It’s Better If You Go For It.
We know a ton about what makes therapy successful. For example, research has repeatedly found that, of all the factors that predict a successful therapy (like various things therapists should do), there is only one feeling. It’s not anxiety, or sadness, or anger – as far as we know, for example, a sad person is no more or less likely to benefit from therapy as an angry one. But there is one feeling that, when it’s present, is strongly correlated with a successful therapy.
If you think that therapy is likely to help you, it’s more likely to help you.
Want to build up your hope? Research has found a number of tools that help. For example…
- Visualize what you want from your therapy. Imagining something seems to affect much of the brain—and body– the same way it would if it were actually happening. 1 If you’re coming into therapy because you are anxious at work, imagine what you would have done differently in that awkward moment with the boss. If you fight with your partner, imagine waking up on Saturday morning knowing you’re going to have a great day together.
- Tell your therapist what you hope for. Too often, therapy can be so focused on eliminating suffering that we forget to keep our eyes on the prize – happiness, and meaning. Besides, we’re simply more likely to make the changes we want if we share our hopes with others. 2
- Aim high. Ask your therapist for help getting to a “Hell, yeah!” goal. That’s also correlated with success. 3
- Reflect on past hopes realized. What’s an example of something you’ve hoped for, and then gotten? If you take a few moments, and remember that gratefully (well, I did get that job I wanted, and I do find it more interesting), even savor the ways that hoped-for outcome affected you and your life, it will likely build up the habit of thinking hopefully about the future. 4
I’ve often reflected that, while we sit here all day long and watch therapy improve people’s lives, many of the people who come in for therapy have never seen its effectiveness firsthand before. But after a little while, they catch on. This stuff usually works – especially if you hope that it will, and go for it.
- Ranganathan VK, Siemionow V, Liu JZ, Sahgal V, Yue GH. From mental power to muscle power—gaining strength by using the mind. Neuropsychologia. 2004;42(7):944-56.
2, 3. Norcross, J. C., Loberg, K., & Norcross, J. (2012). Changeology: 5 steps to realizing your goals and resolutions. New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster.
- This common-sense notion is supported by multiple studies of the remarkable power of gratitude, but there’s particular support for the concept of applying gratitude to a past success in an unpublished study by students Fallon Richie and Nicholas Pikaart (“Cultivating Hope and Happiness through Grateful Remembering: A Two-Study Assessment of Trait and State Gratitude”) at the 2016 15th Annual Celebration of Undergraduate Research and Creative Performance.