Who Succeeds at Change in Therapy?
(posted June 2008)
David Matheson, Licensed Professional Counselor in Utah, writes:
In the years I've been working as a reparative therapist, I've noticed some common tendencies among men who are successful in diminishing homosexuality as well as some commonalties among those who are unsuccessful. Please keep in mind that these are impressions and not the results of a study. Most of my impressions are from men who are (or have been) in therapy. I have not had occasion over the past few years to closely observe men who are not in therapy. But I believe that much of what I've written below would apply equally, if not more so, to men who choose not to engage in therapy.
In general, I believe success in this (or any) therapy process can be attributed to a single, simple principle: People spontaneously change for the better when they let go of their resistance to change. In other words, to change is natural if we can just get out of the way and let it happen. Of course, the problem with this is that men dealing with homosexuality typically have so much in the way that unblocking the natural change process can be like removing the Hoover Dam.
The tendencies I've written about below can all be seen in the context of resistance. That is, these are all barriers that people unconsciously erect in their lives to prevent change. Often, these barriers are unintentional and occasionally they may even be unavoidable. The stronger and more ingrained the pattern of resistance is--and the less aware the person is that the pattern is actually resistance--the less success the person will have in changing. I'm not sure that understanding the reasons for the resistance is that important.
Resistance may come from reticence to give up physical pleasure, discomfort with painful emotions that have to be faced, or simply fear of change. But regardless of what is causing the resistance, the resistance must be overcome or progress will be hampered.
I've divided these resistant tendencies into four different areas: life situation, unwillingness to invest, unwillingness to risk, and living as a victim. I've first listed the tendencies common among unsuccessful clients, then I've contrasted them with the approach taken by successful clients.
- Extreme stress or commitments due to work, family, school, or church demands.
Successful clients prioritize and eliminate from their schedule things that get in the way of what is most important.
- A chaotic life that doesn't allow for a regular, ongoing therapy process.
The chaos may be due to factors such as finances, work schedule, transportation problems, illness of self or family members, etc. Successful clients find ways to surmount or minimize chaos that occurs in their lives in order to allow the therapeutic process to continue.
Unwillingness to Invest
- Not taking the problem seriously, as expressed in statements like, "I don't need therapy," "I don't need group," or "It's too expensive."
Successful clients recognize the seriousness of their situation and willingly do whatever is necessary to bring about change.
- Ambivalence about committing to change, as expressed in statements like, "I want to change, but right now I need this boyfriend."
Successful clients are willing to let go of whatever leads them away from their goal. That willingness may not be there all at once, but successful clients continue to push themselves toward it.
- False dependency on faith and spirituality without doing the psychological and emotional work necessary to bring about change.
At its roots, homosexuality is NOT a spiritual problem. Spiritual problems develop when homosexual behavior is engaged in. But to begin with, same-sex attraction is a developmental arrest that is psychological in nature. Spirituality alone will not change homosexuality! This is why we so often hear the complaint, "I prayed for years and the Lord never took this problem away."
Successful clients wisely ask for God's help with SPECIFIC needs, praying for opportunities that are needed, and allowing the Spirit to comfort and sustain them. Yet they never shift the burden of responsibility onto the Lord.
Unwillingness to Risk
- Sacrificing authenticity for comfort, as expressed in statements like, "I can't do this, it's too uncomfortable."
Unsuccessful clients get overwhelmed by their own emotions and withdraw from therapy. Successful clients willingly face their fears both internally (hurtful emotions) and externally (frightening relationships and situations). This is one of the main factors separating successful from unsuccessful clients.
- Feeling such shame over your struggles that you refuse to be open with others about what you are going through.
This is often expressed in statements like, "I can't tell anyone about me," or "I have to work through this alone so that no one ever finds out." Successful clients open themselves to other people and ask for help.
- A rigid approach to life, which prevents you from going beyond previous limitations, seeing new perspectives, doing new things, exploring new ways of thinking and living, and doing things you've never done before.
Successful clients are open to the possibility of change in every aspect of their lives.
Living as a Victim
- Passivity, as manifested in statements like, "I don't know what to do," or "I just don't think I can change."
This is also manifested as a tendency to NOT seek out help, or to be very narrow in the therapeutic activities you pursue. Perhaps you go to group meetings occasionally, but you essentially keep yourself ignorant of other opportunities. Successful clients take the responsibility for their change process and seek out every source of information and help available, such as individual and group therapy, straight male friendships, New Warriors participation, activity in a church, etc.
- Being a "help-rejecting complainer."
These are individuals who are constantly complaining about the problems they face, and yet when help is offered they immediately come up with reasons why each suggestion won't work for them. Or they may half-heartedly try the suggestion just long enough to prove its ineffectiveness. Successful clients are willing to go outside the comfort of their complaints and actually try to solve their problems.