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Published on July 31, 2018

What is Psychotherapy? How It Can Help You Achieve Your Dreams

What is Psychotherapy? How It Can Help You Achieve Your Dreams

No doubt you’ve had this thought before, and maybe you’ve even voiced it in a conversation with a close friend, a family member, or yourself.

The thought goes like this: What is wrong with me? What am I doing wrong?

You expect and want life to go a certain way, you want to fulfill your dreams and you want success, but it’s not happening. You feel stuck in a cycle of desperation, alienation and futility.

Your life circumstances are such that you’re having trouble coping and returning to normal. The good news is there’s a kind of counseling called psychotherapy; you can use it to make a real difference in your life. According to Bradley University, 82 percent1 of people who have undergone psychotherapy found it beneficial.[1]

What is psychotherapy and how can it help you achieve your dreams? Continue reading to find out.

What Is psychotherapy?

Before we go further, let’s define psychotherapy. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, psychotherapy is “talk therapy.”[2]

Generally speaking, psychotherapy is a series of sessions with a therapist who helps you “identify and change troubling emotions, thoughts, and behavior.”

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Psychotherapy isn’t just for people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. Anyone can benefit from it.

How psychotherapy helps you take control of your life

Here’s the truth about psychotherapy: it’s all about you — your desires, goals, relationships, perspective, skills and agency.

You’re stuck in a pattern. You feel you’re in a bad place and you can’t get out. Through psychotherapy, you’ll pin down actionable steps to move forward.

Your counselor will help you understand the following:

  1. You are the one who can make changes to your pattern because you have the power to recognize negative tendencies and act positively. You have agency.
  2. You can figure out what brought you to this place in your life. You’ll identify past experiences, actions and behaviors that contribute to your pattern.
  3. You can get help from other people. You’ll identify a support network and if you don’t have one, you’ll develop one.
  4. You have strengths; you’ll identify them and ways to use them for positive improvement.
  5. There are certain things that trigger your problematic behaviors. You’ll identify your triggers.
  6. You can use specific techniques every day when you are triggered. These techniques are called coping skills. With cognitive-behavioral therapy, you’ll identify which coping skills are best for you.
  7. There are measurable and realistic goals you can achieve within a certain period of time. You’ll identify your goals and the steps toward achieving them.

Ultimately, taking the small steps every day and filling your self-confidence bucket will enable you to fulfill your dreams.

A dream remains a dream when it’s distant, hazy and unattainable. A dream becomes reality when you take realistic steps to achievement.

There are different types of psychotherapy. Let’s take a deeper dive into the practice.

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How cognitive-behavioral therapy helps you take action

Quickly, think of an issue that pretty much everyone must deal with. No clues! You have five seconds to identify this issue. It’s something you may be feeling right now. If you can’t figure it out now, you fail.

Did that make you feel a little stressed out? There you have it.

Stress is an issue pretty much everyone has to deal with, and it can affect your physical and emotional health: about 77 percent of people experience physical symptoms caused by stress, while 73 percent report emotional problems.[3]

To cope with stress, Dr. Lisa Herbert, who is a physician and life coach, recommends deep breathing, a gratitude journal, and counting to 10 before doing something you know will be stressful.

Herbert’s recommendations are very much in line with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). Basically, CBT involves the following:

  • Identify symptoms that indicate the psychological basis of a problem: if you’re overly stressed, you may experience racing thoughts, aches and pains, muscle spasms and digestive issues, among other symptoms.
  • Identify triggers of symptoms: what is it that stresses you out? Is there a recurring scenario causing you to become overly stressed?
  • Identify coping skills that can help you deal with symptoms: coping skills can include deep breathing, positive self-talk, redirection, exercise, art, and mindfulness.
  • Identify ways to implement coping skills in the community and at home.
  • Practice coping skills regularly.
  • Discuss results and next steps with your therapist.

A key component of CBT is the identification of thoughts that lead to undesirable behaviors. You learn to recognize negative and unreasonable thoughts and to counter them through specific actions (coping skills).

Your therapist works with you to tailor coping skills to your specific needs. If needed, you’ll also identify pro-social skills, communication skills and vocational/educational skills.

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How psychoanalysis helps you unearth the root of your problems

Do you remember when you were 8 and you got in a fight with your sibling and it got physical? How many other fights do you remember? Did you ever begin to talk about your anger with your brother or sister and figure out what was causing it, or did your parents just ground you and ignore the cause of the fights?

Psychoanalysis helps you delve deep into the cause of whatever is troubling you. Somewhere along the line, you unconsciously began to develop a harmful pattern. You’ll discover the thinking processes that lead to patterns, and you’ll pinpoint what made you start thinking and acting this way to begin with.

During therapy sessions, you’ll discuss your dreams, thoughts, memories and feelings with your therapist until you understand the root of your problem. Once you recognize and understand harmful thoughts and patterns, you can begin taking the steps to change. Therapists oftentimes combine this approach with CBT and other psychotherapies.

A study published by the World Psychiatric Association revealed that patients who suffered from depression benefitted from psychoanalysis in the long term. After 42 weeks, observers and the patients themselves reported significant declines in depression levels.[4]

Through psychoanalysis, you’ll benefit from gaining a clear and objective view of yourself, like a person who is able to navigate a maze by looking at it from above. You’ll also be able to understand what certain dreams mean and why you continue to associate with certain people.

Over time, understanding and empowerment will help you heal yourself.

Psychotherapy encompasses a variety of treatment options

There are multiple kinds of psychotherapy besides psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral therapy. You’ll determine what is best for you when you first consult with your therapist.

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The American Psychological Association (APA) highlights the difference between CBT and psychoanalysis.[5]

The APA calls psychoanalysis a “humanistic” approach. CBT and its adjuncts, such as dialectical behavior therapy, furnish a practical approach to therapy, while psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapy are all about in-depth conversation.

Many therapists combine practical and talk-based therapies based on your needs.

Achieve your dreams with psychotherapy

As mentioned, psychoanalysis includes careful consideration not only of your thoughts and feelings, but of your dream content and what it means about your desires.

Analyzing your dreams helps you understand your innermost unconscious tendencies. According to Freud, Carl Jung and other pioneers of psychoanalysis, dream analysis helps you understand your most fundamental needs and wishes.

Meanwhile, CBT helps you develop a practical, achievable plan for fulfilling your dreams. Answering the question, “What do you want?” is a primary component of all psychotherapies. CBT is the step-by-step approach to healing wounds, filling your confidence bucket, and grasping your goals.

To find out more about psychoanalysis, CBT, and other psychotherapies, consult with a licensed therapist.

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

Daniel Matthews, CPRP

Daniel Matthews is a Certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Practitioner and freelance writer with an extensive background working with clients on community-based rehabilitation.

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Last Updated on August 20, 2018

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1]Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2]Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3]Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4]Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5]Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6]The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7]Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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