Written by: Jack Carmody, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
I am a licensed counselor, and I firmly believe that people can benefit from counseling. A counselor can provide a listening ear, an outside perspective, and professional expertise, all of which can be helpful. However, I also believe that people can independently apply the principles I lay out in this article and make tremendous progress with whatever they are struggling with.
Admit You Have a Problem
Admitting you have a problem is the first and most important step towards healing. Someone who reaches out to a therapist is usually coming from a place where they are willing to admit they have a problem. Marriage researcher John Gottman noted that it takes a struggling couple an average of six years to seek help. Why? Admitting you have a problem is hard! When faced with a problem, we often avoid, deny, or hope it will magically get better. I often use the Bible’s light/dark imagery in talking about this principle. When things are left in the dark, they fester and grow, but when they are brought into the light, there can be growth and healing.
Most people who seek counseling are at a breaking point, which usually means their problem is at about an eight or a nine on a ten-point scale. Such problems are obviously very severe and can be challenging to work through. I recently worked with a teenager who sought help navigating a relational issue with his girlfriend. I asked him to rate the seriousness of the issue on the one to ten scales and he gave it a four. He commented, “I want to nip it in the bud now before it gets worse.” What a display of maturity for this teenager to admit there is a problem early on, before that four becomes a nine! The sooner you admit there is a problem, the better!
Take Ownership of the Problem
Admitting you have a problem, and taking ownership of the problem, are not the same thing. The temptation is always there to blame outside forces for the problem. Outside forces could come in the form of people (tone-deaf boss, critical spouse, etc.) or a circumstance (toxic work environment, financial distress, etc.). It is very tempting to avoid taking ownership and instead blame the outside force(s) for your troubles. However, as soon as you make this shift, you lose the power to effect change. For example, if you think your lousy work situation will not improve unless you get a new boss, your work outlook has become entirely dependent on your boss. Thus, he/she now has all the power! Is that what you want?
Taking ownership means that regardless of the outside forces at play, you are going to take responsibility for the problem. Using the career example, while you cannot change your boss, there is plenty that you can change to improve your situation. What if you made a commitment to come to work well rested, having eaten a good breakfast, and with a positive attitude? Do you think those choices would lead to a better outcome? What if, rather than replying to your boss’s unrealistic demands with a sigh or an eye roll, you answer with a smile? Is it possible that such a response might lead to your boss being a little nicer next time? Don’t just name your problem, take ownership!
Set Aside Regular Time to Work on the Problem
One of the best parts of my job is that I get to give people hope. When I see someone for the first time, I usually end the session saying something to the effect of, “The good news is, things are going to improve.” How can I make such a bold claim? In a counseling session, a client is intentionally setting aside time (both quantity and quality) to work on the problem. When people give of their most precious resource, time, to problems, it is nearly impossible not to make progress.
The quantity of time set aside is important. Often, most of us are so busy during the day that our problems (which we already said we are good at avoiding) usually get the scraps! Author Cal Newport in his book Deep Work made the point that people are most effective when they can devote a long stretch of time to a task. So, even though an hour is four times longer than fifteen minutes, you will reap much more than four times the benefit from that hour. What if you took an hour every week to read a book, listen to a podcast, or journal, or talk to a friend about your problem?
The quality of time spent working on a problem is also important. It is crucial to work on the problem during moments when you are not in the throws of the problem. For example, trying to solve your social anxiety problem in the middle of the party is not ideal! There is a huge benefit that comes from setting aside time to look at the problem rationally and intentionally, which is what a counseling session provides. However, if you have the discipline, you can easily set aside this time yourself.
Identify your problem, take ownership of it, and devote an hour a week to working on it. If you can apply these three principles, I want to give you hope just as I would give it to my clients, “Things are going to improve!”
I do feel the need to make to two clarifications. First, and this may go without saying, there are situations where you should seek professional help. Seeking this sort of help is a sign of strength, not weakness. Second, some situations will not always get better in the ways you want. Sometimes goals need to be tempered. That said, do not let total victory become the enemy of progress!
Jack Carmody, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Jack Carmody is a licensed counselor in the state of South Carolina (US), a military chaplain, and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America. Whichever of these "hats" he is wearing, his passion is to help people discover God's best for their lives. He is also the Veteran Coach for the TV show, "Military Makeover with Montel" which airs on Lifetime. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, running, and spending time with his family.