I just want to be happy. It sounds so simple. The “just” reinforces an idea that happiness, at least, if nothing else, should be attainable. And it feels more disheartening when we see that despite the simplicity of the soundbite, we feel as far away from this ideal as ever.
If it were so quick and easy as the soundbites imply, then we’d all be happy – in ourselves, in our situation, in our lives. But we’re not. 64.7 million prescriptions for antidepressants were handed out by the NHS in 2016. 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Many of us are simply existing, doing our level best to navigate our lives as best we can.
Therapy can provide the catalyst for major life-enhancing changes, including increased contentment with ourselves, our situation, and with others. Finding a skilled and trusted therapist, with whom you feel comfortable, is important. But the most important, essential ingredient in change is you.
Change can be scary, and so we can find ourselves stuck. Unhappy in our situation, yet fearful of taking steps into the unknown that could upset the status quo. So we soldier on.
But change is also scary, because to improve our lives, we may need to let go of learned behaviours that – at one point in time – helped keep us safe. However, these same behaviours may now serve to keep us stuck, unable to move forward out of the unspoken need for safety, and unfulfilled despite our best efforts.
In therapy, we can gain insight into the behaviours that helped us avoid or numb our difficult feelings, and see new positive choices that were previously hidden in plain sight. It is hard to do this work alone, and a trusted therapist will help and support us in walking this path. Therapy also provides the safe space and base that is needed to do this work.
Stepping into therapy can feel scary, and our learned defence mechanisms can come up with an unending list of reasons to resist change. But it is only when we commit to change, that it becomes possible, and indeed probable.
We might take inspiration from Robert Downey Jr, who struggled with drugs, alcohol and relationships for much of his life. After many “half-assed” attempts at reaching out for help he ultimately realised:
"It's not that difficult to overcome these seemingly ghastly problems... what's hard is to decide to do it."
Written by: John Fletcher, Person Centred Counsellor