So often, media portrays therapists to be incompetent, deliverers of platitudes, or those-people-who-make-me-talk-about-all-the-bad-sh*t-that’s-happened-to-me. And others will say that therapists just tout positive thinking and aren’t actually helpful. And some therapists may do or be all of these things, and nothing more. However, the truth of the matter is that most often, therapists receive individuals who are already in a state of confusion and exasperation with themselves or those around them. Yes, of course, negative emotions are acknowledged and addressed in the therapeutic relationship. However, usually these negative emotions have been present, if perhaps hidden, for a long time. Therapists find that being able to name, acknowledge, and own our negative emotions is what actually allows us as humans to be able to find ways to then manage these emotions, and perhaps let go of them. People often visit therapists when they are feeling down, or angry, or any slew of negative emotions, and it is our role and passion to provide hope and to generate a positive, solution-focused approach. But there’s more.
“A key role for social workers is that of a teacher….. the teaching and therapy have to occur within a situation of low threat yet with some challenges. And change occurs most when the clients’ positive emotions are engaged, so it is important for them [the patient] to be relaxed, hopeful, optimistic, and positive.” By Robert MacFadden in an edited book entitled: “Social Work Treatment, Interlocking Theoretical Approaches” edited by Francis J. Turner.
Turn to the media again, and you can find an article from October 2014 in the Atlantic Weekly by Maggie Puniewska entitled, “Optimism is the Enemy of Action.” In this she writes “….while optimism alone isn’t enough, positive thinking, coupled with an understanding of the obstacles that stand in our way is the key to achieving significant behavior change.”
Ultimately, in order to make effective change, positive thinking, an understanding of the reality of a situation, and a dose of will power are what is needed to move past negative patterns; it is not an either/or scenario.
Despite all the bad publicity we as therapists get, our goal is to provide a positive space to engage and dialogue, and to bring hope and new ideas to each client, not to drudge up the past!