What If The Change You Need Isn’t About You?

When people come for therapy, they usually want one of two things: support or change.

Support while they travel through one of life’s inevitable sticky patches.

Change to bring about some transformation in life. This post is about change.

Often, when people think about change and therapy, we think it is the person who needs to change.

We suppose that there is some trait or behaviour or belief that they want to alter.

That can be the case. We all have our favourite methods of getting in our own way.

But what if it’s not you who has to change? What if it’s your environment? What if it’s something external to you?

Yes, it still involves action on your part. That may still need counselling and therapy support.

But the change we work on may be outside of you, rather than within you.

Sometimes this can be hard to notice, especially if others seem okay with things.

But it doesn’t matter if everyone else seems perfectly happy in the same environment.

Nobody would ignore the distress of a penguin in the Sahara because all the lizards like it.

Nobody would get the penguin to try to change.

What the penguin needs is to get into an environment more suitable for a penguin. Somewhere ice cold.

Maybe you need a more suitable environment too.

For instance, many clients improve their lives because they change job. Sometimes they’ve even taken a financial hit to do it. But then, isn’t ongoing therapy a financial hit too?

Life gets better for them. They are no longer a penguin in a heatwave.

Similarly with relationships. A colleague had miserable relationships until he met his current partner.

He was anxiously attached in relationships. He needed closeness. He would fret if his partner didn’t want the same.

Yet he kept dating people who were avoidant. Closeness scares those who have a more avoidant attachment style.

So every time he tried to get closer, she would run further away, and he became even more miserable and fretful.

One day, he met his current partner. She was securely attached. She was happy with his need for closeness.

He is happy now too. He is no longer fretful within his relationship.

Notice that my colleague never changed. He changed the kind of person he dated. That is the change that brought the change in him.

He is no longer anxious. It’s hard to stay anxiously attached when your partner is meeting your needs consistently instead of playing games.

When things are getting you down, it’s likely that your needs are not getting met.

Sometimes that involves making changes to our beliefs or behaviour. We can get rid of the ways we block getting our needs met.

Yet sometimes, it involves changing the environment.

My friend had a sunflower. It wasn’t thriving. Not because it was a wonky sunflower. But because it had been planted in the shade.

The help it needed was not to change anything about its own sunfloweriness. It needed help to change its environment.

It is in the front garden now where the sun shines most, and that’s exactly what a sunflower needs.

What do you need? Maybe we can work together to find out and make it happen.

Alun Parry is Director of The Liverpool Psychotherapy Practice

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