Change. How long does it take?
Rate of change is a famously tricky thing to measure and has it’s variables.
Below I will discuss my thoughts.
I recently saw a client for the last of our agreed sessions. These had been spaced out over roughly six weeks. During this time she had made change in the most incredible way. It hasn’t so much been one big shift more of a succession of small shifts that had made the difference. A few weeks ago she was hidden under frumpy jumpers. Now after having lost half a stone in weight she arrived wearing fluorescent yellow eye shadow, a symbol of her commitment to taking back her life and her personal sense of style which she felt she had lost.
She looked strong, confident and was excited about her future.
She is one of the most self-aware clients I have ever worked with and our conversation at the end of the session was surreally well-timed because it was everything I had been planning on writing about. Jokingly, I asked if I could record her instead of writing this, as well as use a picture of her as a poster girl for what’s possible.
At the end of the session we ended up casually discussing managing client’s expectations. I answered her openly and honestly and told her that people often think the hardest part of being a hypnotherapist is recording bespoke MP3s on the spot or listening to more painfully emotional client stories. Both those things I have had to become comfortable with over time.
What I do find most challenging is explaining the nature of change to clients whilst managing and pacing their expectations.
This is a delicate balancing act. Hypnosis is known as being brief therapy and anything you as the hypnotist (the authority) says is planting a powerful suggestion about how fast change should be. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is a priming superpower, setting up ideas about what is possible and on the other a potential stick for the client to beat themselves with if the change isn’t how they were promised it would be.
Personally, I’m not a fan of a therapists and coaches that promise evangelical solutions. Where it’s implied that all clients should be “fixed” in one session because it puts a huge amount of pressure where it’s not needed. To me it speaks more of the inflated ego of the change worker then what’s best for their client. How are you managing their expectations if they aren’t going to be a client that changes to the extent they were told they would at the click of the finger? If they weren’t as ready as they needed to be to let go of their issue.
A large part of the work we do is getting the client to be ready. Not everyone is as ready as they think they are because there are parts of their thinking that may not be there yet. What if they backslide, relapse, or life happens. They might need to come back and if they were told everything they give meaning to as negative in their world should have disappeared in one session how does that impact the trust between you? If they initially make huge changes but they weren’t reinforced so after a while they revert back to their old ways. Have you let them know that the door is always open for them to return? (Again this is a tricky suggestion as this plays with expectations and how they leave the session thinking).
As you read this you may think but surely the client understands change is not that black and white, but without having a conversation first, you don’t know how much mental strengthening is needed before they can begin to understand this. If they are already low, the frustration in themselves for not being able to fix a lifetime of issues in one go, especially if they believe this to be the norm in others, isn’t helpful.
This can lead to the therapy becoming another disappointment on a long list of things that in their own words have failed them and cause them to lose hope.
Nowadays we are used to getting what we want quickly and clients want fast results. Hypnosis can call out to the type of clients that want a quick and easy solution. Where they can close their eyes and wake up different, and that’s not to say it won’t be like that but if you are coming to see me so that I’ll wave a watch in front of your eyes and do all the work for you, you might find yourself disappointed.
How long will it take? is one of the first questions I am asked. Often my response is vague and cryptic. Truthfully I can’t really tell you until we’ve spoken. Really, the answer is it will take as long as it needs to take.
If you look at Dr James Prochaska’s Stages of Change model clients usually reach out for help somewhere between contemplation and action.
- Precontemplation – (Never) As far as I’m concerned, I don’t have any problems that need changing.
- Contemplation – (Someday) I’ve been thinking that I wanted to change something about myself.
- Preparation – (Soon) I have decided to make changes in the next two weeks.
- Action – (Now) Anyone can talk about changing. I’m actually doing something about it.
- Maintenance – (Forever) I may need a boost right now to help me maintain the changes I’ve already made.
If you are at contemplation it’s up to both of us to get you to action. Sometimes the biggest part of the work is getting you to change your ideas about change. That can be a couple of sessions in itself. You’d be amazed at how deeply entrenched beliefs like a voice of someone saying “people don’t change” can get in the way.
