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How You Can Make Lasting Changes

How You Can Make Lasting Changes

Submitted by: Robert Burkham, Ph.D.

Much of therapy focuses on the worthy goal of getting your symptoms under control. If you are depressed, it’s important to feel better about yourself, more hopeful about the future, and be able to eat and sleep normally. If you have anxiety problems, it is important to reduce and manage your fears. If you have marital difficulties, it may be important to reduce the level of tension between you and your spouse. However, this reduction in symptoms is often only the first step in making changes that last.

If you are like most therapy clients, making changes that last means working on becoming more mature as a person. So what does it mean to become more mature? As I see it, becoming more mature is a life-long process involving two closely intertwined projects:

1. Learning to accept, understand, and be at peace with your true self. You may need to learn to accept and value yourself more if you tend to see yourself too critically. You may need to clarifying what your talents are and figure out how to use them more fully. You may need to clarify what you value in life and what you want to live for and then shape your life accordingly. You may need to listen to yourself more respectfully and think more carefully about who you are and what you stand for.

2. Learning to accept those closest to you and learning to be yourself with them. This usually means being respectfully assertive about who you are and what you stand for even though the others may feel hurt or strongly disagree. It also means giving up on trying to change others to live and think the way you think they should.

These two projects intertwine because the clearer you are about who you are and what you want, the clearer you can be with your family members. Also, the more you focus on getting yourself straightened out, the less energy you will expend on straightening others out.

This is a good place to put in an important note about changing others. Therapists get a great deal of business because people are working very hard at changing others but not very hard at changing themselves. Here’s how this works: one person tries very hard to pressure another to change and that second person resists and they don’t change.

The first person continues to work very hard to get the other to change but has no success. That first person ends up frustrated, stressed, symptomatic and comes to a therapist, complaining that the other person is impossible to deal with. Much of my work in therapy involves helping partners, parents, and adult children work less on changing their partners, children, and parents and more on changing themselves. Changing others is an impossible task; changing yourself is difficult but at least it’s possible!

Ok, back to maturity. To the extent that you become more mature, you will experience some great rewards:

1. A reduction in your psychological symptoms

2. More inner peace, less stress, and less anger

3. A renewed sense of accomplishment and clarity abut your purpose in life

4. Increased closeness with those you value, increased tolerance for those you don’t

5. A stronger “psychological immune system” that can help you deal with future difficulties without getting back to your psychological symptoms

In other words, by becoming more mature, you will make changes that last.

About the Author: The Therapy Triangle Robert Burkham, Ph.D. http://www.therapytriangle.com

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