People come to counseling for a variety of reasons. Fundamentally, however, most of the reasons boil down to one thing: We want something or someone to change.
Notice I didn’t say that WE want to change.
To be fair, some people come to counseling with the express intention to make a change in themselves. Perhaps they have recognized that they cannot change others (no matter how hard they try) and/or they may have accepted that they have no control over a stressful or painful situation or circumstance. The majority of us, however, default to blaming others for our stress or pain. We believe IF THEY WOULD ONLY CHANGE, our lives would be perfect and our happiness complete.
This is particularly true in couples work. But I digress.
Folks who come to counseling looking for a way to feel less stressed, sad, angry, anxious, depressed, lonely, alone, or scared often miss the fact that they are responsible for their own feelings. The stories that emerge are replete with examples of how this one did that to them and that one didn’t do this for them and they’ll never get over it and it’s all someone else’s fault. Often their mother’s.
Not that the stories are untrue. After all, human history is chockablock with F-words: Families and failings and frailties and f**k-ups. And all of the F-words can and do cause distress of the varieties mentioned above. The distress is real and we feel it for real. So, it makes sense that we equate the distress with whichever of the F-words (and others that don’t start with F) caused it and then seek to un-cause it by expecting it or them to change.
When we come to accept that we can only change ourselves – our beliefs, our expectations, our actions, and the stories we’re telling ourselves about who’s responsible for how we feel – we step into accountability. Accountability means that we accept personal responsibility for how we choose to feel despite the situation or circumstance. It means that we honor what we feel without the attendant story of blame and shame. It means that we choose how we define ourselves rather than allowing what was done to us to define us. It means that we consciously shift from wronged victim to thriving agent of change because that’s how we roll when we’re accountable to being our best selves.
Change is most effective when you have an accountability partner. Counselors are excellent accountability partners because they have the skills and training to help you make real, lasting change. A friend or family member, no matter how well-meaning, may not be the best accountability partner for you. This is because they love you (and are more likely to let you off the hook) or because they love you (and have their own agenda about wanting you to change). A counselor, on the other hand, has no agenda other than to educate, support, and guide you through healing change.