Many clients who come into my office for help with relationship problems or individual issues are seeking a change of some sort, in themselves or in their situation, and they need the change to occur right now. It is not unusual for someone to come in and expect that one session of counseling, i.e. a conversation that will last about 45 minutes, will be sufficient to solve a serious problem, identify the change that is needed and make it happen right there and then. It is also not unusual for some clients to quit counseling after one or two sessions, because, in their perception, there is no change happening or no immediate resolution.
There are some inescapable, well-documented truths about the process of change. Here are six of them that are worth keeping in mind:
1. Change, of the psychological kind, is a process and not a sudden event. Old habits, bad habits, ingrained patterns, repetitive or automatic behaviors, unconscious beliefs or attitudes are notoriously resistant to change. Even with the best intentions and the best help, it takes time for psychological change to occur–certainly more time than one or two hours of counseling.
2. Change becomes necessary after a dysfunctional pattern that is causing distress and loss of functioning has set it for some time, often for many years and in certain cases since childhood. The dysfunction can be very entrenched: it stands to reason that changing it will require more than good intentions or a brief, superficial effort.
3. We are not always ready for change, even when we think we are, and especially not when someone else says that we are. I see clients who come in at the urging of a significant other, a parent or a friend, who by themselves are not yet motivated to identify the changes that are necessary and, more importantly, are not yet motivated to invest the time and effort that is necessary for the process of change to occur.
4. It takes an average of six to eight weeks to begin to see behavioral changes (i.e. for the individual to begin to act differently) from the time the psychological mofification of underlying beliefs and attitudes is well understood and accepted. This is independent of an individual’s motivation and intention, although when these are positive they facilitate change without necessarily speed it up.
5. All meaningful change has a cost associated with it. Included in the total cost is an investment of time, personal effort, and money. This cost may be seen by some as painful and somehow avoidable, however there is ample evidence in repeated, short-lived, and failed efforts to back up the old adage, “no pain, no gain.”
6. To be worth the cost, a change must be permanent. To be permanent, change must reach deep into the individual’s mind and emotions. To reach deep enough, time and efforts are required. To use the time well and make the effort count, hiring a good, experienced guide is very often necessary.
In a nutshell, to expect something worthwhile to change for a zero investment is a losing proposition. To initiate and sustain change and to be willing to pay the price for it, that’s the stuff winners thrive on.