What I learned from Dr. Marsha Linehan: To change ourselves, we have to accept ourselves.

To change ourselves, we first have to accept ourselves

REAL CHANGE IS POSSIBLE.

This week I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend a 2-day training workshop by one of my all-time favourite psychologists and gurus, Dr. Marsha Linehan. Marsha is a pretty remarkable woman. In case you don’t know who she is, she is the pioneer and founder of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). DBT is all about building a life worth living and reducing suffering. It aims to find the synthesis of opposites. It embraces the idea that real change is possible, but that to create real change we first need to find the synthesis between acceptance and change. DBT affirms that everything is always changing, that truth evolves over time, and that everything is connected, ultimately. To change ourselves, we first have to accept ourselves; and likewise, to help change others, we first have to accept them!

Attending the workshop and meeting Marsha was such an amazing opportunity for me as a psychologist. A highlight was when she signed my copy of her DBT Skills Training Manual. I didn’t say much to her, just a simple “thank you”, to express my gratitude. She stopped writing to turn and smile and say, “You’re welcome”. It was definitely a major career highlight and fan-girl moment for me!

Sit back and let your mind figure it out.

SIT BACK AND LET YOUR MIND FIGURE IT OUT.

One of the first things I took down in my 20+ pages of written notes was something Marsha said right at the beginning of day one: “sit back and let your mind figure it out”. She was referring to being in a counselling session with a client, and giving yourself the permission to pause and reflect before responding. One of the biggest mistakes we make when communicating with others is that we do not listen to understand, we listen to reply. Marsha was saying that therapists should allow themselves the time to tap into their ability to figure things out first, to trust and to listen to their intuition. I liked that idea quite a lot, and I don’t think it just applies to therapists. So often, we get caught up in the chaos of the moment, processing a million things at once, the voice of our intuition is drowned out and we forget to sit back and figure it all out. So that was a major epiphany for me.

There can be more that can be known than what can be known from the senses

THERE CAN BE MORE THAT CAN BE KNOWN THAN WHAT CAN BE KNOWN FROM THE SENSES.

At end of day one, Marsha talked a little bit about her own personal journey and about spirituality… Marsha defines herself as a “Catholic Zen Master”, whatever that even means! I liked that she spoke about spirituality, because it’s often completely ignored by other prominent psychologists in the field. Spirituality is a really important area of life and one of my key research interests. I wrote my Master’s thesis on the role of spirituality in facilitating vicarious resilience in therapists and therapists in training. Marsha said, “there can be more that can be known than what can be known from the senses”, and that experiencing a sense of connection and “oneness” would lead to a sense of freedom and contentment. Marsha emphasised that freedom beats joy. Joy, realistically, is a temporarily emotion, while contentment and freedom can be ongoing. Marsha suggested using Mindfulness as the pathway toward finding more of these moments of oneness and connection with ourselves, and the world around us.Everything is being impacted by everything it’s connected to.

EVERYTHING IS IMPACTED BY EVERYTHING IT’S CONNECTED TO.

Marsha also talked about how change is transactional, and that everything is being impacted by everything it’s connected to. We often assume that all behaviour is chosen and deliberate and often it is simply automatic. Many problem behaviours are a result of a causal pattern or chain. Just stop for a minute and think about that…. It completely obliterates the concept of blame. If all behaviour is caused, how can we ever blame anyone for anything? We can’t! However, independent of what caused the problem, we do have to solve it! One way to do that is to give up judgment and the idea of “good and bad” and instead evaluate the consequences of behaviour – focus on what is effective and what works! Remember that there have to be consequences to behaviour for people to change. Being non-judgmental doesn’t mean you have to like or approve of it, either, it just means there’s a difference between thoughts and observations.

We are always learning and we are always doing the best we can (accept yourself).... AND, we can always do better (change yourself)!

YOU CAN ACCEPT YOURSELF, AND CHANGE YOURSELF.

