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The Language of Change

Change is a nebulous concept. With my clinical counseling internship behind me and the future of being a mental health professional before me, I have a better understanding of how much I did not understand about people’s expectations versus my own. I can now admit that before I had seen my very first client, my expectations for change were idealistic and unrealistic. I imagined I would fix every client’s issues and solve every problem within the span of a few sessions. I quickly came to realize how wrong I was.

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Every client is different. People come into therapy with their unique narratives. Each personal history, each sequence of events, each person’s family, each cluster of experiences set one person’s story apart from another. While I was trained that it was important to find similarities and common themes amongst my clients, I began to recognize that the differences between them is what can make therapy such a rewarding and beautiful experience.

Each of us has a story. We tell these stories using our own language. By language, I do not just mean a native tongue like English or Spanish. Our language is represented by our experiences: our beginnings, our influences, our passions, our tragedies. The events in our lives are enveloped into these stories and affects how we tell them. They also inspire how we perceive change.

Through my experiences, I know that my perceptions of change do not always match those of my clients. And my client’s perspective is what matters most. My job is not to impose my beliefs onto my client. My job is to listen to the language my client is using and learn that language.

I have worked with many people who are dealing with depression. When I asked these clients what they were seeking out of therapy, an overwhelming majority declared: “I just want to be happy.”  This seems like an obvious answer. Why else would people with depression come into therapy if they did not want to get better? Happiness is a worthwhile goal and my role in therapy is to facilitate that for my clients.

The important question that needs to be asked to clients, however, is: “What does happiness mean to you?” What does happiness look like, how do you envision yourself and your life being happy? This is where language and personal experience come into play. When I have posed this question to clients, the answers varied incredibly. Happiness could be resolving conflict with a family member or spouse, learning how to deal with stress at work or home, being able to get out of bed in the morning, recognizing one true moment of joy during the day, or even making it to a therapy appointment at time.

Eliciting these answers from clients is pivotal in building rapport, trust, and an authentic therapeutic relationship. Learning my client’s language is key. Accompanying that is being able to translate my own story into a language my clients can understand and from which they can benefit.

Once that foundation is laid, we can begin building. My client is the architect in designing the blueprints for change. Together, we can choose the right materials and the best methods for construction to ultimately change vision into reality.

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