The Process of Change in Therapy

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

By Michaela Choy, AMFT

As a therapist, I am in the business of change. Change takes many forms depending on who is pursuing this change. Clients bring a whole host of variables to the equation of change including learned behaviors and viewpoints from families of origin, unique belief systems, and significant life experiences. This list goes on. Whatever you bring to the table, will shape your path. Part of my work is to meet you where you’re at and use your strengths to promote change.

Often I’m asked how long the therapy process will take or what the roadmap of change looks like. I’ve found it helpful to discuss a few things (below) with my clients to set realistic expectations for them AND to expand their definition of change so they get the most out of this work.

It’s Messy

The preferred method of change is a map with check points and linear movement – once you’ve completed one task, it’s on to the next. You know you’ve made progress and know exactly where you’re headed next. And that’s very comforting. Change can happen like this, but in my experience, change tends to look much different. It’s messy. It’s not linear. When my clients experience new ways of being, responses and realizations are activated and new paths in the work are uncovered. Responding to what becomes activated for you makes the work rich and thorough, and this will help promote lasting change. Your responses are happening for a reason, and it’s best to honor them versus bulldozing past them. If not given the time and attention they need, they will pop up again.

It’s Gradual

One of my teachers explained the impact of small change over time. He used the metaphor of a boat changing its course by several degrees. At first it may not seem like much is happening, but over the long run, your boat’s course will look much different than its initial course. Even a small 2-degree change has big impact over time. Develop respect for this process. You may want faster results, we all do. But change is in fact happening.

The 80/20 Rule

Your commitment to the work is key. It’s going to be hard. If it wasn’t, you wouldn’t be here. It takes persistence, curiosity, and effort outside of therapy. Many wonderful moments and realizations happen in therapy, and it’s the client’s responsibility to reflect on this work and experiment with these ideas outside of therapy. 80% of the work happens outside of the therapy room. 20% happens in the room.