As I started my internship in June 2015, I was thrilled that one of our psychoeducation classes was on the process of change, taken from Prochaska’s text. As therapists, we spend time each week teaching our patients about change spending a lot of time focusing on the process behind it. Although I think it’s incredibly helpful to make all people aware of the process of change, I’ve noticed that even teaching a psychoeducation class once week to our patients usually isn’t enough time to focus on this idea.
When I think about habits in my own life I’ve tried changing, some are fairly easy and others I’ve been working on for over 15 years and I’m still stuck in that cycle of contemplation. Change is hard! And I think our patients and clients could benefit from hearing this reminder over and over.
Our patients and clients need to be reminded that change is a process; sometimes a process that takes months or even years. And this isn’t an important message just for a recovering addict, this is an important message for someone who is trying to manage their OCD, or for someone who struggles with racing and controlling thoughts, or for someone who (for years) has struggled with abandonment so severely that it affects how they live their daily life. I find it helpful in individual sessions with patients to pull out the sheet that explains the process of change and encourage them that their lives aren’t going to change dramatically in a few days, even if they are in an intensive therapy program in a hospital. All of our patients and clients deserve to be encouraged, supported and reminded that change is a process. It is our goal as clinicians to walk along side them and guide them through the process.
I heard a clinician on our staff say to a patient, “In the span of four weeks, I am not going to be able to dislodge these distorted thoughts you’ve had in your head for over 30 years. But as we go through the process of therapy, we can begin to chip away at them together.” We cannot lie to or mislead our patient’s as they attempt change. We must be honest, upfront and real about the process, the pain and the challenge that change can be. But we must also shine light on the reward, the healthier life and the joy that awaits.
Kristina Walsh is a counselor-in-training at Methodist Theological School in Ohio, completing her internship this year in Partial Hospitalization and Intensive Outpatient Care in Harding Hospital at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.