One of the trickiest aspects of a psychologist’s job is to help motivate clients to do things they are reluctant to do, but may help them feel better. Common mental health problems like depression and anxiety involve a biased or stereotyped pattern of thinking and behaving which maintains or exacerbates the condition. These patterns keep people stuck:
- People who are depressed often resist engaging in healthy activities such as socializing, exercising, and pursuing usual interests.
- Anxious individuals avoid confronting fears.
- Individuals who are impulsive, restless, or hypomanic have trouble quieting their minds, pausing before responding and finding balance.
- When we are angry, we are reluctant to empathize.
- Perfectionism makes us intolerant of mistakes.
- Low self-worth makes it hard to practice self-compassion.
- When we lack confidence, we avoid taking risks .
The treatment for many of these conditions involves prescribing activities that may seem counter-intuitive when a client is stuck in a maladaptive mental state. It is a skillful therapist who can help clients see the value in engaging in the very activities they may be resisting. In addition, the client must be open to change, because therapists cannot make people do things they don’t want to do.
Building motivation for change involves an examination of the pros and cons of maintaining the status quo versus trying something different. It also involves identifying reasons for change that are preferably personal, internal and positive. Finally, the therapist helps the client build confidence in the likelihood of success and that the rewards for change will be worth the effort.
Clients have described the beginning stages of the process as “rolling a boulder up a hill”. At first it takes an enormous amount of energy and commitment. But, once the crest has been peaked, momentum builds and it becomes easier.
Sometimes individuals are so compromised they do not have the resources to engage independently in the activities that might help them recover. These individuals may need medications to help them get well enough to use psychotherapy to their advantage. Some may need more intensive treatment, such as a residential stay, intensive outpatient treatment, or a provider (or therapy collateral) who can meet with them outside of the therapy office and help them implement strategies in their daily lives.
If you or a loved one are feeling stuck, it may be time to consult a psychologist. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy. I maintain a local referral listing site at kansascitymentalhealth.com. If you want to use your health insurance, you call the behavioral health number on the back of your insurance card or visit your insurance company website to get some referral options.