help in the first place. To achieve and maintain desired change, we all move through some predictable stages.
Common stages of change include:
1. Pre-contemplation – “What problem? This is fine.” [picture the dog in the burning house meme]
2. Contemplation – “Ugh. I should probably do something different… …sometime.“ This is thinking about the change but not willing to do something about it.
3. Preparation – “This cannot continue. Where is that therapist’s email address that Sunnie gave me?” This is considering doing something about it. At this stage is when a client reaches out to a therapist and schedules an appointment.
4. Action – This is where personal behavioral change begins. In the therapeutic setting, thoughts, feelings, and behavior are discussed, identified, and a plan for change and the tools to practice the change are taught.
5. Maintenance – (Did I mention that change is hard?) If we don’t practice, the change won’t stick and then we’ll be… …stuck, again. Maintenance is the ongoing practice of the tools to prevent relapsing to the previous state of stuckness.
To progress through these stages, the desire for change must outweigh the difficulty in overcoming the obstacles that one will be confronted with. However, it isn’t a pass or fail exercise. When a client works on the change, sometimes in little chunks, there is the opportunity for personal learning and growth. This is what we refer to as empowerment.
And that is the desire of the therapist in the counseling relationship. The therapist can’t make the change for the client but can join in the work and empower the client to embrace the change one step at time, practicing new skills, developing new habits, with the hope of the client feeling “unstuck.”
So stick with it, even when it gets hard. The Hard is worth it.
Terri O’Banon LMSW strives to empower clients at all of our CCD locations. She thinks there is no better feeling than watching a client become unstuck!