“How will therapy help us to change?”

This is one of the most common questions I get from couples. First, we need to understand what is it that we are trying to change. Our life is governed by emotional – cognitive – behavioral (also known as “feeling, thinking, doing) patterns. Usually these patterns are unconscious – we are unaware that we are acting out of those patterns. It is simply the only way we know to move through our world.

Psychotherapy and couples counseling assists people in recognizing these patterns that are influencing our life. Through careful observation of our thoughts and feelings, we can determine these patterns and identify whether they are working for us or not. Then we can learn how to have the flexibility to step out of these patterns if they are no longer serving us. The goal of therapy is to become more fully and authentically ourselves, freeing ourselves from unconscious patterns.

To demonstrate how we might identify patterns, imagine that you are going to a party this evening. There will be about thirty people at the party, and you only know one of them – the host. As you imagine this event, pay attention to how you are feeling.

As you are getting ready, do you feel excitement, anxiety or dread? Now imagine walking into the party. What do you do? Do you immediately begin speaking with others, or do you stand to the side to observe before you engage in conversation? Do you like to talk with a group of people or do you like to have a one-on-one conversation? Are your conversations shorter or more prolonged? How much would you reveal about yourself? Answering these questions will help you identify some of the patterns you have in social situations.

Now that you have imagined how you would feel and act in such a situation, see if you can identify, “Why is that?” What are the perceptions, beliefs or stories that you tell yourself? Pay specific attention to the limiting beliefs that cause you to be less free and spontaneous.

Below are three ways in which psychotherapy helps us step out of our old patterns and live more authentically within ourselves and within our relationships.