Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
I feel like my life is like Murphy’s law. Whatever could go wrong has. I have trouble with parnassah, trouble with my health, and difficulty with my children. I have worked so hard on all these things but to no avail. At this point I would take just one of them being better. Things just seem really bleak, and they have been for a while. A therapist wouldn’t convince me that things are better than they are, and it seems like all they could do would be to get me to focus on smaller things in life that are going well. But those things aren’t really important, and they don’t really matter to me. Especially if the big things aren’t going well. A colleague who has been pushing me to go to therapy pushed me to at least write in to The Couch. So here it is, do you have any hope to give me?
I’m sorry that things in your life are not going well. As you say, it is difficult to feel good about anything when so many important facets are not going well. Next to the larger issues, the smaller things can seem trivial. Additionally, when a number of problems besiege us at once, it can easily become emotionally overwhelming, making us feel helpless and hopeless.
It is not a therapist’s job to convince you that things are better than they are. In no way is it their job to pull the wool over your eyes, or to make you believe something that is not strictly true. In fact, a therapist’s job can be seen as exactly the opposite.
We all perceive things in different ways. Put ten people in the exact same situation, and they will feel, think, believe, and react in ten distinctly different ways. We all know this, and we generally attribute these differences to “personality.” Naturally, each person has a very distinct personality, leading them to perceive things in their very singular fashion. However, of what is personality comprised and how is it formed?
Fully understanding human “personality” is beyond the scope of this response; it is, in fact, beyond the scope of human comprehension. However, we do understand some very basic concepts. Simply put, personality is not completely incomprehensible. Nor is it static or incapable of change. From a biological perspective, recent work in the area of neuroplasticity has shown that, throughout life, the brain is capable of change and that neural pathways are continuously changing. What this means is that “personality” is ever-evolving. More importantly, on a practical level we are able to change our “personalities.”
Most things in life exist on a spectrum. Aspects of personality are no different. Some personality spectrums are optimism-pessimism, positivity-negativity, emotionality-intellectualism, aggressiveness-passivity, and the spectrum of need for control. There are many more spectrums with unlimited ways in which each can be defined and understood. Combining these and calculating the number of possibilities is impossible to even begin to comprehend. Therefore, we focus on those aspects of which we are aware and which have been simplified for the sake of purposeful discussion.
Back to the therapist’s role within the therapy session. If you were to see a therapist, it would likely not be for the purpose of changing the problematic circumstances that you described. You would be looking to change how you feel. If you are anxious and depressed, you would seek to feel more relaxed and happier. If you feel hopeless (possibly contributing to negative emotions and dampening motivation to change) you would want to feel more hopeful. If you feel sluggish, your goal would be to feel more energized.
Since we recognize that there are countless ways that a person could feel in your particular situation, the role of the therapist would be to help you identify those areas in which your perspective could change. This could relate to things as “simple” as self-care, or focus and compartmentalization. On a more complex level, underlying causes for certain personality spectrums and where, on each, you lie could be analyzed and thus changed.
We tend to fall into a sense of stasis, in which we feel that things won’t change and that our resultant emotions will always be as they are now. This is a natural feeling, but we should not underestimate the power of our minds to either maintain this stasis or abandon it.
-Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW
psychotherapist in private practice
adjunct professor at Touro College
Graduate School of Social Work
author of Self-Esteem: A Primer
www.ylcsw.com / 516-218-4200
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