As time goes on, the nature of the helping professions continues to thankfully evolve. For so long, seeking psychotherapy has carried a stigma. That perception still lingers however since the trauma of September 11th, there has been a major shift of how “getting help” is viewed. This is because many people who had already been experiencing depression and anxiety found their conditions worsening after the terrorist attacks. For many others, these world events brought on a new sense of fear and helplessness that they had not known before.
Usually someone seeks psychotherapy or mental health counseling when their emotional pain has become so bad that it becomes difficult to function. A smaller percentage seek psychotherapy, especially with a spiritual bent, purely to enrich and improve upon their lives.
Scheduling a session for the first time can be a scary thing regardless of your intention. Making this appointment means that you are moving into change – as you explore your life and how you got to be where you are.
Psychotherapy sessions themselves are rather unique because you are entering into a relationship with a person who will be dedicated to listen to your story. Within the confines of that relationship and the time you spend within the therapist’s office is the creation of an intentional, safe space. A place where you can vent, process and express how you feel about the aspects of your life. What you talk about is up to you. The therapist may ask you questions to help bring clarity to the process. A therapist may also “mirror ” back to you the things that you communicated, both in what you said and in the emotion you conveyed when you expressed it. This often allows you to see the “bigger picture” and learn from the patterns you may see emerging.
Life coaching is also a relationship that is designed to be purely helpful to the client. When a person seeks the services of a life coach, they are looking to find ways to “close the gap” from where they are now in their life to where they really want to be. For instance, if you’re unhappy in your job and are thinking that you’d like to shift careers – maybe even start your own business, a coach will help you identify your assets, clarify your vision as it evolves and guide you through the process of creating your life, as you have been envisioning it in your dreams.
You will probably find that the coaching relationship focuses more on the present while looking to the future–as opposed to exploring your past. This is because the philosophy of coaching assumes that each person is whole, able to function well, capable of creating and doing great things and has strengths to build on–even if he/she is not yet fully aware of what they might be yet. In contrast to psychotherapy, coaching does not explore for areas of dysfunction usually linked to a person’s history in order to ignite positive life change. Instead, coaching helps to minimize the stressors and shift limiting beliefs that can block a person’s potential to manifest a more satisfying and balanced life.
For some people, the highest benefit comes from meeting with both a therapist and coach. It should be noted here that to keep the boundaries of both types of work clear, your coaching and psychotherapy services should be delivered by two different practitioners. It’s also good to know that psychotherapy usually takes place in person while coaching happens most often over the phone. Either way, it is amazing how much a life can be transformed with the right fit of professional support.
Looking to Make a Life Change, But…
What kinds of feelings come up for you when you think about change on a personal level? In day-to-day conversation, some people readily admit that they do not like change, “It’s scary, it’s unknown and what if the challenges are past the point I think I can handle?” It’s understandable how the mind will go into these thoughts since a part of its job is to be always thinking how to protect. Actually, that’s the ego’s preoccupation – keeping things safe and at status quo. That’s great except change often leads to growth, rejuvenation and sometimes out and out transformation. All of that is the natural flow. As humans, we are designed to be manifestations of this personal evolution in order to share our talents, wisdom and passion within the world. So what’s the problem? Getting back to the ego – in an effort to keep us safe physically and emotionally, it sabotages us with messages that create fear. It is those messages about ourselves that we believe to be truth. Have you ever said to yourself, “I’m not smart enough to pursue my dream career”, “Meeting and being with the love of my life – well that’s for other people” even a little thing like, ‘I’ll never get a parking spot”. No wonder the idea of change is so scary. We feel that either we don’t have what it takes or we don’t deserve the goodness that a life transition can bring.
The key to turning this around is first to thank your ego for all its efforts to keep you safe. Next, it is important to notice the times when the ego messages are sent. Think of it as having a quiet observer in your consciousness, one that just points out the ego thoughts. This process will help you to evaluate these messages more objectively, instead of seeing them as undisputed truths. The great power of the ego thoughts comes from their repetition. Chances are you have heard these negative messages play out in your mind throughout the years. Your ego has probably found ways to even prove to you that these thoughts are truths. To take an example, say you were asked to give a talk, but public speaking is something you have not done too many times. While considering the proposition, the ego pinpoints and replays the time you went blank during a presentation in the past, thus “proving” to you that public speaking just isn’t your bag. This one piece then becomes amplified, eclipsing the success of the rest of that presentation or other talks that you have given.
The inner observer on the other hand, just watches and listens to the thoughts and reactions that come up in your mind without judging or getting emotionally involved. It inherently understands that whatever is happening internally, “just is, what it is”. Spending time with your observer will help you gain greater awareness of when the ego speaks. It will also give you some distance and perspective about how the ego impacts your emotions. To keep the connection with the observer, throughout your day tap into what it sees and hears. This may sound too simple (which by the way, is in itself an ego thought – the ego is about survival and never wants to be exposed) but repeatedly going back to the observer will start to shift how you experience your inner world, since the ego would rather you forget about the observer and return to just taking its own message as your truth. In the next month’s article, using thoughts to create more consciously positive messages will be addressed. In the meantime, if you are serious about gaining back some of your personal power, appointing an inner observer may go a long way to help you feel more comfortable with change and growth opportunities.
If you have any questions about psychotherapy and/or coaching, please feel free to contact Debra LeClair, Psy.D, licensed psychologist and certified life coach at 603.296.0830 extension 2. She will gladly clarify things as best she can for you or point you to the resources that can give you the answers you need.