I’m sorry to break the bad news to all the quick fixers out there, but real and lasting positive change takes a significant time investment. Think of all the self-improvement activities you’ve ever engaged in: getting your education, cultivating long-term relationships, becoming physically fit, excelling at a sport or a musical instrument, exploring your spirituality – these are things that take years to develop. This can seem counterintuitive in this age of managed care, brief therapy, cost containment and uber-efficiency. Sometimes we forget the time and effort we put into things that really matter.
In the early phases of change, we often turn to the experts, read books or attend workshops. Although classes and coaches, mentors and advisors can be invaluable, most of the real work is done between meetings, on our own, making sense of things for ourselves and in our own lives. We need to experiment with the general advice we are given and tweak things so they work for us and are sustainable given our unique characteristics and situations.
When I offer suggestions for change, sometimes a client will say to me, “Easier said than done”. Believe me, I understand this sentiment firsthand. Most of the strategies and resources I suggest to clients have been personally tested by me. Yes, therapists engage in personal growth activities too – we’re not all talk.
A while back I read an article in the Chicago tribune by Genevra Pittman entitled “Do health care workers practice what they preach?” It made me think about the importance of being genuine in my work and leading by example wherever possible. In my training and career as a psychologist, I have learned first hand the value of practicing what one preaches. Admittedly, there are many areas I haven’t yet explored and even when I do try to practice what I preach, I am not always successful. Sometimes my situation does not allow me to participate in recommended treatments as an actual member, but in those cases I still try to gain exposure in some way.
Practicing what I preach helps me understand what clients experience, the difficulties they encounter, why they might feel reluctant to engage or follow through, where they become frustrated or blocked and what might help them be move forward. It has also helped me feel more confident in recommending research based strategies that I know to also be personally effective. I think it can be particularly valuable for parents when they advise their children to do healthy or challenging things, to lead by example. Practicing what we preach gives us more credibility and helps us gain insight into the challenges and rewards involved.
I hope I have inspired others to invest time in their personal growth efforts. A wise teacher once said to me, “Our identities are made up of what has been within our reach.” Daring to reach further with sustained effort and exposing ourselves to new experiences expands our identities. This includes trying new things that have good evidence behind them and might be helpful to us.