If You Want To Change In Therapy You Have Got To Go All In
A threat to the change and growth of the client in therapy is that responsibility for that change and growth is often projected onto the therapist, who is of course an obvious target as the stated professional who charges money in exchange for helping people change their lives. Therapists do of course share in the responsibility for therapeutic outcomes but real change starts and ends with the client taking greater responsibility over life and deciding to activate his or her own powers.
But projection is one of the most commonly relied upon defense mechanisms in human life, and in the context in which we’re using it this projection escapes responsibility and the painful thoughts and feelings that accompany it. We take that which we can’t or won’t see in ourselves and externalize it onto some entity in our environment and we thereby gain psychic relief from the building pressure the unwanted truth.
In therapy the projection of responsibility is an unconscious way to lessen awareness of painful thoughts and feelings around what it might mean to go all in and still fail. We have to understand that many people who seek professional help, just like many people in the world at large, are dealing with secret, hard to describe feelings of being unworthy, unlovable, and unsuccessful in life. This unwanted, unfavorable self-image was implanted from without during the early, important years of development in childhood and adolescence by primary caregivers and other important authority figures. Over the years these messages were internalized until now in adulthood they no longer seem like subjective, biased transmissions received from without but like objective, unbiased truths generated from within.
Yet even after all these years the flickering, fragile light remains, the light of true Self that wouldn’t and couldn’t be extinguished no matter how hard the world tried, the light that says “I am worthy and I am lovable and I can be successful in life.” This fragile light is protected, sheltered, kept from any outside disturbances, at all costs. And so a vicious cycle begins where, in order to protect that cherished dim self-image of worthiness, lovability, and success, no risks are taken, no life endeavors or relationships are approached with 100% effort. Less than desirable results ensue, which serve to strengthen the unwanted but taken for granted to be true self-image of unworthiness, unlovability, and failure.
When people don’t give it their all they have a ready made excuse for why things didn’t turn out the way they hoped they would. When they can find someone plausible to pin responsibility for their life paths and life problems on they have another ready made excuse for why things didn’t turn out the way they hoped they would. Therapy provides ample opportunities for both rationalizations, and they’ll be employed in therapy if they’re employed in the wider sphere of life.
Therefore both of these defense mechanisms need to be addressed and adequately talked through in the very early stages of the therapeutic endeavor. These conversations can, incidentally, be an excellent inroad for agreeing to work on searching out, naming, and understanding various other defense mechanisms oft employed, defense mechanisms that are meant to find psychic relief but that actually cause more psychic pain as the underlying conflict never gets adequately dealt with.
Clients can be helped towards the insight that it’s time to take the reins of their destiny into their own hands, it’s time to go all in on their change and growth, to not limit their efforts to one hour a week during a session but to make life itself the session. They’ve got to greatly increase, not decrease, felt responsibility over the state of their lives and where their lives are going. They’ve got to summon up the courage to confront and overcome the fear of what it might mean to give everything they have and still come up short. This is the big roll of the dice, this is the great human wager. Will that unwanted narrative of unworthiness, unlovability, and failure be proven true? Ironically, as long as the dice aren’t rolled, as long as complacency reigns supreme, that unwanted narrative will seem to be proven true again and again as life remains unsatisfactory.