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TALKING IT OUT: The un-sexy truth about real change

Change - real lasting psychological change - is work and it is an investment.
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By Easter Yassa, registered psychologist
Special to the Cochrane Eagle

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Do I have your attention yet?

Pop psychology and social media is overflowing with sexy, fast fix promises to change your life with little effort on your part. Every day thousands of eye-catching headlines promise to rapidly help stop or reverse often lifelong struggles with our bodies, minds, emotions, and relationships. And isn’t that how it should be? Don’t we deserve that? We work so hard, and have so little time, shouldn’t change be easier? Even some of our favourite TV shows skip over the hard, tedious and boring parts to reward us after a mere 22 minutes with a glorious after picture that, when placed side by side with the tragic before picture, leaves us with a little rush of satisfaction and a sense that indeed these things really can (and should be able to) be accomplished in no time with no sweat.

And what a lure this is! Especially when we are in emotional pain or discomfort. Mental health issues, like anxiety, depression, trauma, addiction and relationship issues, to name just a few, can be truly painful, costing us sleep, work, family, and many of the things that are important to us. When we are in pain, we want it to stop. Now. Not next week or next month - now.

Among the many hundreds of therapy clients I have worked with as a psychologist in private practice, as well as in university counselling centres and hospital outpatient clinics, I hear this often. My heart aches as I hear individuals who have struggled for years or decades say, “I’m just here to learn tips and tricks to feel better” or, “I’m just needing some strategies to cope”. And while shorter-term “Band-Aid” therapies are available and can be helpful to manage symptoms, it is not unusual for clients to report the “Band-Aid” failing when stressors are high, supports are low, and/or the underlying wound remains untouched and unhealed. If we want to make a permanent change in how we interact with ourselves, others or the world we need something deeper, longer lasting, and less superficial than a Band-Aid.

In this era where technology and the internet teaches us that we can have what we want right now and for a bargain, therapy seems out of place. And when some EAPs and benefits providers offer to compensate for tiny fractions of the cost and for a limited number of sessions it can create the impression that all change or healing should be fast and cheap. And if not cheap, then at least fast! Patch me up and get me outta here!

The truth is that this belief is a disservice to you. And unfortunately there is an ugly boomerang effect rarely talked about when we click on these links and buy into these hack-your-life articles. As a result of the internet and social media, many clients come in with the belief that they should feel better after two or three sessions, no matter what the issues are. This belief then often leaves clients feeling frustrated when life change doesn’t work as fast as promised online or implied by some benefits or insurance providers. This frustration is often followed quickly by self-blame, shame, hopelessness, and disappointment when problems that have existed for a long time do not disappear or subside quickly. For some this is followed by anger and they may seek another means for a faster fix. For others it reinforces a pre-existing belief that they are broken or beyond help when this is simply not the case.

The reality is that change - real lasting psychological change - is work and it is an investment. This doesn't have to mean that emotional and psychological symptom relief is beyond reach, just that some reasonable expectations about how long it can take to change our lives may help us persevere when the going seems tough and the journey long. The process of getting to the situation you're in now took time. Human beings are complex, and our lives are shaped by many life events and biological, hereditary, neurochemical, psychological, spiritual, and social variables, including our interactions with other complex and fallible human beings, some of whom may be healthy and many of whom may be dealing with their own emotional struggles. If we want lasting change, and a life that is different from the life we have now, we have to do the work to untangle all this, identify and heal our wounds, and begin to make our own path to a healthy and meaningful life. There is no way around this mountain, only through.

But you don't have to do this alone. If you want things to change and you’re ready to do the work, consider putting down the internet articles with their isolation and false promises and reaching out instead to a qualified, trained and registered psychologist or social worker who can safely guide you on this journey. It may not be a quick fix but it may just be a lasting one.

Easter Yassa, Ph.D., is a Registered Psychologist with a private practice in Cochrane. You can learn more about Dr. Yassa and how she helps adults at Dr. Yassa can occasionally be seen chasing her toddler around local grocery stores and behaving awkwardly in public in order to protect someone’s confidentiality.