Clients can often feel motivated to start therapy in the new year, a time of year when there is a focus on change and self-improvement. This can create an expectation that the therapeutic process will also be positive, fulfilling and effortlessly transformative. As soon as it turns out not to be, or difficulties are experienced, it can lead to the temptation to abandon the endeavour – along with the other new year resolutions that have fallen by the wayside.
Expectations of change and what can be achieved through therapy always need to be carefully monitored and managed if they are to remain realistic. Whilst I can understand the client’s eagerness for change, which is what might have motivated them to come into therapy in the first place, my experience tells me that the process of more meaningful change can take longer and be more involved.
One of the real benefits of therapy is that the difficulties encountered along the way are experienced with the therapist. This means that they might be experienced differently than they would if the client felt isolated, alone and burdened with their difficulties and issues.
I believe it is the collaborative nature of the endeavour, one that the client and therapist co-create together in a very subjective way, that allows for more interesting possibilities to emerge that really are meaningful, long-lasting and deeply transformative.
February sees the first signs of growth beginning to appear in the garden. This year some of the peonies are already quite tall and some of the spring bulbs are pushing their shoots above the cold earth, checking the conditions to see if it is the right time to continue growth or hold back.
There are parallels between nature and the core theoretical model I use for my work. In the same way as the flowers in the garden rely on the right conditions being provided to flourish, the therapist in Person-centred therapy seeks to provide the right conditions needed for the client to experience their potential. However, I think this can also be misinterpreted with a notion that growth will be rapid and unstoppable – As in nature this isn’t the case. Everything that grows reaches a limit. A daffodil does not grow to six feet tall; a rose does not produce a thousand flowers in one season.
Just as in nature, human beings need to be sensitive to the context they find themselves in. To combine trust in themselves with an awareness of what in their environment is there to support their growth, which often, particularly at its early stages, can be faltering, fragile and uncertain. And when the growth and change seem to be more assured, recognise that there will also be a limit. The drive to change can be strong in therapy but it is also important to sometimes pause, to appreciate and acknowledge what has been achieved, and be ready for whatever the next season brings.