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Why persistence is the key to change

People only seek therapy when they are ready to change. They may have thought about a particular problem for years, read about it, talked to their friends about it, lain awake for night after night worrying about it. It's often when, having done everything they can possibly think of and still not found a solution, that they turn to a therapist. In a way, this is a good thing, because it means they are both urgently seeking and completely ready for change – both good starting points for successful therapy.

The only problem is that people often want that change now. Not in a year, or even a few months, but next week – sooner, if possible. Now, this is completely understandable. If you are very depressed, say, or extremely anxious, you want to feel better as quickly as possible. It's an in-built human urge to free ourselves from pain and seek peace, happiness and contentment. But, especially if a problem has been developing for years or even decades, how realistic is it to expect to be completely free of depression or anxiety in a few weeks?

There is a Japanese word that I often teach my clients: kaizen. This refers to the process of gradual, incremental improvement that the Japanese believe is the only way to effect genuine, long-lasting change. It's useful to think of therapy (and, of course, life) in this way – a process of slow but steady, week-by-week improvement that eventually means you are free of depression, anxiety, destructive anger, low self-esteem, eating disorders or whatever issue brought you to therapy in the first place.

'What do you first do when you learn how to swim? You make mistakes, do you not? And what happens? You make other mistakes, and when you have made all the mistakes you possibly can without drowning – and some of them many times over – what do you find? That you can swim.'
Alfred Adler

Of course, the kind of therapy I practice – cognitive therapy – can bring about change in a remarkably short time. I am often amazed to see deeply anxious people get much, much better in just a month or two. It is designed to be a time-limited, problem-focused form of therapy, so does that job very well. But this quick change is often about making people feel better, which – while extremely important – is not the same as changing the deep-rooted beliefs and unconscious patterns that keep people stuck in unhappiness. To be stronger, happier and more fulfilled for the rest of your life, these need changing – and that change requires persistence.

This might mean going over and over something, coming at it from different angles until we find the right one. It might mean periods where you feel stuck, or frustrated, feeling that you will never get better – until, as if by magic, one week you have a breakthrough and feel profoundly different. Those are wonderful moments, for both therapist and client.

So, whether you come and work with me or another counsellor or therapist, do remember that persistence is the key to meaningful and long-lasting change. It's tempting to seek a quick fix, but I'm afraid this is unlikely to do much good. A little patience and hard work will reap far greater rewards in the long run.

If you would like some help from me you can contact my assistant, Dawn Cope, on 0208 318 5735 or info@danroberts.com