Steven Topper, LCPC

Many people come into therapy looking for a quick fix. If I could just communicate with my partner more clearly, if I could just make my boss understand I’m doing my job well, If I could just defeat this sadness. We think that if we can be given solutions to these problems, that we will be free to go about our lives with much less discomfort. When people look a little closer at their lives, they begin to see that these aren’t isolated incidents. The pain and discomfort they’re experiencing from the current issues has played out in other places, other times. It may be that short term solutions could actually contribute to long term discomfort.

From a scientific perspective, the writing is in the wall. Exerting control over one focused aspect of life may help work through issues in that particular situation. However the underlying issues that may lead us to those issues over and over again will not be addressed. And in fact, by only addressing the specific situation, we reinforce avoidance of a deeper look at the functions leading us to repeated frustration. When we ask for and receive advice on how to fix a current problem, we neglect the deeper complexity of how to work toward a more meaningful life.

One of the most effective questions a client (or therapist!) can ask themselves is: What am I avoiding here? This opens us up to the notion that it is in our power to change and shape our lives to the way we want them. This question becomes empowering when we notice that we don’t have to avoid the present problem in order to live a fulfilling life, especially when it’s not something in our control. Instead we can identify how to open up to the discomfort in our lives so that we can make decisions that respect and honor ourselves. It’s likely that there will continue to be problems and uncomfortable situations that we encounter throughout our lives (in fact – I can guarantee it!). When we deemphasize problem-solving and pivot toward long-term behavior changes, it’s no longer incumbent upon us to rid ourselves of stresses. Novelist Chinua Achibe gives us a wonderful quote: When suffering knocks at your door and you say there is no seat for him, he tells you not to worry because he has brought his own stool. The opportunity is always present to accept the components of our reality for what they are and this frees us up to act in line with our values.

When clients are willing to set aside the desire for the quick fix, and open themselves up to the prospect that deeper and more meaningful change can occur, they are likely also opening themselves up to more suffering. Yet within that, they are also opening up to a more meaningful way to live.

If you’ve found yourself struggling with problems that seem to come up again and again, it may be useful to try counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment with one of our very skilled therapists today!