Lately I’ve started to watch a new show that has both intrigued me while simultaneously horrifying me. Usually I try to watch light hearted tv shows because my empath sense is very strong and I work in a helping field. The show that I’ve been watching is called Handmaids and it’s on Hulu. One thing I will say is that it’s definitely not a comedy but if you want a thought provoking and extreme view of what might be the future then it’s a must see. But that’s not what this post is about. One of the main characters said, “you like because, you love despite.” And honestly that’s the truth. I work with couples who have lost so much of their original passion and excitement for each other because things have become so mundane. They’ve taken each other for granted and it has taken a terrible toll on the relationship. The emotional connection is very strained or sometimes nonexistent. I think many times people think that therapy fixes everything but it doesn’t. The truth is that therapy can give you the tools that you need to be successful in your relationship. It takes a lot of effort and intentionality to change the trajectory of a relationship but it definitely can be done if both people want it and are willing to work on it. One person cannot sustainably carry the whole relationship on their back. It can happen for a while but there are always consequences. One thing I really enjoy doing with the couples I work with is doing exercises that help them remember why they fell in like with each other and what made them love the other person. It’s always eye opening and helps to start the process of reconnecting with each other.
Not too long ago I ran across this intriguing article . You can read it for yourself here. Maybe it’s my background in therapy and couples counseling that made this article really grab my attention. The basic premise of this article is that the person you marry can determine whether or not you’re successful in life. I’ve seen this happen firsthand in my work with couples. You have the ambitious partner and then the one who wants their partner to spend more time with them. While they deserve to have the attention of their partner, they totally miss the concept of how to make their needs known without nagging or appearing needy. Meanwhile the ambitious partner doesn’t understand why this is an issue. They are working hard for the benefit of the family and in many cases also happen to be the partner who is either the primary breadwinner or the one who makes substantially more than their partner. There is a breakdown in communication because of the priorities of both partners and the lack of understanding on both sides. The article discusses a study done that showed that people who have conscientious partners tend to be happier, make more money, and are more satisfied in their careers. Makes sense to me. The key to all this is getting conscientious partner and more importantly, BEING a conscientious partner. This is something that a lot of people fail to think about when deciding to have a future with someone. There’s not usually a conversation between partners regarding expectations of the relationship and what each person prefers in terms of support. Two can definitely better than one but not when they aren’t on the same page.
One thing that I really like about therapy is that you have the opportunity to hold the hope in the room. What I mean by that is that I have the opportunity to be a source of hope for a couple or family that has lost theirs. Hopes and dreams are very related to each in that both are intangible. They both deal with the future and looking away from the current situation. Being a dream or hope holder means that you can be optimistic for the person in a hard situation. I’ve noticed both with myself and with other colleagues that sometimes it’s easier holding someone else’s hope as opposed to getting or keeping your own. How many of us kill our hopes and dreams for a myriad of reasons? Instead of not tending to them and letting then die on their own accord, we aggressively mentally hack our hopes and dreams to pieces. It’s almost as if we don’t want to give ourselves the option of succeeding. Yet there’s something in us that wants to hope against hope. However we ignore this and continue to sabotage our hopes and dreams. The problem with doing is that sometimes there is a reason we have certain hopes and dreams. Killing them uses up energy that could be put to better use. Humans are adaptable and resilient and deep down inside most people want to know that they matter in some way and that their dreams are reachable. Maybe making the decision to not sabotage your hopes and dreams because of outside factors is the beginning of something big.
Recently I had the opportunity to present on a counseling theory as it pertains to couples therapy to a class of graduate students at my alma mater. One thing that was helpful in the presentation was that I had actual experience using the theory in my work with couples. Narrative therapy is definitely something that I had the chance to use a lot when working with families, couples and individuals. As a naturally nosy person, narrative therapy is right up my alley because it gives clients a chance to tell their own story. As the therapy progresses the therapist starts prompting the clients to express the problem in their own words as the problem. Very helpful in identifying root causes and challenging current paradigms. I say all that to say that it’s nice to be able to talk about a topic that you have at least a basic knowledge of. Coaching a role play as the students played therapists and acted out the theory was also really fun. Maybe I like the feeling of interrupting and inserting some bit of wisdom but it’s always interesting to experience how a theory can change the entire dynamic of the therapy room and present an opportunity for growth on the part of the clients. I’ve had some great teachers during my educational experience and I’ve learned a lot of valuable information that has informed the way that I interact with clients and has made me much more strategic. I say all this to say that this little dose of teaching was a success and teaching a class is something that I’ve added to my list of things to do just for fun (and professional experience of course).