The most important (and validating) reflection I walked away with from the 2-day workshop was that even Marsha (the guru herself) makes mistakes. During the workshop they showed a few videos of Marsha’s therapy sessions and it was extremely normalising to see that she wasn’t “the perfect therapist”. There is no such thing. If the woman who developed DBT and wrote multiple books and manuals on it can stuff it up (and admit to stuffing it up) then it’s most certainly ok for me to stuff it up. It all comes back to this very important dialectic: We are always learning and we are always doing the best we can (accept yourself)…. AND, we can always do better (change yourself)!

Advertisements

The Key To Unlocking and Accepting Change

The Key To Accepting Change

From the moment we are born, until the moment we die, our life is a series of highs and lows, gains and losses, beginnings and endings. It’s true that the only constant in life is change. Not to sound morbid, but one day we are all going to die – it’s actually one of the few things we can be completely certain of! Yet, we are actually programmed to deny our own mortality on a daily basis in order to maintain our existential stability. Can you imagine what it would be like if you walked around every day constantly fearing your own death? You’d be an anxious mess, and you probably wouldn’t be able to thrive or function. So, we become attached to things, people, environments, the past, thoughts and ideas to keep ourselves sane. It’s actually quite optimistic of us, when you think about it like that, and for the most part, it works…. except when it doesn’t, and that’s when things gets a bit messy and shit. So, today, I’m going to talk a little bit about change.

Change is happening constantly. It is happening within your body every single second of every single day. Your cells are constantly working, communicating with each other, multiplying, evolving and dying. Change is also happening outside of our bodies too, and our bodies are constantly adapting to these changes, however subtle. In fact, we’ve evolved to become so good at doing this, that most of the time we don’t even notice that we’re doing it. Our bodies adjust to light, temperature and atmospheric changes. Our bodies actually even have to rely on some changes in order to function. Biological rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a cycle. In fact, we all have a master clock inside of us that keeps track of all these rhythms and it is ticking away in your hypothalamus right now as we speak. Our sleep-wake cycle is dependent upon a circadian cycle and light changes; the reproduction of our species relies on a menstrual cycle and hormone changes; our ability to maintain our attention even runs on a cycle, the ultradian rhythm, which is 90 minutes in duration… I think you get the gist.

change2

So, you can already see how change is essential for life, and adapting to change is also essential for life. Not just for human life, but for all life. Think seasonal changes, think weather changes, think climate changes. Everything is interconnected, and yet somehow, it just magically works and flows. Things change at just the right time for the right process to occur. Just thinking about all that makes me feel in awe of the existence of life and its ability to evolve and thrive on this planet. Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was the ultimate story of change, and I remember being so excited to learn all about it in Human Physiology 101. It also helped that I had a lecturer who was discernibly excited about teaching it.

The good news is that a lot of good stuff happens because of change. For example, if nothing ever changed, we wouldn’t have butterflies! When people think of change, they often think about the metamorphosis of the butterfly. The butterfly must struggle to come out of the cocoon, but did you know that if there were no struggle the butterfly wouldn’t be able to fly? This is because during the struggle, the blood flows into its wings, which allows it to fly. It gives purpose and meaning to the suffering when you think about it like that. We can sometimes find meaning and purpose in our own suffering, too. I did a lot of research on Post-Traumatic Growth when I was writing my thesis (which was on vicarious resilience in therapists and therapists in training working with clients who have experienced trauma or difficult life events, in case you were wondering). I know that I’ve talked a lot about stories on this blog, but the other cool thing about stories is that the more meaning we are able to attribute to the story of our suffering, the more likely we are to be able to cope with it. That’s what Narrative and Schema therapies are all about – changing stories. The experience of pain is inevitable, but our interpretation of the pain is what causes the suffering. In some ways, this can be empowering to know, because it means we have options in the face of change, suffering, loss and pain. Changing the way we think about it can sometimes change our perception of it. In psychology, when a story is helpful, it’s said to be adaptive, and when a story is not so helpful, it’s maladaptive. My job is to work collaboratively with people to help them change their maladaptive stories into more adaptive ones.

