Since returning from leave visiting family and friends in US, I have spent the last two weeks catching up with the young people and families I missed working with while away. Hearing about what happens while I away is always intriguing, as there is no doubt that change is constantly occurring and a natural part of our lives.
Last week I met with a University aged man who had been on one of our 14-day expeditions late last year and was still working on transitioning his goals into life at home. Since coming home things had been getting better and we had previously decided to slow down the frequency of our sessions. Before I left for my trip he called and asked for a session at my Adelaide office and we got together. He spoke of some difficult times at home with his family and was hoping that he could move out, as this would definitely make things better. We spoke about many of the other concerns he had as he said he felt better after talking things through. He decided that setting any practical goals would not be helpful for him at this time.
I returned from my trip after a month away and he was eager for another session. “I’m not sure where we left off last time, there was a lot going on,” he said. I told him I could pull out some of my notes and we could look at what he said. I went through and revealed his desires to move out in order to become more independent and that he would need a job near the house he was hoping to live in. He had said that he wanted to switch his degree to neuroscience but wasn’t sure if that would go ahead. He let me know that there was a girl he was interested in but worried about its timing and their relationship. This was surely a lot going on before I left for leave.
As I went through the list I thought that it would seem like a bombardment if he had not settled any of these “goals”. He laughed as I read them, smiled and said, “All of them happened.” I asked him how he managed to make them happen to which he said, “They just kind of happened organically. I never thought anything therapy-like was going to help but it must of without me knowing it.”
This opened an incredible conversation about how change occurs and what the role therapy plays in it. As I see it, psychotherapy can be incredibly effective but the drama will truly never unfold without the story of its key agent: the participant. By always taking his feedback about goals and talking things through we were able to have a stronger relationship based on the outcomes he desired. As mentioned earlier, change is always occurring and a great skill to obtain is keeping a keen eye on what is improving and what we may need to work on.
Research suggests that the role of the participant is a way bigger contributor to change than anything a therapist does or says. I knew we had a good relationship, saw eye to eye on many things from worldly views to science and spirituality, which I know, is a great start in predicting how effective we would be in getting the outcome he wanted. But I also knew that I did not have the power to affect his life the same way antibiotics act on an illness. The power of change is within him and the truth is that this is way it should be.
As we spoke about change and being able to notice all the amazing things working for him we paid special attention to what he was doing that could be helping. He was eating healthily, practicing yoga and participated in a lot more social events than before. These are all great parts of the SEEDS acronym, which is convenient but nothing that we had talked about previously. He had found them on his own.
I called this participant to ask if I could share his story and he said that he would love to. “I’m proud of myself,” he said.
Whenever I speak about psychotherapy or the programs we run I end with a metaphor given to me by a mentor I had while studying in the States. He always said that “The best therapists never get any thank you notes because the client did it on their own.”
Will Dobud MSW