10 ways to create positive changes in your life

There’s positive changes in your life you want to make — a habit you want to kick, or a healthy one you want to kickstart.

Perhaps you want to quit vaping, drinking, overeating. Or maybe you want to start to walk, exercise or meditate regularly.

How long have you wanted this change?

Boring isn’t it, even agonising, to wish for it, and to struggle for so long to make it happen?

There is a way, indeed ways, to put yourself out of your misery; to decide once and for all to make the change you want, and to succeed with it.

First, you need to get clear about what DOESN’T work when it comes to changing your habits.

What doesn’t work

Motivation is overrated.

Stop giving yourself a hard time about not having enough motivation. It isn’t the problem.

As Oliver Burkeman puts it:

The real problem isn’t that you don’t feel like taking action. Rather, it’s the underlying assumption that you need to feel like taking action before you can act.

The motivation you have longed for is rare and elusive, and more importantly, it is not the answer to making the changes that escape you. You do not need to be motivated. You do not need to be in the mood to make positive changes in your life.

And in fact, acting purely as a result of a burst of motivation will likely see you fail. How many of your sudden inspirational new year’s resolutions have stuck?

Motivation will not sustain your habit change efforts. Motivation doesn’t work. Don’t wait to be in the mood, you can make your desired change happen, whatever your mood.

What is not your only hope

You might think that if we’ve crossed motivation off the list, it must come down to willpower. Don’t panic: success is not contingent upon willpower alone.

Yes, willpower is like a muscle. Like a muscle, you can strengthen it. But also like a muscle, your willpower has a finite capacity. You can only do so much heavy lifting until you fatigue and reach failure.

Willpower is important, and the ideas in this post will indeed make you stronger. But it’s not your only hope. The ideas below will bolster willpower, and compensate for it if it is waning.

What will help

Knowing what you want and why, will help you. Get clear on your reasons for positive changes in your life.

When withdrawal kicks in, it will be easier to stay strong if you can picture the anguished look on your child’s face every time you light up a cigarette or reach for beer or wine, or if you remember how badly you want to be alive and fit, for when they have their own children.

Draw detailed pictures in your mind, alive with colour and strong feeling — these dramatic emotional snapshots are handy to have at your beck and call.

Telling yourself, “I’m quitting because I should” doesn’t quite cut it when an unwitting friend entices you with the offer an alcoholic beverage.

It is also enormously helpful to embrace the frustrating truth, that habit making and habit breaking are processes. It is tempting to say and believe that you quit last week, or you’re starting tomorrow. But it’s not about single-day events, habits by their very nature are developed or broken over time.

When you convince yourself of the ‘process’ idea, you immediately reduce your failures — instead of throwing in the towel after a bad day, you simply clock it up as a bad day and part of the process, and you continue on tomorrow.

As soon as you adopt the ‘process’ mindset, you skyrocket your chances of success. You do away with a whole lot of failure, guilt and giving up. Instead, you get learning and progress.

Once you are clearer about the reasons you want the change, and you adopt the process mindset, you’re ready to embark on habit change. Here’s how to make it happen.

positive changes in your life

What really works

Actually, there are many approaches for breaking and building habits. You could read a hundred well-researched books and speak to a hundred experts.

By all means continue to read and research, but the key of course, is taking action.

So, I have distilled all my own reading, research and training, and perhaps more importantly, my 20 odd years of experience in adult learning and education, counselling and therapy, working at the coal face with groups and individuals, facilitating and supporting the process of change.

My list of 10 ways to create positive changes in your life that really work is all about helping you to take confident action, to turbo-boost your process of change…to quit or create your chosen habit.

1. Self-research

Take some time, maybe a week, to examine your habit — the one you want to be rid of, or the absence of the one you want.

Make a concerted effort to notice the relevant details. Do you start the day eating healthy food and get derailed by a mid-afternoon energy slump? Do you have plans for a nutritious dinner but exhaustion steers you to take-away.

What are your triggers, weaknesses, strengths and resources? Do you a open a bottle of wine as soon as you arrive home from work? But does a fitness session on the way home make an alcohol-free evening possible?

Is it anger or boredom that sets off a cigarette craving (or is it straight nicotine withdrawal)? What happens if you delay lighting one? How many minutes does your craving last, when does it peak and subside?

You need to examine your behaviour and the psychology, thoughts and emotions that go with it. You need to know exactly what you’re dealing with, in order to be ready to deal with it effectively

2. Plan and prepare

50% of people who try and fail to quit smoking, fail in the first couple of days! Nicotine withdrawal is the worst on these days — know what you’re up against and prepare for it. (It may be as straight forward as stocking up on suitable nicotine replacement products.)

