I Am Who I Am So Why Therapy?

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By Ann McKee Parker, Ph. D

Many people come into therapy wary of its effectiveness because they believe “they are who they are” and therefore cannot change.  I always agree with them!

So what are we able to change?  Our personalities are pretty well formed by adulthood and most of our behaviors are habitual responses. That is what therapy can help change: behavior.  We develop responses to our environment from an early age and if they are reinforced either positively or negatively we continue to use them.  What therapy can do is to assist us in changing our behavior, not who we are. When you decide to seek the help of a psychologist you are in stress because your responses are not working for you.  You may be experiencing conflict at home with a loved one, you may find that you are overwhelmed at work and unable to function, you may be angry with your spouse, you may feel that no one really understands you etc.  The purpose of therapy is to discover how you learned to respond (behave) to your environment the way you do, to discover which of these responses (behaviors) continues to achieve your goals and which ones do not.  The next step is to explore other behavioral options.

For instance, when you were small you cried each time your father told you not to talk with your mouth full. The crying would elicit an apology from your father and a big hug. Crying worked well for you. So you find that when your partner suggests you are not a good cook, you cry. But now the partner does not hug you nor apologize, quite the opposite, you are told that you either learn to cook or she will have to find someone who does.  You do not understand how this person can treat you this way! You come into therapy to decide whether you want to stay with this person who treats you so poorly.  So, we discover why you cry when you are corrected, what you are expecting the other person to do in response, why you expect that, and then we discover that the behavior which once worked  is now dysfunctional because you do not get the response you seek. The choice is to change the behavior not your personality. You are the same person but now you respond in a manner that achieves your goal. That is the answer to Why Therapy?