If nothing changed

Accordingly, you can see that we can create or unlock change within ourselves to help us deal with pain, suffering and loss. We don’t necessarily always have to change the story to cope, either. Sometimes it’s a more practical approach that creates meaningful change. In Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, for example, clients learn that when they are faced with a problem they have four options:

  1. They can either identify what needs to change and solve the problem,
  2. If they can’t solve it then they have the option to change the way they feel about it,
  3. If they can’t change the way they feel then they have the option to accept it (which, once again, doesn’t mean liking or approving of it) or,
  4. They can choose to stay miserable.

Marsha Linehan is pretty blunt at the best of times! Thinking of problems in this way can sometimes help you to move into a problem-focused coping mode. It basically helps you to shift the focus away from the stuff you don’t have control over, and back onto what you do have control over. It’s directing your focus to what’s going to be most helpful and adaptive in that moment. It also allows you to take some responsibility and ownership over your life and whatever has happened or changed. When we have an external locus of control we are always focused on attributing responsibility to external factors and events (blaming others, for example), whereas when we have an internal locus of control we are able to focus on our own role within the system. Given we don’t really have much control over anything outside of ourselves, it’s obviously going to be more helpful to focus on what we do have control over rather than what we don’t. It allows us to be the change we wish to see in the world, as the famous saying goes.

changes4

As a helper, I have learned that human beings can go through some really awful shit in life, and yet most of the time they can still manage to come out of it and not only survive, but thrive! This is because resilience is born out of struggle and we are a pretty resilient bunch. This is good news! The other good news about change is  that it means that the bad times don’t last forever. Of course, the flip side of this is that good times won’t last forever either, but being aware of this only makes you appreciate them more when they do happen, right?

Some people not only fear changes that are outside of their control, but also fear initiating positive changes that are within their control, and this keeps them stuck in a “comfort zone”. They don’t want to step outside of their comfort zone because they are scared of what might happen. But by not stepping out, they also miss out on the magic of life. Besides, the comfort zone is an illusion anyway. Bad stuff can happen even when you’ve created an imaginary comfort zone, no matter how high you build those walls. The comfort zone serves no other purpose besides convincing you that you are safe within it… it creates a false sense of security in a world where there simply is no certainty. Remember, taking well informed and calculated risks is a wise move, and increases your chances of finding success and happiness, too. You can’t control what happens, but you can believe in yourself and have faith in your ability to cope with whatever does happen. Everything you’ve ever wanted is usually on the other side of fear. It takes courage to take that leap, but what other choice do you have? To stay stuck? How boring!

 

“Sometimes your only available form of transportation is a leap of faith” – Margaret Shepard.

 

After a loss or change, you can beg and beg for it to go back to how it was before. You may feel that you need whatever it was that you lost in order to survive. You don’t. Whenever I have felt this way, it’s been because I was scared of letting go. It takes bravery to finally let go and say good-bye… but you do need to let go in order to welcome new beginnings. Every ending leads to a new beginning… it really does! You never would have believed me if you told you where I was this time last year and what I was going through… but here I am. It was hard…. really hard, but now I am in a better place. It’s powerful to realise that you are the only person who can save you. Other people can be there for you and support you, or even give you some ideas on how you might get through the change. But, I’ll tell you a secret, the only person who has ever been there for me through thick and thin, who has comforted me when I have been down, who has provided me with the strength I needed and who I have been able to rely on is me… It takes courage to love and nurture yourself through the process of change, but you are the one who is coping with whatever it is, so you need to be caring for yourself through that process.

Change3

I have learned so much about myself and the world just by paying attention to the things I previously used to ignore. Of course, I had to learn all this the hard way. I stayed in a job I hated until I got sick. I stayed in a relationship that wasn’t making me happy until I had a break down. We all have life traps. We all fall down holes. It takes courage and strength to recognise when you’ve fallen into a hole and to be able to find the way back out…. but we always do, and when we do, we grow stronger and more resilient. My favourite social researcher, Brené Brown, talks about this in greater detail in her latest book, Rising Strong. Each time we fall, we learn something new about ourselves and the world. Knowledge is power. We can’t change what we don’t notice. So pay attention to what your body and heart are telling you…. and put it into action. You won’t regret it.