A part of them wants change, another part, a little voice within doesn’t believe it’s possible, doesn’t want to look foolish for trying and shuts progress off before it even starts.
We change our wardrobe and hairstyles regularly, we laugh at what we looked like twenty years ago. That level of change is uncomplicated, change at that level is linked to us fitting in, following trends and being part of the tribe. What we struggle with is change linked to primitive survival calculations created by our unconscious, that deeper part of our thinking designed to keep us alive.
That’s the part of us that fears rejection and is happy to change clothes to adapt but not adapt beliefs that it has convinced itself are keeping you ok. It will do a really, really good and convincing job to make sure you hold onto those beliefs as well. Constant movies, pictures, stories, words and feelings it will bring to the surface for you.
Your unconscious mind doesn’t love changing big ideas it believes are keeping it safe and it will tend to choose certain misery over uncertain happiness.
Certain misery is familiar, it’s secure. it knows what that will look like, feel like. This is why we all have a friend who has stayed in a miserable job they hate for years, a co-worker in a loveless, joyless marriage or an uncle or aunt who never got married for fear of getting tied down or potentially being hurt by love after a succession of painful romances. Better the devil you know. The fear of the unknown will condition us without us even realizing to take inaction.
Happiness is a fairly new concept, survival isn’t. You may be miserable but you’re here, so as far that part of your thinking is concerned it’s doing an excellent job.
Now none of what I am saying is designed to dishearten you. Change is real and possible, it’s just there are factors to consider depending on how you measure it and it will take as long as it takes (vague I know). My mentor Trevor Silvester says “You cut at the speed of the bread, not at the speed of the knife.” What that means is that Cognitive Hypnotherapists go at the speed of the client, not at the speed of the therapist because if it were completely up to me, we’d go fast.
It only takes a second to plant a seed, that in itself is a change. All hypnotherapists, politicians, marketers (people in all walks of are able to do that) that’s influence.
I think the most important seed to plant is one of hope. Hope is a powerful cure in itself. A seed of possibility, of ‘what if’. I like to make sure that seed is not only planted but to keep an eye that once you’ve learnt how to grow it, you are helping it grow and taking it from a possibility into a reality. I’m not interested in short term change, I am interested in long term results. Deep life overhauls at the deepest level of your thinking. We can all be temporarily inspired to want to do better. We have no guarantees that stays with us which is why I work holistically to make sure we are covering all our bases.
Patience is important.
The first time you learnt to ride a bike there was a learning curve, as so there should be in retraining parts of thinking that are relearning ideas about a behaviour, especially one that had been set in over time with well-defined triggers. On average it takes around 66 days for a behaviour to become automatic, it might be much less but it can also be double that number (again vague). It does require constant, persistent action.
They say that most therapy happens outside of the therapy room.
Especially between sessions because it’s an opportunity to reflect on what you are noticing is working for you and become more self-aware. The MP3s I record for you carry on doing a lot of the work between sessions to keep that momentum going and unconsciously condition your mind to keep moving in the direction we’ve established and to make sure that it is becoming excited about being able to doing that for you.
I like to make sure that together we are implementing the skills and tools so that you are learning to be self-sufficient in your mental progress.
This is why I prime your mind to hold on to and focus on the evidence that change is happening and is possible for you, gradual change that happens unconsciously and consciously. You may want fireworks and big eureka moments but in my experience small continual changes every day will lead to the results you want. The little differences will make the big difference in the end. If you go to the gym once you won’t get a six pack but if you go every day for ten minutes you will see results.
Think of the work we are doing as strengthening a muscle and redefining new neural pathways and habits of thinking.
Exponential Change is where the client experiences very little difference at first, followed by more rapid progress and change. If I tell you it should only take one session, I’ve potentially denied you the possibility of you seeing the results you need in the second or third session. By when you would have probably started to familiarize yourself with my voice and the anchoring to it had started to become more developed.
Feeling more at ease with the process and are beginning to understand more of what we are doing together. Sometimes the first session doesn’t leave you with everything you need in place, something will have changed, change is inevitable, we are always learning, always growing and anything more than nothing is something we can work with but we may not be where we need to be yet which is why it makes sense to pace out our sessions for best results.
