How Individual and Relational Change Happens in Therapy
Updated: Sep 28, 2019
These days there is a lot of interest in machine learning. However, the incredible possibilities that human minds and bodies can reach, that show up more and more in modern research, vastly go unnoticed. Although there might be a limit to what humans can mentally and physically do, it looks like we have not reached those limits yet, and the Guinness world record book’s continually updating editions are an excellent example for that. Even though there is ample proof that we can adapt and change, humans seem to be trapped in the fallacy of permanent view; I am what I am, and there is just so much that I can do about that.
The biggest obstacle to change and grow is not trying. As Carol Dweck (2009) describes, “people with a fixed mindset—those who believe that abilities are fixed—are less likely to flourish than those with a growth mindset—those who believe that abilities can be developed.” The second biggest obstacle for change, as the book “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise” describes, is repeating the same thing again and again. To change, one needs to gradually push oneself more and more out of the comfort zone into the unknown land of whatever was never yet achieved by them.
Since the human body, brain included, are systems, I believe the same applies to any other forms of systems, social systems among them; Families and couples can change and achieve happier lives and stronger and more meaningful connections, but in order to do that, there needs to be an experiential repetition of new patterns of behavior, communication, embedded in emotional vulnerability. To make sure that the old patterns are not repeated, or that the improvement is constantly growing, new uncharted territories must be explored. The best way to do so in the most efficient way is by going, and continue going for a while to therapy. It might be individual therapy, couples therapy or family therapy.
To tackle the first obstacle for change, which is the disbelief that change can happen, one of the biggest responsibilities of the therapist is to instill hope in their clients. Although the clients already made the first step for change simply by finding a therapist and showing up, the amount of faith that change can happen differs from client to client. If within the emotional chaos of their lives they will feel that there is hope while talking to the therapist during the first session, it highly increases the chances that they will come back and it is highly therapeutic by itself. When they do, then the therapist can continue working with the first obstacle and show experientially that change can and does happen. In the vast majority of therapeutic modalities it would like at the beginning even as simple as unconditional positive regard towards the client, which fosters a sense of safety and trust, which in turn creates a fruitful environment for the client to try new ways of behavior and connection, within the therapeutic relationship, or between the couple or the family, inside or outside the therapy office.
Then, the therapist can tackle the second obstacle to change, which is mostly not trying new approaches and holding on to already established ways of communicating and behaving. This leads me to my understanding of Family therapy. The biggest influence and my understanding of the different family therapy modalities stems of course from the systems theory. As I was learning new modalities and theories of family therapy, my understanding of the complexity of systems grew, as well as the understanding of the specific ways that I can work with systems effectively.
From structural therapy, I learned about the complex organization within system and the work that can be done to restructure the family system. From strategic therapy, I learned that it is OK to have an agenda and a plan of action and that there are sophisticated ways of working with resistance. From solution focused therapy I learned to set goals and create specific change in small increments. From narrative and play therapy, I learned to help clients to test the validity of the stories they have been telling themselves about themselves and sometimes to learn how to retell it differently. From emotionally focused therapy I learned that in order for a real change to happen within a couple, the underlying emotional attachment wounds need to be addressed and healed. From sex therapy I learned to not shy away from on the biggest parts of human experience, and widen my perspective on what sexuality is.
The underlying force behind effective family therapy work in my mind is always a strengths-based approach. For the client to change, I first need to believe in their innate ability to do so, and the client needs to see and feel that I believe in them. They need to learn to celebrate their successes and not just to focus on what is not working.
Sasha Raskin, MA, is an international #1 bestselling co-author , the founder and CEO of Go New , a transformational education program, a life, and business coach and a psychotherapist in Boulder, CO. He is working on a P.h.D in Counseling Education and Supervision and is an adjunct faculty at the Contemplative Counseling master’s program at Naropa University, from which he also graduated. Sasha has been in the mental health field for more than 10 years, worked with youth at risk, recovery, mental health hospitals, and coached individuals, couples, families, startups, and groups. He has created mindfulness stress reduction and music therapy programs within different organizations. Whether it’s in person or via phone/video calls, Sasha uses cutting-edge, research-based techniques to help his clients around the world to thrive.
As a coach Sasha Raskin provides individual and group coaching in Boulder, Colorado, and worldwide via video and phone calls. His services include: life coaching, business coaching, career coaching, ADD / ADHD coaching, leadership coaching, and executive coaching. Schedule your free 20-minute coaching phone consultation with Sasha Raskin
As a counselor in Boulder, CO, Sasha provides individual counseling in Boulder, CO , family therapy in Boulder, CO, and couples therapy in Boulder, CO, marriage counseling in Boulder, Colorado, and couples intensives / couples retreats, drawing from over ten years of clinical experience. Schedule your free 20-minute psychotherapy phone consultation with Sasha Raskin
Dweck, C. (2016). Mindset: The new psychology of success. New York: Random House.
Ericsson, K. A., & Pool, R. (2017). Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise. Boston: Mariner Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.