I’m starting to learn to listen to myself and my body more, and you should too. I used to be someone who would push myself and have unrelenting standards for myself… and I still sort of do. I am ambitious. I am a dreamer. I am idealistic. However, I listen to myself now. If I am tired, I rest. If I am feeling overworked, I delegate out. If I feel overwhelmed, I take a break. If I’m not enjoying something, I stop. I follow my heart now and I listen to my intuition. I listen to my body and my feelings and I respond appropriately. I no longer ignore the feelings. I respond to them and validate them. Our feelings are messengers and they are telling us something. If we ignore physical pain then we get sick. In the same way, if we ignore our emotions, we get mentally unwell. Therefore, I bring a greater sense of kindness and compassion to myself when I’m going through a difficult time or coping with some change, and this helps a lot.

In a world where everything is constantly changing all around us, we can maintain some consistency in how we cope. Look to your core values to guide and direct you toward the best way to cope. Everyone copes differently. What works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. You have to figure out what helps you, and put it into action. I believe in you and I know you can get through it, whatever it is that you’re faced with. You’re programed to, after all 🙂

How do you normally cope with change? Do you like it or loathe it? What are your thoughts on change? What helps? You can share them with me and each other, if you want 🙂

How to Find Success in Whatever You Choose to Do

 

BeI often get people telling me how “lucky” I am that I have found success in my chosen career, that I get to do what I love, and that I get to choose the hours I work. Here’s a little secret: my “success” doesn’t come down to luck at all! It was an active choice and commitment, and one that I worked really bloody hard for. I thought I would share a few of my insights and reflections on success, and some ideas about how to be successful in whatever you choose to do.

Define what success means to you.

For some people, success means that they have a job that pays the bills, a roof over their head and food in their belly. For some people, success means they get to do what they love. For some people, success means being famous or having a certain amount of followers, subscribers or readers. For some people, success means earning a certain amount of money. For some people, success means getting a certain qualification. For some people, success means helping people or creating meaningful change in the world.

It’s really important to define what success actually means for you and to have a way of measuring your success. It might be based on monetary gain, it might be based on how it makes you feel, it might be a piece of paper, a publishing deal, a measure of popularity or it might be a combination of the above. It’s also really important that you define what success means to you because you need to know what you’re aiming for. It gives you a sense of direction and focus. It creates a specific and targeted goal to work towards. You may wish to also break it down into smaller, more manageable chunks or goals. As you meet certain benchmarks along the way, you may wish to then adjust your goal(s) accordingly.

While I was studying at uni, there were many times when I felt like giving up. It’s no secret that becoming a psychologist is a long and arduous journey with many hoops to jump through along the way. What kept me going was reminding myself of why I started in the first place. I wanted to understand myself better which in turn would help me understand others better and therefore hopefully help them. I also wanted to create meaningful change in the world and to give my suffering some purpose. Sounds a bit cheesy, egocentric and idealistic, but that’s pretty much the gist of it. The other major thing that kept me going was that I’d shared my goals with my late grandpa, who’d always encouraged me to pursue my academic dreams, and it was one of his dying wishes for me to complete my university education. This leads me on to the next important point, which is to….

Write down and share your goals!

According to a study by Gail Matthews, writing your goals down as well as sharing them with others, was shown to increase the chances of achieving them. As well as giving you a specific, measurable target or benchmark to work toward, writing your goals down or sharing them with others also gives you an action commitment and a sense of accountability. Seems pretty obvious to do this, but how many times have you set New Years Resolutions and then forgotten all about them a few weeks later? Write your goals down and check in with yourself every few months to see how you’re tracking.

Success isn’t a destination.

While I am quite content with where I am right now, I am one of those annoyingly ambitious and goal-driven people that dreams, believes and achieves. The sky’s the limit. If I want my dream job, I get it. If I want to write a thesis, I write a thesis. If I want to start a blog, I start one. Success is a journey, not a destination, so why place limits on yourself? It’s not about being insatiable; it’s about aspiring to be the best you can be. You can certainly accept yourself for where you are right now, but still work toward your next big dream or goal. Don’t get me wrong, I am so grateful and proud for all that I have already achieved, but I still have so much more that I want to achieve, and I truly believe that I will.

