Sunday, December 4, 2011

Quick Fixes

If there is one thing I've learned about personal change it is this: there are NO quick fixes.  In fact, I think this is a principal that extends beyond personal change, to just about every aspect of life.  There are very few things in life that can be achieved without focused intention and extended effort.  In my opinion, the very belief in a quick fix (or "gain without pain") can lead to a lot of unnecessary suffering.

A lot of my patients enter therapy expecting me to perform some kind of "procedure" that will fix their problems within a few sessions.  These are the patients who tend to eventually leave therapy prematurely, often feeling disappointed.  I admit that sometimes this makes me feel really inadequate.  Maybe there are times that I expect myself to perform some sort of "procedure" to alleviate a patient's suffering.  When a patient looks at me in obvious desperation and says, "I'm still so depressed," it's difficult for me not to want to take responsibility for "fixing" it.

But therapy is simply not that way.  Going to therapy is not like going to a medical doctor.  A psychotherapist is not going to "run some tests" and then perform some kind of surgery.  Psychotherapy is more like going to a general practitioner for help managing Type II diabetes.  The doctor will probably give you some medication (just as a therapist might send you to a psychiatrist for medication).  The doctor will then tell you that you can control or even "cure" your diabetes by changing your diet and exercising regularly.  If, after leaving the doctor's office, you don't try to eat healthy and exercise you can hardly blame the doctor when you still have Type II diabetes a year later.

In other words, the most important factor in change is what the patient does outside of session.  In session, I give feedback and point out patterns the patient might not have noticed.  If the patient internalizes the information and uses it to identify and interrupt negative patterns in his day to day life then he is likely to improve.  If the patient decides the information is not important then he will not think about it again after leaving my office.  In session, I might share techniques and strategies that I think could be helpful to the patient.  If the patient goes home and attempts some of these strategies we can discuss it when she comes back to her next session.  We can identify obstacles to successful implementation and make alterations as needed.  On the other hand, if the patient decides that the techniques "won't help," she will not think about them again after leaving my office.

There are a lot of other arenas in which the "quick fix" attitude seem to be prominent (and frequently problematic).  The two that most readily come to mind for me are accumulating monetary wealth and weight loss.  Think about all the billions of dollars that are made on "get rich quick" schemes and weight loss pills and fad diets.  These products all play on people's desire for a simple, no hassle solution.  Unfortunately, most of these products do not produce the results they promise, leaving their users feeling disappointed and defeated.

The fact is, in life there really aren't any "quick fixes."  The surest way to accumulate monetary wealth is to save as much as possible and to invest wisely.  The surest way to lose weight is to eat healthy and exercise regularly.  As for change, I can't say what the "surest" method of personal growth is; I can, however, say with certainty that it almost always requires a long term commitment.

2 comments:

  1. I had some anger issues from growing up with an alcoholic, depressive father....that I learned from him. It has taken me 10 years of meditation, of which the last four years were almost all include daily meditation. I'm still not "fixed," but now can finally see the way to a new understanding how to deal with getting things you don't like or not getting things you do like... without forcing it.

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  2. So you've seen for yourself that change (and growth) is a process that occurs over time! Your commitment is admirable and an inspiration.

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