The Funny Business of Change and Psychotherapy: The Tipping of the Scale

I saw a middle-aged man recently exercising vigorously with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. He paused periodically to take deeper drags on his cigarette. There was a humorous side to this scene, but even more, it reminded me of the forces that hold us back in our efforts to change. Earlier this month, I wrote a post about the “walls” that can be impediments to the unfolding of the Self. Seeing the example of the exercising man smoking further illustrates this idea, and encouraged me to take this concept one step further in writing more generally about the process of change and the role of the psychotherapist in this process.

Of course I have no idea what motivated the man to smoke while exercising. We can assume, however, that a part of him wants to be in better shape, and perhaps he is working toward making changes into better health. We also know that smoking while exercising is holding him back from maximizing these changes. The difficult, and sometimes humorous, business of change is almost never linear. There are forces holding back even the most committed and motivated. As psychotherapists, among many other things, we are in a position to act as mediators between those unconscious forces that push and pull people into their future on their path of individuation, and those opposite forces that resist this forward movement. To paraphrase Carl Jung, he discussed the idea that you can either move forward in life willingly, or be dragged kicking and screaming.

A hard lesson for some to learn is that many people would rather die than change. A strong statement, I know, but an important one. The paradox is that by accepting this statement about change, it can make the change possible and perhaps easier. Beginning a growth and change process with this in mind can help both the client and the psychotherapist navigate the rocky road of change.

I found the above image on the web. For me, similar to the exercising man smoking, there is a humorous side to the image. But the image is a perfect metaphor for this article in two ways. First, the image summarizes the struggle and dilemma of the smoking jogger. Second, the image is a very fitting metaphor for the process of change and the hidden forces at work inherent in the process of psychotherapy. The lady pushing back up on the scale as the storekeeper is pushing down, perfectly reflects these hidden and opposing forces found within the change and psychotherapy process. Becoming conscious of these forces is an essential task for both the client and the psychotherapist in their work together during the course of psychotherapy and in dealing with the accompanying changes inherent and tasked to both the client and therapist. Furthermore, by acknowledging and making conscious the subtle forces at work resisting change, makes change not only possible but much more likely to be deep and lasting.

© 2012, Dr. Jeff Howlin. All rights reserved.

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