John's Blog

The Blog of John Gibson, PhD

Silver Bullets

A silver bullet has come to be a metaphor for the idea of having single solution that creates maximum results.

But when it comes to stress, personal problems, symptom relief, or maladaptive patterns, there are no silver bullets, no magical solutions, no quick fixes.

This is because most emotional problems are complex. They may involve thoughts, feelings, beliefs, personal history, personality, motivation, genetic predispositions, habits, relationships, and complicated situations. Complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions.

If you are to make real progress on your goals–-gains that last—it might take some time. It might take a deeper knowledge of self and others, behavior changes (small steps), getting comfortable with discomfort, tackling resistance, course corrections, persistence, and more.

This doesn't mean you can't make your life better. You can. But you'll have to devote time, energy, and resources to the project of fixing you.

This is where therapy comes into the picture. Therapy gives you structure, which helps with consistency. It gives accountability, which helps when you want to give up. And it gives the insight to help you see the path forward more clearly.

Does Therapy Always Help?

If this were an infomercial, I’d promise that therapy can help anyone, anytime, anywhere, and I’d guarantee results in thirty days or your money back.

But this isn’t a commercial and I’m not trying to sell you anything.

Frankly, therapy is work. When it comes to making your life better, effortless change is a myth. If you want distress to stop, you’ll have to direct your attention to your inner life, your relationships, and your actions. You’ll have to seek new insights into who you really are, and you’ll have to tolerate the anxiety that invariably comes from giving up old patterns and trying new ones.

Still with me? I hope so. Because therapy works for most people, most of the time. Research consistently shows that people who undergo therapy are better off than approximately 75-80 % of the people who don’t (but have comparable problems or concerns). Frankly, therapy results may not be be guaranteed, but these are pretty good odds.

Only you know what it’s like to be to you. But if you’re like most of us, you will not always see yourself clearly. This is where a therapist can help you. A therapist will listen carefully to you and work very hard to understand you and your situation from your point-of-view. But after getting to know you, he or she will have insights about you that you may not have had. These insights, by the way, are informed by psychological knowledge and clinical experience.

Sometimes I get e-mails from people who are surfing the web, looking for answers. Maybe they want therapy, or maybe they’re just sending out an S.O.S. to let somebody know that they’re struggling. I always write back and invite them to call my office if they are serious about starting therapy. Often, I don’t hear back from them. (The person who is serious about starting therapy is more apt to pick up the phone in the first place and make an appointment.) But I always wonder about the e-mailer I never hear back from. Did they find another therapist? Did they find a solution? Did they decided to bear the status quo for a little longer? Or were they doubtful about whether therapy--the so-called “talking cure”--could actually help them?

Again, if this were an infomercial, I’d say yes, absolutely, results guaranteed. But I tend to believe people are smarter than that. They know infomercials prey on their frustrations and secret wishes for easy, fast results. Better, I say, to tell the truth. Therapy can help, but only if you’re willing to invest in the process.

Another COVID update

As of this post, I am seeing clients both on-line and in the office. I only see clients in the office who have been fully vaccinated, and some clients elect to continue with on-line sessions even though they have been vaccinated. I do not wear a mask when I am in session, but some clients do. I am okay with this. I want people to feel safe.

I will continue this policy for now, but of course I am watching the Ottawa County Data Hub closely to keep an eye on the numbers.

Trying to be both safe, considerate, and flexible.

Yes, but...

Yes, I see what you're saying, but I already tried that and it didn't work.
Yes, what you're saying makes sense, but you don't understand…
Yes, thank you for the input, but let me explain…
Yes, but I've already tried
everything… and nothing helped.

Yes, but.

Two little words that keep us stuck.

Instead of changing, we rationalize, minimize, or make excuses. Sometimes we just circle back around and re-state the problem. Or complain about it again. Human beings are notoriously self-consistent, even when it hurts us.

But if we are to make progress on our problems, we have to move through "yes, but" and tolerate the discomfort, anxiety, or uncertainly that comes with psychological work.

We must try new behaviors.
We must experiment with small changes.
We must act "as if"' the change we desire is already true.

Which is not to stay that progress will be even or that setbacks will not occur. Undoubtedly, they will. But that doesn't necessarily mean we're taking the wrong actions. Sometimes the trick is simply to persist.

"Yes, but…" will no longer suffice.

No more excuses.
No more rationalizations.

We must take responsibility for our problems and begin the journey towards a better life.

COVID Update

We are not entirely back to normal in the state of Michigan, but we are certainly closer than we were.

As a result, I am now seeing clients in my office again. (This applies only for people who are fully vaccinated.) Although I do not require clients to wear a mask, and I do not wear one myself in the office, I have taken certain precautions: I use an air purifier in my office, and I sanitize the office regularly.

Some of my current appointments are still done virtually. This is usually a matter of convenience. This is especially true for those clients who would otherwise have to travel some distance to get to my office.

It's a new world for health care. The pandemic forced therapists to learn how to do virtual therapy sessions, and I expect some therapists will continue doing only virtual sessions, now that they feel comfortable with it.

But other therapists, myself included, will probably rely on a hybrid model. That is, I will continue to make virtual sessions available to existing and new clients alike, but I will of course be doing most of my appointments face-to-face as we move forward. This assumes, of course, that we do not have another big surge of COVID cases.

If you are considering therapy with me, we'll discuss the option that works best for you. Given the virtual option, I can now see clients who live anywhere in the state of Michigan.

Joining Forces

Many people avoid going to therapy because they're afraid to reveal a personal problem. They fear being judged, diagnosed, or looked down upon.

In a Facebook culture, where everybody is always taking selfies to prove what a great time they’re having, who wants to admit they are depressed, anxious, or struggling to cope with life?

"No thanks, doc. I'll keep my private life to myself."

But before you dismiss therapy outright, let me tell you this. What I do is join forces with people. I do not judge, moralize, criticize, or condemn. I understand that human beings are flawed, vulnerable, irrational, and occasionally conflicted.

There are no perfect human beings. Sooner or later, everyone struggles. Life is hard.

I cannot make life less hard for you — no one can. Nor can I change your past, your history, the things that have happened to you. What I can do, however, is join forces with you as you try to make progress towards some goal.

On-line Therapy

Because of the COVID pandemic, I began conducting on-line therapy sessions exclusively in March of 2020. As of this writing, it is not clear when I will return to providing sessions in my office.

I use Doxy Me, a telemedicine service that is HIPAA compliant and fully secure. This service allows me to work with anyone in the state of Michigan.

Virtual sessions can be an effective way to do therapy. The things we talk about in face-to-face sessions can still be done in a virtual sessions. I switched over to on-line sessions in March so that my clients could reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. So far, everyone seems to have adapted to this format quickly. If you are thinking about starting therapy, don't let the COVID-19 situation stand in your way. Virtual sessions work. (And therapy helps.)

If you have questions about whether on-line therapy is right for you, I can be reached at (616) 218-8059.