Alphabet Series - K is for Key
When I was in graduate school I had a teacher who told the class that “acceptance is the key.” I didn’t fully understand what she meant, but the words have stayed with me. As I have made my way through my career I've shared that phrase with many people as it has increasingly become more meaningful to me
There are some therapists that believe the goal of therapy is acceptance. I am not really one of those. There are other therapists that believe the goal of therapy is change. I am not really one of those either. While I do believe those are both valuable goals, I don't think it is my job to create goals for others. I have goals for myself as a therapist. I want to be fully present, honest, meaningfully engaged and supportive. I want the client to create their own goals and often I would like us to share how we think we are doing and how we think the other is doing.
Clients rarely enter therapy with the goal of accepting what is happening in their life. They usually have a goal that involves change. Mostly they want to feel better and for that to happen something needs to change. Let’s use the example of someone coming to therapy because they are not as happy with their life as they would like to be. They simply want to be happier. Sometimes they can identify what exactly is bothering them, but they don't know what to do about it. Other times they are unsure about what is holding them back from getting more out of life. What therapists and clients come to learn is that in order to change something you first need to acknowledge that you are not happy with it. You don’t have to like it, but you have to accept that whatever it is, it is a real part of your life. If you don't know why you are not feeling better, you need to accept that you just don't know and may never know. If you do know what is getting in your way, but are unable to effectively deal with it, you need to accept that reality as well.
If you have lost relationships and jobs because of your drinking, but you don’t think your drinking is a problem things are not going to change. You need to accept that alcohol is a problem in your life. That is why at self-help meetings they start by saying: “Hi, my name is _____ and I am an _____.” That statement is one of acceptance and having accepted that you have an issue allows you take steps forward to try to change it. That is why acceptance is the key.
There can be aspects of our life that we just don’t want to accept. That is understandable. I am sure most of us have aspects of our lives we wish were different. We sometimes snicker at someone who is older but dresses as if they were younger. As I get older I grudgingly have come to accept that I can no longer do some of the things that I used to be able to do. If I don’t get a good night’s sleep for a few days in a row my body rebels. I used to be able to push myself more, but now I need to pace myself. I don’t always like that I have to monitor myself but I have learned it is in my best interests not to push my envelope in ways I used to take for granted.
The more we can accept what is true for us the more able we are to make the changes necessary to accommodate our shifting tides. That said, I still like to wear my tie dye T shirt to a concert now and then.