Thursday, September 23, 2010

Thoughts About Change

Recently, a client asked me to define how I see the process of change in the context of psychotherapy. What changes, and how does this happen?

I told him that we all have our habitual ways of reacting to certain experiences, situations, and people in our lives. These habit "pathways" are pretty deeply grooved over a period of years, and they are very difficult to change. I believe, however, that these habits are exactly what we are attempting to change in therapy. 

I also believe that we may never be able to completely change or get rid of these habitual tendencies. We can learn to make more skillful and effective choices through awareness of these tendencies. We can sometimes cultivate new habits that will take their place. We might start to go down those old neuropathways and then catch ourselves and make a course correction. Or we might even get completely swept away by the habitual tendencies as though we were never aware of them at all. Get rid of them once and for all, though? I doubt it.

These habitual tendencies are a huge part of our personalities, and changing our personality is not the goal of psychotherapy, in my opinion. That would be like saying, "I'm going to change the person I think I am," and that seems way to difficult. The process, therefore, is not about changing who we are, but about changing our relationship to who we are. It's not about changing our thoughts, but about changing our relationship to our thoughts.

When we are offered another place to stand, from which vantage point we can see things more clearly, we have a chance to do all of the above. It begins, of course, with coming into full awareness of the present moment just as it is, and then seeing that moment for what it is. When clinging, aversion, or wanting things to be other than the way they are arises, we can see that, too, and notice the habitual habits of the mind toward the experience of that moment.Then we just sit with it, allow the experience to continue, and let it be

By not acting out habitually toward an aversive experience during our meditation practice (which is what I was describing above), we groove new neuropathways in the brain and the habits begin to change by themselves. In daily life, when we come up against the same basic experiences, we might have the chance to take a reflective pause before choosing our actions. If we do this enough times, we will have changed profoundly how we relate to the world around us, and our suffering will be reduced.


No comments:

Post a Comment