This is where we move into the role of the therapeutic conversation. This conversation is designed to help you to challenge the assumptions and limiting beliefs that keep you stuck in your life. Of course, everyone holds different assumptions about themselves, the people around them, and the world at large. These assumptions are based on 1) your past experience; or 2) ideas you have picked up from others that you have come to believe. Added up, our assumptions create a “mental model” of life, and we inherently live within that model.
For example, Jesse (an amalgam of several people I know) came into treatment complaining of chronic boredom, depression, and a growing addiction to internet surfing while at work. Accompanying this was a gnawing anxiety that he would get caught at work while surfing the internet and lose his job.
In the first session, we identified that Jesse had grown up with the message, “you have to have a steady, paying job – that’s the most important thing in life.” As a young adult, he tried job after job in the corporate world, implicitly following that guiding assumption. But he was never satisfied, and the jobs never seemed to fit his interests.
In the therapeutic conversation, we talked about the importance of that assumption in the choices he made over and over again. Together, we explored whether the assumption is true through various questions:
- Is it true that you “have to” have a steady paying job in a business environment? - What would happen if you chose other ways of earning a living?
- Would it necessarily be a disaster?
- What would you want to do with your time if you weren’t afraid of not having a steady job?
He remembered that as a kid, he loved doing carpentry with his dad (hands-on work, again). He got back into making things in his workshop at home. He built a bookshelf for a friend. He has begun making serious plans to start his own business that involves carpentry and remodeling – a far cry from his previous day jobs. Although he is still at the same job, his depression and boredom have vanished, he is excited about his future plans, and he no longer has urges to surf the internet while at work.
So what exactly happens in the therapeutic conversation that is so transformative? I think that there are two forces at work here, that help nudge the person into a space of change. First, is the inner sense that life is not joyful, that it feels like a daily struggle, that your best efforts at holding things together are no longer working out. That creates the readiness – the openness to make a shift.
Second, the joint conversation in which assumptions and limiting beliefs are challenged is like water being sprinkled on a seeded garden. New ideas sprout forth, solutions emerge that had not seemed possible to imagine earlier.
And change begins.
FOLLOWUP: Read the third part of this series of essays.