At the heart of therapy is change.
When people come for counselling, they are almost always seeking out some form of change.
They may want a change in their life circumstances. They may want to change their actions. Perhaps they are fine with both, and simply wish to change how they think about them.
Whatever they want, it usually involves change of some sort.
The therapist’s role is to help them facilitate that change.
Funny then that so much of the language of therapy implies a lack of change. It implies something fixed and static.
Many therapists see their role as figuring out what the problem is. Often, it leads them to decide that the problem is the person sat in front of them.
They give them labels and diagnoses that have the effect of pouring wet cement over them and letting it set.
For instance, there is a concept called Personality Adaptations. Therapists who use this “tool” are encouraged to label their clients.
The labels are invariably offensive. I feel angry when I hear therapists talk about their clients in this way.
“She is a histrionic.”
“He is schizoid.”
“She is a charming manipulator.”
I’d hate to have a therapist who had such thoughts about me.
Others are encouraged to impose disorders on their clients. They will get out their pseudo scientific manuals and make a phoney diagnosis.
Granted, some people feel relief when receiving such a diagnosis. It offers them some sense of explanation for their suffering.
Yet many feel oppressed by them, and feel stuck as a result.
They may not realise that most of these diagnoses have no scientific basis whatsoever.
The possibility of change, unsurprisingly, now feels further away. After all, they have a personality type or even a disorder. It is (supposedly) who they are.
Whether label or “diagnosis”, it starts therapy from a position of stuckness.
The client seeks change and movement. Yet the therapist responds by chaining them in place with some kind of label.
A desire for fluidity is met with the constancy of a brand.
It doesn’t assume that change is likely, but difficult.
This doesn’t support change. It places barriers in its way.
Those therapists who join you on your journey of change don’t begin by assuming this kind of stuckness.
They don’t see you through a narrow lens of who you supposedly are.
Instead, change focused therapists look for the multiplicity of you.
When you feel depressed, we look too for the times when you felt better.
When you are anxious, we look too for the times when you felt safe.
We don’t see stuckness. We see you as a person who is already capable, however fleeting, of achieving what you want.
You no longer fall prey to this stodgy immovable set of labels. But you see yourself as a wealth of possibilities instead.
Even the concept of self and identity is thought of as fluid. You are a collection of stories, not one. And certainly not one that some professional gets to write and impose upon you.
Tell me a story about how you have no motivation, and you’ll find another about a time when you had tons.
Nothing is fixed and static. Movement is assumed.
It is the difference between stone and water.
Those who label you are setting you in stone. Static, unchanging, resolute.
When one doubts your power to change, what is their alternative but to manage you?
Who wants to be managed when you came here for change.
How your therapist thinks of you is important.
Not only because you deserve to see yourself in the fullness of you.
But because you want change. Not to be a puzzle for someone who enjoys putting people into categories.
And change is likely. In fact, you’ll see that change is already happening, once you look for it.
Change can’t begin by clasping you in place and branding you like you are cattle.
When you want change in your life, talk to someone who believes it is likely, and believes in your ability to get it.
Everyone else is just another barrier getting in your way.Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice