*The examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular.*
- Take time to appreciate what you have achieved, maintained, and persevered through in the last year.
- Ask yourself, “do I have the desire, time, and resources to make this change?”
- Remember that lasting changes take time. Healing isn’t a lightning bolt event, it’s a choice we have to make again and again.
As the year came to an end, reflection and talk of new year resolutions seem to go hand-in-hand. However, sometimes the lessons we can learn from the past year get lost as we look ahead to everything we want to achieve and become in the next 12 months. One patient, Brynne, emulated how the “New Year, New Me” mentality can feel defeating from the start rather than empowering. She was discouraged as we started to reflect on the past year in our session. “There is so much I want to change about myself,” she said. “I feel like I wasted the last year of my life.” She had much more she wanted to accomplish, including a career change into more meaningful work, and to work through unresolved trauma from her youth. It’s true that the actualization of these goals was still far off, but Brynne wasn’t giving herself credit for the work she had been doing up to this point.
Reflecting on Successes to Direct Next Steps
“What have you done well this past year?” I asked. “What have you maintained or improved?” With further reflection, she acknowledged she had made progress: she was functioning better at work, taking fewer smoking breaks, and had gotten more comfortable setting boundaries around her personal time. She was starting to take better care of herself through movement, nutrition, physical therapy, and the mental health therapy we had been doing. While it felt like “going through the motions” to Brynne, she was actually laying the groundwork for healing unresolved wounds that made it hard to care for herself in the first place. Her growing tolerance for self-care indicated she was ready for the next stage of healing.
Stages of Change
Reflection also helped Brynne clarify why all her goals hadn’t been resolved yet. She had known she should quit smoking for years, but had just recently felt like she could start to take action. Understanding she was in the “pre-contemplation” stage of change before releasing guilt she felt about not having quit by now – because this stage is centered on recognizing a problem without the intention to act on it in the near future. Her recent move into the “contemplation” stage indicated a readiness for change in the next 6 months – again, directing Brynne’s next steps personally and in therapy.
Brynne realized she needed more than her own desire for change in order for her new year resolutions to come to fruition. In the past, she would be unable to implement her great ideas because she lacked the necessary resources. Resources are a general way to categorize information, skills, time, supportive interpersonal relationships, or partnerships with other people with the same goal and commitment to see it through. Brynne decided a support group for quitting smoking would be worth a try to aid in her goal. Reflecting on her successes over the past year – and even the things she maintained without improving – helped her feel more competent and ready for the next challenge.
Healing Takes Time
Finally, Brynne needed to remember that healing is slow work. The changes she envisioned for herself were possible, but not all within 6 months or a year. She needed to continue choosing her own healing, even when it was hard or it didn’t seem like she was going anywhere. That perseverance is a strength in itself.
Author: Lindsay Hall, MSW
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