Most of us have heard at one point or another is the fact that you can’t change people. Millions of hearts have been unnecessarily broken because their owners did not believe this fact. While I absolutely believe that this is true, I think that there may be some exceptions. The fact of the matter is that people can change each other. The point is that you can’t change someone by trying to do that. It makes absolutely no sense being in a relationship with someone because you think one day they’ll see the light and change for the better. The truth of the matter is that sometimes it’s easy to underestimate the impact that people have on each other. Social psychology teaches that a person is shaped and developed by his or her social interactions with others. We have an impact of people–whether we like it or not. The chain effect of human interaction and friendship is often underestimated. Try to change someone and you’ll fail. Present someone with the opportunity to change in a way that makes them feel as if they aren’t changing–merely evolving, and drop some very subtle motivational hints. Insert some positive reinforcement and you have a much better change of getting them to change. While this example may be a little much (and manipulative), my point is that that there is a way to influence people to change in a way that makes them feel good about it. Winston Churchill said that tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell and have him look forward to the trip. But I digress. My point is that people need motivation to change and many times their relationships and interactions with others can serve as this motivation. People can change, they just need a reason.
This picture caught my eye because it’s definitely something that I’ve been learning to do. Growing up my mom used to always tell me that if you help someone without their permission they’ll turn around and persecute you. As an adult, I’ve experienced this firsthand. I’ve always been someone who has been willing to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to help someone. Recently I’ve learned the importance of being cautious as help people. One of the things that my therapist education has taught me is to rarely if ever give advice. Four words I will probably never use, or very rarely use “In my professional opinion.” The reason for this is because people will rarely tell you the full story. They’ll tell you a side that makes them look like the person that is being wronged when in reality, either they’re the culprit or they share the blame. I’ve learned that most people don’t want help. They just say that they do. Saying that you want to change and actually CHANGING are totally different things entirely. Good intentions don’t equal good actions. One of the problems with giving advice is that you rarely ever know the full story. If the person follows your advice and it turns out to be wrong, 9 times out of 10 they’ll blame you. I’ve gotten out of the “I’m a therapist so tell me all your problems” syndrome. I don’t counsel family or friends and I don’t say what I think unless it’s asked. And even then, I do it pretty sparingly. Most people don’t want counsel. They just want a listening an empathetic ear. I find it much easier to just let people know that I’m here if they need me and just leave it there.
One thing that never fails to annoy me is when people state emphatically that people in relationships or married people have no business going to or seeking counsel from people who aren’t married. Now on the surface this perspective appears to make a lot of sense. What business do you have going to someone who isn’t in a relationship themselves to get advice? What if you followed this advice and went to someone who was actually married and their advice wasn’t sound because they could only give counsel in the context of their current situation and could only say what they would do if they were you? One of the reasons that I think that this logic is flawed is that when you apply it to other situations it makes absolutely no sense. Do you refuse to be treated by a medical professional because he or she has never experienced your particular medical challenge? Would you refuse the aid of a lifeguard when you’re drowning because he or she has never been in your predicament before? Or better yet, would you ignore a policeman or a fireman when you’re in a dangerous situation because they haven’t been in your shoes? Absolutely not. The reason why we are willing to trust these people and take their suggestions, directions, and counsel so seriously is because we believe that they have skills we don’t possess and we trust in the quality of their training. The same concept applies to therapists. If someone took the time to get the necessary education and gain the right skills, their current relationship status is irrelevant. A lot of people don’t realize the work that goes into becoming licensed to provide therapy. In addition to a master’s degree, you have to work in the field for 2 years or more after graduation and complete at least 3000 or more work hours depending on your state. I say all this to say that you should trust the training a therapist has instead of writing him or her off because they aren’t just like you. That’s stupid.