The Most Common Phrase I Tell My Clients in Therapy Part 1
“It’s a practice!”
This phrase is probably the most common piece of insight, guidance, and encouragement that I offer whether I’m in session with a client, discussing in meditation classes, chit-chatting with a loved one about life and being human, or talking to myself in a challenging moment.
Usually, we go to therapy in moments of pain, anxiety, or overwhelm. We feel stuck and want to get unstuck. We want a space to process our experience, to deepen our understanding of what we’re feeling, to find comfort and relief, and ultimately feel and be better (whatever better means). We want tools and techniques we can use right away that we believe will be the key to our success and healing.
When we discover a new direction, a piece of wisdom, or a new perspective, it’s powerful and exciting! But here’s the thing – transformation doesn’t happen overnight. The Buddha meditated for 7 years before finally sitting down under the Bodhi tree where it took him 49 more days to become enlightened! Even then, he continued to practice.
When we learn a new tool like mindfulness, yoga, journaling, an affirmation, or a new empowered belief we want to live from, there’s a reason why it’s called a practice.
When it comes to psychological, spiritual, and emotional growth it’s like learning a lesson in school. We have to go home and practice, do homework, and take tests. While gaining a new awareness in therapy is powerful in itself, we have to find ways to practice it so that we can actually live and embody this new way of being. Then, when life throws a challenge at us, we’re ready, equipped, and can express our growth. After many small moments of practice, we may just notice a major shift. That’s the magic. Of course, we get tested, and – *ahem* triggered– over and over again. But this isn’t about perfection – it’s a practice!
For example, in therapy, let’s say we discover that what’s holding us back from harmony and empowerment in our relationships is internalized guilt and toxic shame rooted in early childhood. This can be a deeply rooted response based on a parent or caregiver who consistently reacted with blame or punishment when we spoke up about feeling angry. We might use a session of inner child healing where we can start to discern, disown, and release the unnecessary guilt so we can finally liberate our voice.
That’s where the practice begins. In practicing this repeatedly, we can bring new awareness to our current relationship conflict. We’ll recognize we are not doing anything wrong or worthy of punishment and feel empowered to speak up. We can still feel uncomfortable or afraid, but practice recognizing “oh yeah, this guilt/fear is not mine to bare.” We can practice empowered thoughts and behaviors from a more present-oriented place rather than an old wound. We might even decide to set a reminder on our phone or place a post-it on our desk that says “it’s safe for me to speak my truth” to reinforce the practice.
It’s a practice. And we can trust the process.
Another simple way to think about it is this – most of us have been living, thinking, and behaving in ways that don’t serve us for decades before this point. It’s going to take some time to shift. We have to be patient with ourselves as we practice. Be gentle with ourselves as we grow. The beautiful thing is that here we are. We’ve come to this point of pivoting, and this is the first and most significant point of change.
Now, let’s get some post-its, set reminders, and practice in situations that are easy so that it comes more naturally to us during the hard ones.