Persistence – “just keep swimming”.

If you really, really, really want something, you have to be prepared to put in the hard work. This means that you must persist! No matter what challenges, hurdles or barriers that you may have to face along the way, you MUST persist because persistence really is one of the most important keys in finding success. Keep going! Don’t stop! Put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. Even if it is at a snail’s pace, it doesn’t matter! Life isn’t a race, so take it at your own pace, but just keep going! Or, as Dory from Finding Nemo says, “just keep swimming”.

Just-Keep-SwimmingImage Source

Having said that, make sure you’re swimming in the right direction! If you find that you’re no longer swimming in the direction you want to be swimming in then stop. Figure out which direction you need to be going in, and change your course. It’s one thing to be persistent, and another to be stubborn and unwilling to admit when you’ve made a poor choice or chosen the wrong path. It’s ok to re-evaluate your goals and change your mind about things.

Sometimes we have goals, but then when we actually dive in and pursue them we realise they were not right for us. That’s ok too! Sometimes it takes more strength and courage to recognise when it’s time to give up and walk away than to continue fighting a losing battle. It shouldn’t be that hard. You don’t have to stay in a job you hate, a relationship you’re unhappy in or a career that’s unfulfilling. You have options! One door closes and another opens, as they say. You just have to have the courage to make the change. I stayed in a job once that I hated for 6 months and almost sacrificed my sanity, but then the minute I left I found a job that I loved and it all worked out. Sometimes walking away is the best thing you can do because something better is waiting for you around the corner. However, you can never cross the ocean if you don’t have the courage to lose sight of the shore. Change is hard, but it’s also sometimes necessary, especially if you’re stuck in a “comfort zone”. Pip Lincolne talks about how to bounce back from failure in an article she wrote for Dumbo Feather.

You may be wondering, how do you even know if you’re on the right path? Well, it’s about trusting your own judgment, listening to your feelings and responding to them. Doing something you love should create an overall sense of flow, contentment and fulfilment. Yes, there will be challenges along the way, but if you are having more bad days than good that’s usually a pretty good indicator that you’re not on the right path. Also, get to know your limits and set realistic goals. No matter how hard I try; I know I will never be able to fly, for example. Also, sometimes it may be that you need to skill up first, gain a certain qualification, or do some research – so be aware of all the steps along the way, and commit to climbing one step at a time. In other words, don’t run before you can walk.

Consistence

Being persistent is one thing, but being consistent is another. Consistency creates structure, routine and habit, and humans are creatures of habit. I’ve been learning about consistence recently in Pip Lincolne’s Blog With Pip course. In the course, she shares her blog-to-book journey and insights with her students and she reckons that it’s all about consistency. If you want to write a book, for example, you need to commit to writing it Every. Single. Day. She suggests writing 750 words every day until you finish writing your book. Pretty simple, and pretty obvious, no?

If you are persistentYou will get itIf you are consistentYou will keep it

Take informed, educated risks.

This is an important point to clarify because not all risks are equal. People take risks every day in business and in life, however, some risks are well informed and educated, and others are just plain silly. The difference between an informed risk and a silly risk is when the upside outweighs the downside. Think about the best-case scenario for your risk and then think about the worst-case scenario. If the potential downside is limited and manageable but the potential upside is unlimited, you should probably take that risk.

For example, when thinking about starting this blog, I considered the best possible outcome or measure of success, which was for my blog to gain a significant readership, for me to share my ideas, connect with, inspire and help others, and to eventually perhaps write a book based on the ideas shared on the blog. The worst-case scenario was that no one would read my blog and that I’d wasted $20 on buying a domain name. However, I figured that even if people weren’t reading or following along, my time wasn’t being wasted because I still enjoying the process of writing regardless. So, I realised I’d still find some measure of success and enjoyment in the pursuit of this venture even if I didn’t meet all the benchmarks along the way. In this case, the potential downside is limited but the upside is virtually unlimited. It’s a risk worth taking. Steve Pavlina talks more about this, if you’re interested.

