NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Making Changes: Are You Creating Obstacles For Yourself in Therapy Without Even Realizing It?

In a prior article,  Reconceptualizing the Concept of the "Help Rejecting Client" , I discussed that, as a psychotherapist, I don't find the concept of the "help rejecting client" to be especially useful in trying to work with clients who might be, unconsciously, creating obstacles in their therapy to making changes.

Making Changes: Are You Creating Obstacles For Yourself in Therapy Without Even Realizing It?

The focus of that article was the term, "help rejecting client," how it's counterproductive to therapy, and that, most of the time, the onus is on the therapist to find creative ways of working rather than blaming the client.

In this article, I'll focus on the same issue, which is common in therapy, to encourage clients, who might be engaging in creating obstacles in therapy, to become more aware of what they might be doing unconsciously that gets in their way of making the positive changes that they want in their lives.

No One Likes to Think of Himself or Herself as "Creating Obstacles" in Therapy
Let's begin by saying that no one likes to think of herself or himself as "creating obstacles" in therapy.

When a client is unconsciously engaging in this dynamic, the therapist needs to broach this issue with the utmost tact and compassion, otherwise it can engender a lot of shame in a client.

Since many clients come to therapy with a long history of being shamed in childhood, the last thing that therapists want to do is engender more shame in therapy.

Since my purpose in writing this article is to help clients, who are often frustrated when they discover that they are unwittingly getting in their own way, I also want to avoid engendering shame.

So, let's try to understand this phenomenon with compassion and understanding.

Why Would Anyone Create Obstacles to the Changes That He or She Wants?
Why would clients, who come to therapy because they want to make changes, create obstacles to the very changes they say they want to make?

After all, coming to therapy involves time, money, and effort.  And, while therapy usually provides a supportive and empathic environment as well an opportunity for self exploration, which can be tremendously gratifying to many people, it's not always "fun" at times.

So, considering that coming to therapy is a major commitment, why would people, who say they want to make changes, get in their own way of making these changes?

Most People Have Some Unconscious Ambivalence About Changes They Want to Make
It's important to understand that, no matter how much people want to change, most people have some degree of unconscious ambivalence about the changes they say they want to make (see my article: Making Changes: Overcoming Ambivalence).

Most of us tend to like to think of ourselves as being integrated beings psychologically.  But, in fact, psychologically speaking, we're really made up of many different aspects within ourselves.

These psychological aspects can be in conflict with each other without a person even realizing it.

Ambivalence About Change

Clients' Ambivalence is Common in Therapy
As a result, I discovered early on in my career as a psychotherapist that it helps to address this unconscious ambivalence during the early stage of therapy to help normalize this phenomenon for clients.

It's helpful for clients to know, in general, about this concept of ambivalence in therapy before they might recognize their own particular ambivalence.

Of course, it's usually easier to see someone else's ambivalence before seeing your own.  So when I'm talking to clients about how it's common to have mixed feelings about making changes, even for deeply desired changes, some clients say, "I've heard about this.  My friend went through that when she started therapy."

But, while this client can see that her friend has this problem, she might not see her own ambivalence at this stage in therapy.

So, beyond just addressing the idea of ambivalence in therapy, as a therapist, I find it's useful to reach for it and, when the time is right for a particular client, to explore his or her ambivalence in a way that gets a client to become curious about his or her psychological process, as opposed to feeling ashamed about it.

Feeling ashamed about it only makes the issue worse and can be retraumatizing, especially for clients who come to therapy with a history of trauma.

Getting Help in Therapy
While many people have no awareness of how their ambivalence might be creating problems in their lives, many others do see it and want to change this dynamic for themselves.

If you recognize this dynamic within yourself and you want to change it, you could benefit from working with a therapist who is skilled in helping clients to overcome this problem.

By addressing this issue in the initial consultation with a therapist, you can often sense how the therapist might deal with it and whether or not this therapist is a good match for you.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients, who were, initially, creating obstacles for themselves in therapy, to learn to overcome this dynamic so they could lead more fulfilling lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.