By Katherine Young, M.Ed, Registered Clinical Counsellor, Vancouver, BC.
Who do you really want to be? How do you really want to live?
Counselling can help you figure out what you want most deeply, and how to have it.
Call or text 604-787-4008 for help.
I believe that we want to live more deeply. I think the seat of our happiness in this world is to live fully, with greater feeling and more meaningful experiences. We want to give everything we’ve got! We want closer relationships with others and more purposeful work.
For some people a happier life may look bold, daring and adventurous; for others it is simple, peaceful depth, but most of us feel the longing to live the life we have been given to the fullest.
We want to be free of superficial concerns and in tune with what actually matters to us.
“Live! Live the wonderful life that is in you!” – Oscar Wilde
The first step in changing is becoming aware of what we want to change. It sounds obvious, but in fact we are often quite unaware of what is causing our difficulties. We may know that we don’t want to experience painful symptoms or we want people to stop reacting to us in the same repetitive, hurtful ways, but we often don’t know what is causing our symptoms or why people treat us as they do.
When we are really struggling, either within ourselves, or externally with others, there is often a sense of being lost or being blind to what is really going on. Effective therapy helps us awaken. It helps us see ourselves, but that is actually quite a strange thing to say. We see ourselves? Who is looking at whom exactly?
This strange phenomenon of looking at ourselves is precisely how we develop and change for the better. We begin to see aspects of ourselves—our behavior, our thought processes, our emotions. As we see those aspects they begin to lose their hold on us.
These behaviours, feelings, thoughts are no longer automatic, unexamined habits they are now things we can look at, analyze and affect. More and more is revealed; we come to know ourselves better. We are more awake! We find ourselves increasingly able to imagine and decide to act more in alignment with what we deeply want instead of being driven by false desires arising from insecurities. In this way, developing our awareness literally gives us the freedom to choose to act differently. This awareness and our subsequent choices to act and think differently can cause our painful symptoms of anxiety, depression and relationship strife to dissipate. Amazing, that simple awareness is such a powerful part of change.
Of course, the work does not end with awareness alone. Action needs to be taken. New skills need to be learned and integrated. Internal conflict needs to be worked through, however awareness is a critical first step.
With continued, careful attention to the nuances of thoughts and feelings we begin to develop a compassionate container where we can start to make changes because we have dropped the painful habit of being overly critical or subtly aggressive towards ourselves.
Once we have the safety that comes from compassion, we can begin to really look at ourselves and identify subtle feelings we aren’t usually aware of. When we tune in we’ll see that feelings occur for only moments before we usually act in the same repetitive patterns. As we become aware of our feelings and realize what is driving the automatic repetitive patterns, we can choose differently.
We may discover we act from a feeling of inadequacy or hungry jealousy or panicky fear. Knowing this, we develop a plan to pause and reflect the next time the same pattern arises. Then, interrupting the automatic habit, we begin to practice new skills until they become second nature. As we begin to behave differently, people treat us differently, as a positive feedback loop begins to ensue.
So often we find our patterns of thinking, feeling and behavior began so long ago in a context where they made some sense. They were helpful at that time, but without enough conscious awareness of the new, adult context, they became the problem.
In therapy we trace where a particular pattern came from, disentangle it from our present life circumstances and interpret situations again with clarity and greater insight. This can release us from long standing pain, and show us the opportunity to see present circumstances more clearly. For those of us with painful pasts, we can learn to soothe ourselves in ways we may never have known.
When we find this freedom to change, to find something new, we truly become authors of our own lives. We can choose not to interpret someone declining our invitation as a personal sleight and be free of the feeling of rejection. Or, we could recognize our spouse does not actually cause our pain and our reactions; we are causing them ourselves through our participation in a repetitive pattern with the spouse where our interpretations, our reactions and our dependencies fuel a cycle. We find we could choose not to yell at them this time, and break the pattern, for example.
Ultimately, we can remember to recognize what we are grateful for or passionate about. When we become aware how we create and maintain patterns, we can choose to live with love, generosity, meaning and depth.
“awareness in and of itself is curative.” – Fritz Perls, one of the founders of Gestalt Therapy
Schools of Therapy
Keeping a developmental framework in mind, I work with clients to help them identify where they would like to evolve to, and how they would like their lives to look differently. Generally, I draw from the psychodynamic, humanistic, and existential schools of therapy.
During counselling I consider the individual in terms of their ongoing development emotionally, cognitively, socially, biologically, inter-personally, spiritually, socio-economically and more. Also important are the client’s particular personality type and other identities that are important to him or her.
I am influenced by the work of Ken Wilber the American philosopher who penned Integral Theory. His meta-theory of psychological development allows me to understand the individual client in a truly holistic sense.
I also draw on Integral Theory to select which of the therapeutic schools will be best suited to the particular problems a client is asking for help with. For a thorough understanding of Integral Theory and other therapeutic schools see the Resources page.
Outcomes of Therapy
Depending on the client’s preferences and conscious and unconscious needs, the goals of therapy may be meaningful living, effective development, harmonious relationships, enjoyable states of happiness, a more peaceful mind, a more active life, increased confidence, responsibility and empathy as well as many different specific outcomes someone may wish to achieve.
I create a unique therapy for each individual client. Understanding what a client wishes to change in their life, as well as the assessing the client in many different areas, the client and I work together to develop a therapy that meets their particular needs.
*Artwork for this page by Jennifer Baird.