Individual counseling (also known as individual psychotherapy) has for the past one hundred years or so, helped people in many ways. People usually begin counseling in order to address self-defeating behaviors. They they know they must change because it’s jeopardizing their health or their future plans or their relationships with family, friends or coworkers.
The list of self-defeating behaviors is endless. People want to quit smoking or stop using porn or stop abusing drugs or alcohol. They want to control their weight; exercise more; be more optimistic, stop gambling or watching TV for hours at a time. They want less conflict with their partner or family or friends.
They want to get along with coworkers and to be part of a team. They want to control their anger, anxiety or sexual compulsions; or stop procrastinating or trying to control other people or letting others control them. They want to stop spending so much money or so much time online.
Many people have a definite problem they want to address, like “Is my job right for me?” or “Should I stay in my relationship?” Others have a specific conflict that keeps happening in their life. For example, they may wonder “Why do I always end up fighting with the people I’m closest with?” or “Why do I keep picking the same type of partner?” or “Why am I so anxious in social situations?” Some people just want an objective listener who will look out for their best interests.
Fortunately, counseling can help people address problems like these, provided they can commit to doing the hard work of lifestyle and behavioral change. This isn’t always easy to do and for some people, change can seem overwhelming. Despite being in therapy it’s not unusual for a few to relapse into old behaviors. Just think of the number of people you know of who’ve tried to lose weight.
A key to successful therapy is to know the stage you are in for the problem you are working on. Research has identified six major stages of the change process. While these are called ‘stages’, it is important to remember that people often move back and forth between stages according to their needs at various times.
For example, if you began to think about change it would not be a failure if you returned to the previous stage when you thought that change wasn’t necessary. When we make changes, many of us have to go backward before we can go forwards again. Let’s look at the six stages:
1. Pre-Contemplation Stage
At this stage you wouldn’t think that you had a problem and you would not see a need for change, even though others saw a need. If you were forced by others to see a therapist you’re main complaint would probably be that you were tired of being nagged about it. You might make changes because you were being pressured, then once the pressure was off you would probably go back to your old behavior. You would not accept responsibility for your behavior and instead you would tend to blame outside factors and claim that you had no control over it. While you might feel demoralized, being confronted by others and doing your own thinking could actually motivate you to think about taking charge of your life.
2. Contemplation Stage
At this stage you would be tired of feeling trapped by your self-defeating behavior. You would start to feel that change was possible and that you could start making changes within the next six months or so. You would admit that there was a problem with the way you were living and you would begin to try to understand the problem. While you would start thinking about ways to change you would not be ready to commit to change.
Still, you would be open to raising your awareness about the problem. For example, you might begin asking relevant questions such as “How is being overweight affecting my life?” Or, “How does drinking affect my performance at work?” You would begin to define your own goals, e.g. “I want to feel better” or “I want to live longer” and you would not focus on goals that others set for you.
You would monitor your behavior. For example if you wanted to stop smoking your might realize “I’m smoking less than a pack a day now. That’s better than I did last month.” You might also start examining what caused your unwanted behavior. For instance, if you were overeating you might realize “When I’m stressed at work, I want to come home and eat.”
Contemplators benefit from emotional support as they begin to imagine what life would be like without self-defeating behaviors. Using the previous examples, you would imagine what life could be like as a nonsmoker or as a thinner person. Your counseling goal would be to help you redefine your self-image; gather information about how to change, and help you imagine the possibilities for a better life. You would want to prepare to make life changes and be willing to deal with the anxiety associated with change.
3. Preparation Stage
At this stage you would be planning to make changes within the next month because you would have made a commitment to change. While you might still feel uncertain about the change process you would be aware of the negative effects of your behavior and anticipate what your life could be like once your self-defeating behavior had ended. This preparation stage is valuable.
If you started to take action prematurely, without the increase in motivation that’s part of this stage any early actions could interfere with the change process. Preparing to change would mean that you would sit for a while with the idea of change and then set a date for the change to occur. You would make your commitment public.
For example you would talk to family members, friends and coworkers about the upcoming change, and ask for their support in making the changes. If you were an over-eater you might say “I am starting a new diet in three weeks and I want you to help me stay on it. So please don’t tempt me with food.”
You would make plans to take specific steps to bring about lifestyle changes. Your focus would be on the future and not so much on the past. Your individual counseling would include evaluating the progress you made up to this point; help you think about how you would incorporate change into your life, and help you realize what effects this might have.
4. Action Stage
This stage is the one most visible to others, when most of the change activity would occur. It’s the stage where the greatest degree of your commitment would be needed. You would have to work hard at this stage but if the previous stages were adequately addressed, this stage would have a good chance of succeeding.
It would help you to engage in self-soothing behavior to replace the loss of the old self-defeating behavior. By itself your old behavior might have been soothing – like overeating or gambling or smoking or drinking or using porn – but it was destructive. It would be important to get some regular exercise and to enjoy feeling good afterward, and to learn how to relax. Your counseling would include teaching you relaxation techniques and helping you to stay on track and work through obstacles to your progress.
Sometimes, even though a commitment to action has been made, it would not be unusual if your resistance to change got stronger. It would be as though there was a subconscious tug-of-war over letting go of self-defeating behaviors or keeping them. If this happened I might suggest using clinical hypnosis as a tool to break through the resistance, or to help you relax, or both.
Hypnosis is a proven method of helping people relax and move through barriers to self improvement. If I thought it would be beneficial, I would thoroughly discuss the hypnosis process with you before asking you to consent to this treatment.
Once changes have been made, the main focus of your therapy would be on how to maintain the changes over time.
5. Maintenance Stage
Maintaining changed behavior requires long term effort and a revised lifestyle. Making changes in the previous ‘Action’ stage is often not enough to sustain the change. There may be temptation to go back to an old behavior, perhaps as a way to celebrate having made the change, or to see how it would be to go back to, say, overeating or having a drink or a cigarette. Regularly scheduled individual counseling would help reinforce the new behavior.
The maintenance stage would also be a time to consolidate the changes and make them part of your everyday life. This could also be a period of testing your strength against temptation. This would require you to use those parts of yourself that had grown stronger and that cared about living a good and healthy life. Here again, hypnosis would reinforce behavior change.
6. Termination Stage
This is the stage of victory over the old self-defeating behaviors. Lifestyle change would have taken hold and you would be confident that temptation to use your old behavior would no longer be a real threat. You would now go on living without fear of that relapse.
Here are book recommendations that will help you learn about and maintain healthy life changes:
If you’re wondering about therapy or you would just like to discuss where you are in your process of change, please call me at 949-760-7171 or text 949-244-8572 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions or to schedule an appointment.