A friend asked me the other day. “Do you really believe that people can change?” “Yes, “
I replied, “ I not only believe this, but I am also lucky enough that I see it every day.” My friend
seemed doubtful, so I continued, “In the work I do, I see people come in and frequently are
working against themselves with behavior patterns that used to benefit them, but no longer are.”People arrive with personal beliefs
We all carry beliefs about ourselves and the world–our “worldview” and this affects the way we behave towards others and ourselves. A person’s world view often includes a belief in the power that others have over our behavior. This sets up a reactive patter wherein we believe our role is to react to others. The problem with this is that we are letting other people have control over our life, our actions, our feelings, and our own healing. This can leave a person feeling out of control because they are letting other people be in charge of how they behave.
Processing our beliefs
In therapy we don’t “change” people, we help them to reflect and feel, to confront these worldviews and look at their own patterns of behavior to see what is working for them and what is not. We aid them in processing contributing factors such as trauma, feelings of worthlessness, fear, and anger. We provide them a safe space to feel and confront the thoughts and behaviors that are getting in their way. We educate people to challenge the beliefs they hold that are getting in the way of them living their best life.
Creating new patterns
We encourage clients to practice new patterns of behavior, confront negative thoughts, and consciously practice positive self-statements and gratitude. The therapist may stress to this person that the only thing we can control is our own behavior. The therapist would remind them that we cannot control how other people see us and interpret our energy.That is about them and not us. Other people’s behaviors are not about us, so we do not need to react to what others are doing or not doing. We just to focus on ourselves and living our lives with integrity and love. When a person is able to start practicing this and can remind themselves that they alone are accountable for their behaviors no matter what others are doing, they can choose to respond rather than merely react. Then their behaviors and beliefs start to change. They no longer need to react to what others are doing, they learn how they want to respond and start practicing that. It allows the person to shift their perspective: it shows them that they are capable of change. It is within their possibilities, and it provides hope.
Observing these changes
This is the change that I see daily. People come in heavy and leave lighter. I see people practicing new ways of being, with their new perspectives, and receiving freedom from their old behavior patterns and beliefs that had them shackled. I see people who are changing, who have changed, who are practicing new ways of being within the world and empowering themselves with a new lease on their lives. This week some of the changes we have seen in our Outpatient Treatment (OTP) department: an adult man, sexually abused for most of his childhood had the world view of “love hurts” and “I am worthless.” He was out of work and homeless when he came to therapy. Now he has a house, holds a full-time job, is making friends, enjoys recreation, and believes he is worth living, worth effort, and worth happiness. A young woman who was neglected and abused due to parents; drug addiction spent most of her youth using drugs and in and out of detention centers. She is now sober for over a year, working full-time, and recently bought a house with her wife. A young man who had dropped out of school because he thought he was stupid and couldn’t do it, now has a GED and is in college. Believe! So I do believe in change, I see it every day. It is a choice we all have. It is not always easy yet, none of us are hopeless or worthless. We all hold the power, and the possibility of learning and practicing a new way of being, of change.
Taos Behavioral Health (TBH) has the largest licensed and credentialed behavioral health staff in northern New
Mexico. Barbara Costello is the Director of the Outpatient Treatment program at TBH. We can be reached at 575-758-4297 or www.TaosBehavioralHealth.org