Have the courage to face your fears.

Finally, success takes courage. No matter what goal you’re working toward, it takes courage. To be successful you have to conquer your fears, doubts and insecurities, sometimes on a daily basis. It’s normal to feel scared when you’re trying to achieve something. The fear of failure is real, and it’s scary. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear and creativity in her new (and awesome) book, Big Magic. For Gilbert, whenever she attempts to pursue any new venture, creativity is always in the driver’s seat and fear is in the back. She reckons that if you let your fear jump into the driver’s seat, your life will be pretty boring. And she’s right, of course. Fear wants to keep us safe, and it has its place, but we can’t let it make all the decisions for us in life.

As Liz says, “Creativity and inspiration are the vehicles that will transport you to the person you most need to become”. – Elizabeth Gilbert.

Social researcher Brené Brown also talks about courage and vulnerability and how we must dare to show up and be seen; to walk into the arena of our lives, whether it be for work, relationships, a difficult conversation, a job interview, or whatever. When you show up authentically, you create the space for others to do the same. Authenticity is a form of vulnerability, but vulnerability is not weakness – it’s courage. So be authentic, be you and believe in yourself – you have what it takes!

Brené reckons that vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation and change, and I reckon she’s totally right. When I think of all the awesome achievements in my own life, I can definitely see how they were born out of vulnerability.

In her book, Daring Greatly, Brené shares part of a speech by Theodore Roosevelt. It’s too awesome not to share…

theodore roosevelt quote

I hope you were inspired by some of my ideas, stories and reflections on success and I hope you find success in whatever you choose to pursue. Do you have any success stories you’d like to share with me? Feel free to comment here or chat to me on Facebook.

Midnight Musings on Change, Identity and Authenticity.

I was recently having a discussion with my fiancé about identity and authenticity. He was suggesting that he is exactly the same person regardless of who he is around. My fiancé is definitely a straight-down-the-line sort of guy. He says it as it is, and he definitely doesn’t sugar coat it. You never have to read between the lines with him. We were discussing this in the context of social skills, business and professionalism, and how it is a beneficial skill to be able to read a social context and adapt your personality accordingly. I was using the example of how I am able to build rapport with a variety of different client populations, and how it is so beneficial to have this sort of versatility – particularly as a psychologist. I was suggesting how it might also be a valuable skill to have in business. My fiancé, on the other hand, was arguing that people who are able to present a modified version of themselves to different social contexts are probably “fake”. He educated me on “changelings” – these shape shifting life forms from star-trek, and I proceeded to educate him on the divergent trilogy. It was quite a riveting discussion. In the end, I settled on the idea that I probably have a chameleon-type of personality. I continued to mull over this idea during the course of the week and how it fits in with my worldview.

Is it fake to present a different side of yourself depending on whom you are with? Am I being inauthentic if I present a different side of myself to my friends, family, clients or colleagues? Aren’t all of these “versions” just “me”? I always just thought of it as being like wearing a different hat. You always hear of people talking about having their “work hat” on when they’re at work. I never really questioned it. I always assumed that there was a constant in there somewhere. No matter whom I was with, I always “myself” – but just an adapted version of myself.

Then I started thinking, what if the concept of “myself” doesn’t even exist? You cannot, after all, step into the same river twice, as the famous Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, said. What if “myself” is a flexible, adaptive, changing being? Plato also famously said, “everything changes, nothing stands still”. We are constantly changing, evolving beings, so why should this come as a surprise to me? The very nature of my work involves unlocking change in people. Indeed, I have witnessed that even the most entrenched and ingrained patterns of thinking and behaving in people can change, albeit very slowly.