I would say in my experience for the absolute best and most long lasting results come from working together for three months.
That will absolutely have the biggest impact. That way not only are we planting seeds but we are making sure they grow. For real change requires action, and in a first session you may see clearly what you know you need to do, I want to make sure you do it.
By then you will have most likely got to where you need to get to, you may not be there yet, but if we’ve done the work I’ve set you on a path for change and you aren’t far behind. A path to personal insight backed by a quest for knowledge. My aim is to get you to a point where you don’t need me anymore. That shift from you needing me to figuring out that you don’t. I don’t fix you, I put you back in touch with your inner strengths and resources and little by little you fix yourself. There’s the power. You shifting from what’s known as ELOC (external locus of control) to ILOC (internal locus of control). A brief explanation:
ELOC is “the bus never stops for me.” External factors are determining your happiness.
ILOC is “I need to remember to lift up my hand so the bus stops for me.” You are responsible for your happiness.
ELOC/ILOC is about a shift from the world is against me to personal responsibility and self-awareness. From realizing the hypnotherapist isn’t doing something to you, you are doing this to yourself. With your own potential, strengths and resources. There in lies the magic.
There will be times you fall of the path, the trick is remembering there is a path established and you just have to get back on it. Sometimes things get worse before they get better, than can happen too. Changes aren’t linear, it doesn’t go from bad to good, we move things around in your mental space and calibrate changes. That can bring up vulnerability. There will be times you think you’ve fallen completely off and think you’ve gone back to square one. This isn’t the case. You can never go back to who you once were.
New knowledge has changed you. Experience has made you different.
Try watching a film with a twist again and watching it is as if it was the first time, not possible but there are new things you weren’t aware of the first time because your focus has shifted. You may need to come back and see me for a top-up, that’s ok too. My door is always open besides in the pursuit of personal development are we ever really done? We are works in progress. Knowing you need to come back in and see me is part of becoming self-aware. I have a therapist and I am self-aware enough to know I am unfinished, I struggle and sometimes I need help. That’s ILOC.
That’s what I saw in my client during our conversation, responsibility and self awareness. It wasn’t just that she had taken control of her issue, it was that she was in control because she understood it. These types of clients are always the ones that get where they want to get to quickest. You want those fast results you have to know what it takes.
The way in which I manage expectations is simple, I ask my clients just to be curious about what’s changing for them and to make our work together a priority. Finding the fun in becoming a detective in their own behaviour, so that you are becoming your own expert and reporting back to me with useful information for us to continue doing good work.
You have my word, I will always do right by you. I will never see you longer than I believe necessary. If I want to see you for more than a session that is nor unethical nor inept because I will always want the best for you. You deserve more than this being another thing that hasn’t worked for you, more than me trying to impress you with how quickly I sort you out.
You should work with someone who understands the variables of change and that you are a unique human being because you deserve results. I will work hard for you so I deserve the promise you will commit to obtaining that. If you’ve chosen me as your therapist, you will trust me to know how to get you there as I have done with others before you.
I leave you with this text by Seth Godin regarding stable change.
In his day job, The Wizard of Oz sold hokum.
Patent medicines guaranteed to cure what ailed you. And none of them worked.
Deep within each of us is the yearning for the pill, the neck crack, the organizational re-do that will fix everything. Sometimes, it even happens. Sometimes, once in a very rare while, there actually is a stone in our shoe, easy to remove. And this rare occurrence serves to encourage our dreams that all of our problems have such a simple diagnosis and an even simpler remedy.
Alas, it’s not true. Culture takes years to create and years to change.
Illnesses rarely respond in days to a treatment.
Organizations that are drowning need to learn to swim.
Habits beat interventions every time.
Consider these boundaries…
Avoid the crash diet. Fear the stock that’s a sure thing to double overnight.
Be skeptical of a new technology that’s surely revolutionary.
Walk away from a consultant who can transform your organization in one fell swoop.
Your project (and your health) is too valuable to depend on lottery tickets.
There are innovations and moments that lead to change. But that change happens over time, with new rules causing new outputs that compound. The instant win is largely a myth. The essential elements of a miracle are that it is rare and unpredictable. Not quite the reliable path you were seeking.