People sometimes ask me, “How can you listen to people’s problems all day long? That sounds like it would be really depressing.” I guess if I looked at it that way, it would be kind of a downer! But thankfully, I don’t see what I do that way at all. (A psychologist or psychotherapists job is far more complex than just listening, many sympathetic people can do that!)
I don’t see what I do as listening to people’s problems, I see it as listening for the solutions (and then the fun and rewarding part: helping people to find a solution or a different way of seeing and doing things).
The listening part of my job is a very complex task. I am listening to “the problem,” I am looking for connections, patterns and threads. I am listening for the roots of the problem. I am listening for negative beliefs and maladaptive meanings that support the problems, and I am thinking of possible solutions. Phew. No wonder my brain is tired by the end of a full day!
I recently watched a TED talk called, “How to inspire anyone to do anything”. I found it very inspiring indeed! Simon Sinek’s point is that people are inspired to act by why we do what we do, not by what we do. I think that is exactly why I find my job inspiring and rewarding, not depressing. It is not the listening part (part of what I do), it’s why I do it, that inspires me, keeps me doing it, and hopefully is giving my patients what they need to improve their lives.
No one’s life is perfect. We all have things that have happened to us that color the way we see things or that get in the way of our living to our potential. I do what I do because I find it very rewarding to help people identify the source of the things that are getting in their way, so they can live a more full, productive, healthy and happy life. I enjoy helping couples to deepen and improve their relationships, and their communication so they can continue the hard work of being in a relationship.
Sometimes people think having to get therapy is bit of a punishment or a sign of weakness. I think it is an amazing opportunity and a sign of strength. Successful therapy requires at least two active and engaged people (the therapist and the person or people seeking therapy). The transformation and meaningful change that ultimately results from”listening to people’s problems,” is why I do what I do!
Obviously upsetting experiences come up a lot in my work.
Sometimes people worry that their trauma is not big enough to need treatment, that the incident is silly or insignificant and that they should just get over it on their own.
I have found that the need for treatment sometimes depends less on the severity of the trauma and more on the meaning that is attached to it. Sometimes the meaning is initially negative and then as people process the upsetting event over time, they begin to find a more adaptive meaning. Treatment seems to be needed when for whatever reason, the meaning remains maladaptive.
This may explain in part, why some people are more traumatized by the same event than others, why some seemingly benign events upset us more than other more objectively traumatic events, and how people who grew up in the same families can have very different views of what the experience was like.
It is not a surprise then, that an effective way to lessen the impact of an upsetting or traumatic experience, is to explore and ultimately redefine its meaning.
Let’s take a relatively benign example. Let’s say as a young child, you put a lot of effort into making a painting for one of your parents. When it was finally done, you took it to your mother and showed it to her, expecting great admiration and praise. Unfortunately at that moment, your mother was busy on the phone. She wasn’t able to give you the attention that you needed. If you then thought to yourself, “Hmmm, I must not be important” then the event will likely be upsetting and continue to disturb you and you may end up carrying it with you for a long time, allowing other subsequent experiences to reinforce it. You may begin feeling like you are not important in general. When you feel this way, you notice more experiences that confirm that belief and the belief that you are not important continues to strengthen. Although the original event was not hugely traumatic, you can see how the meaning associated with this event can turn it into the beginning of a life long obstacle to your happiness.
If instead you had attributed a different meaning to your mother’s unavailability (“she would pay attention to me if she could because I am important, but something else important is taking her attention right now, and it has no relevance to my importance”) the experience would not be upsetting or leave a traumatic imprint on your life.
Accidents remind us of our vulnerability and of the fragility of life. If we hold onto the idea that we are vulnerable, we tend to become more and more fearful. Some bad experiences seem to say to us, that we are unlucky. If we hold onto this meaning we will find many experiences to confirm that we are unlucky. If instead we say to ourselves we just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time today and we are no more vulnerable or unlucky than we were before or than the next person, then we can more easily move on from the experience.
When people treat us badly, we sometimes look for something we can control to explain it…we blame ourselves (I did something to deserve that). In other words, sometimes we are embarrassed because of the meaning we attach to the embarrassing event (e.g. “I am an idiot, people must think I am stupid”). If someone behaves badly towards us in public and we are embarrassed, we may be embarrassed because we think people will judge us. If we hold onto these meanings it begins to affect our outlooks, the decisions we make and we may begin to feel stuck.
So it is useful to explore and redefine the meanings associated with the upsetting things that happen to us, and continue to get in the way of our living our lives as we wish to.
The next time something upsetting happens to you, think about what meaning you might have attached to it, and see if you can find a more adaptive meaning. The sooner you can do this, the faster you will heal.
Here is a link to another brief, but helpful little article to help demystify therapy: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/01/stigma-of-therapy_n_7180798.html?ncid=newsltushpmg00000003
Many people seek out therapy or counseling when they are feeling stuck.
Obviously, if they felt like they could fix it on their own, they would not be in my office. But it is often helpful to gain an outside perspective when trying to overcome this type of challenge.
People often feel stuck when despite having figured out why they do something (for example repeat a negative pattern over and over again like choosing an inappropriate partner, or rekindling a relationship they know is not healthy or choosing to be in relationships with people they can rescue or take care of etc) they still can’t seem to stop doing it. They will say, “I know why I keep doing this, and I know that I shouldn’t, but I can’t help it, I still feel this way and then it happens again and again.”
Understanding what needs to change, but feeling unable to make the necessary changes can be frustrating and disappointing. By working with a psychologist, counselor or therapist like myself, people can often identify and address the barriers to change so that they can leave the negative behaviors behind.
Some of the main ingredients of change are insight (or new information), motivation and time (see my blog post “Making Changes, the Ingredients of Change“).
One reason negative behavior is repeated, often lies in an upsetting experience from the past. It is usually necessary to understand how this past event affects our current behavior as a first step (see my blog post “Getting to the Root of the Problem”). This is the insight or new information—the connection we make between our current behavior and an experience from the past that is driving it.
The logical part of our brains can figure out what we are doing wrong, but sometimes the emotional part just won’t listen to reason and allow us to make the necessary changes.
When this happens it is sometimes necessary to help the emotional side of the brain communicate better with the logical side of the brain, so that the emotional part of our brain and the logical part of our brain can be on the same page (or work together towards the same goal, versus being at cross purposes).
One way to do this is through the use of a technique called EMDR, which stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (Click here for more information about EMDR).
Through insight oriented therapy, talk therapy, and/or cognitive therapy (sometimes including the use of EMDR as a tool in counseling) people can gain the insight to help facilitate making the changes they need to to become unstuck.
If you are stuck and looking for a Scottsdale psychologist or counseling in Scottsdale, I would be happy to help you become unstuck. Feel free to Contact me Today to Set up an Appointment.