So, I reflected some more on this, and I concluded that there are in fact some constants – but perhaps rather than these being fixed in nature, I hypothesise that they’re probably more likely attached to my values and core beliefs, or schemas. The psychologist Jeffrey Young developed schema theory to describe this organising framework of the mind. Schemas represent patterns of internal experience. So, basically, they are stories that our mind tells us about ourselves (self-image) and about the world. It’s important that we critically evaluate our own stories, as they are not always true. Cognitive dissonance occurs when new evidence is presented that does not necessarily fit in with your existing story. Basically, your mind is usually quite comfortable with the story it is already telling you and can’t be bothered writing a new one. However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. This is why people often experience anxiety in response to change. We become attached to these stories that our mind tells us, and we refuse to re-write them. Being flexible to adapt to change is a valuable asset, for the mere fact that change is the only constant in life. To be able to challenge existing stories and create new ones is surely an advantage?

The interesting thing about my line of work is that I deliver it through the vehicle of the self; so I cannot ever take myself out of it. I am a vital part of the process, and I embrace a psychodynamic approach. I therefore do draw on my own feelings, as well as the dynamic, in informing my practice. Up until today, I told myself that square plugs couldn’t fit into round holes. It’s a “poor fit”, I would say. And, if you don’t even know what shape you are, how can you find the right hole? However, perhaps some people do have the ability to change their shape? Perhaps the fundamental properties of the plug remain the same, but the shape changes? What a gift. It kind of makes sense when you think of it like that. The properties are what form its function, not the shape. Change is the constant.

I held onto this story for a while, until I was inevitably presented with a new version of the story by my fiancé, which totally changed my own take on the story. He said, “Be the man you want to be, not the man people want you to be”.

This made me return to the earlier reflection on authenticity and whether it is indeed a poor reflection of character to be a shape shifter. I guess in the context of my plug story – what happens when I don’t like the shape I have to mould myself to be? Do I change anyway? No, I don’t, because it’s ultimately still a choice. It’s always a choice, and morally speaking, I wouldn’t want to just shape shift into whatever people want me to be. Your shape still has to fit in with your overall story of who you want to be. If you hold strong beliefs about human rights, for example, and you’re attempting to adapt this to fit into Tony Abbott’s views on asylum seekers, no matter how hard you try you’re likely to run your boat aground (pardon the inappropriate pun).

In my work, I need to be very aware of my own beliefs and judgments, and to also be aware of how they may impact on the therapeutic relationship. I must respect clients’ beliefs, and not impose my own views and opinions on them. I therefore bring a sense of openness and unconditional positive regard to whatever the client brings to the room, and I suspend all judgement. This has often led to me letting go of previously held assumptions and beliefs. When you hear and hold so many different stories, your own stories often change as a natural consequence. This is actually one of the rewards of the work. You start to open yourself up to new ideas, beliefs, and perspectives. You start to form new stories, which are rich, meaningful and well rounded. You learn new things from your clients; you grow; you open yourself up to new experiences; you gain vicarious resilience. You learn to be the plug that holds and contains so many stories, but does so with grace and integrity. It’s an honour and privilege to be able to hold someone else’s story, but also to recognise that their story doesn’t necessarily have to fit in with yours. That is the person I want to be, and fortunately for me, it is also the person my clients need me to be.

In 2001, psychologists Michael Lambert and Dean Barley conducted research on factors that influence client outcomes. The results of their research indicated that factors such as empathy, warmth, and the therapeutic relationship was shown to correlate more highly with client outcomes than specialised treatment interventions. In fact, decades of research also indicate that the delivery of therapy is an interpersonal process in which a main curative component is the nature of the therapeutic relationship. Learning to improve one’s ability to relate to clients and tailoring that relationship to individual clients is therefore crucial to this line of work. Does it always work? No, of course not. Sometimes it is a “poor fit”. Sometimes my ship does run aground, but that is okay.

Mahatma Ghandi famously said, “be the change you wish to see in the world”. For the most part, this is the person I want to be: a changeling, shape shifting, chameleon plug – someone who is able to hold, accept and validate a story, but also facilitate its change. Meanwhile, my fiancé is still hell-bent on being the man he wants to be, thankfully that man also happens to be the man I love.