You need to be vigilant in your planning, especially to get your habit change efforts off to a good start.

80% of failed quitters go back to smoking within the first two weeks. That’s why you are advised to forego alcohol, parties and other key triggers for at least the first fortnight of your quit attempt.

You need to plan ahead, you need to be prepared.

Be ready and you can make it through the early days — schedule your time to avoid high-risk situations and have contingencies in place: stock the freezer with healthy meals for the nights you’re too tired to cook.

Planning and preparation set you up for success. Do your homework and those early days will be so much easier. Planning and preparation mean that a lot of the heavy lifting is already done, by the time you get started with your habit-change efforts. They ease the strain on your willpower immeasurably.

3. Team up

Going it alone is tough. Find someone who wants to tackle a change at the same time — doesn’t even have to be the same change.

You want to keep up with them. You support their efforts, they support yours. You share war stories.

A buddy reduces isolation and reduces your chances of throwing in the towel.

4. Go public

Tell the world (or in the very least, one person in the world who matters to you) that you’re embarking on a significant habit change. It raises the stakes.

It feels exposing and daunting but it will solidify your commitment, your efforts and your chances of success.

5. Be accountable

However you do it, you need to keep tabs on yourself and your progress.

What will you measure? How will you measure it, and where will you record and share your results?

Use Apple watch or an app, a measuring tape or calendar. It doesn’t matter. Lasting change rarely happens without measuring and monitoring it.

(And don’t guess: a standard drink of wine is about 100ml, most restaurants serve about 150ml per glass. Late at night, the glass of wine you pour yourself will probably be more like 200ml. Don’t cheat on yourself, measure and count accurately.)

positive changes in your life

6. Nurture and reward

When you climb a big steep hill, you do what is necessary to get to the top: rest a moment, take off your jacket, have a drink, something to eat, maybe admire the view while you recover a little.

You will get further with tackling your habit if you look after yourself. Do what you have to, especially in the early days, to reduce other stressors in your daily life.

If you’re trying to establish a habit of rising early to exercise or meditate, perhaps you could shout yourself to a couple of weeks of a shirt-ironing service?

And how will you reward yourself along the way to habit change? Will you book a massage or plan a gift for yourself?

Nurture and reward are more than just a pat on the back and an encouraging treat. They are critical because deprivation is dangerous. Remember, like your muscles, your willpower needs rest and recovery to guard against failure.

And as Kelly McGonical and her research explain, you need to be cautious of “being good”. For example, when you are “good” and work hard all week, you then give yourself permission to go on a Friday-night bender. Or you eat healthy all week, and blowout on the weekend.

Nurture yourself and plan your rewards wisely – the better you care for, and treat yourself, the further you’ll get with your desired change (and the less you’ll encounter benders and blowouts).

7. Pre-commit

This one is a no-brainer, and yet often overlooked and underestimated.

Commit the night before to exercising in the morning. Lay your gear out ready and set your alarm…or you could just wait until you wake up and decide to exercise then. How much more likely are you to get the job done, if you’ve pre-committed to doing so?

Don’t leave it to chance or whim, make decisions ahead of time when you have the headspace and sufficient willpower.

And support your pre-commitments with appropriate planning. For example, have your excuses ready: at the beginning of your night at the pub, announce that you’re going easy tonight and that you don’t want to be included in rounds.

Take a minimal amount of cash and no cards. And plan to follow every alcoholic drink with a soft drink.
Pre-committing means making your decisions in advance, without risks and temptations all around you. “I’m going to go for a jog in the morning no matter what” can seem too simple to be effective. But having that conviction and expectation in advance, will always improve you chances in the habit-changing stakes.

8. Make it manageable

This idea makes motivation redundant, and relieves your willpower of any great burden.

Making it manageable means translating your long-term habit-change goal into a simple here-and-now proposition.

Aiming for a daily-walking habit doesn’t have to start with a commitment to walk for 20 minutes each and everyday forevermore, starting tomorrow. And in fact that approach is likely to fail. When it rains on day three or you come down with the flu, your new habit will come to an abrupt halt, and you’ll feel defeated and frustrated, like it’s too hard, not worth it and why bother.

Instead stick to habit sprints, to use Leo Babauta’s expression. Decide to get off the bus a stop early and walk a few extra minutes to work, each morning for the rest of this week.

Leave it at that, you can tackle next week later. Whether you choose to aim for two days in a row, or everyday this week, doesn’t matter. Just stick to short manageable habit sprints and keep building as you can handle it.

Starting from scratch to break or build a lifelong habit can’t help but seem like an enormous undertaking. A habit sprint over the next few days is eminently more doable, and less off-putting.

positive changes in your life

9. Be observant and self-compassionate

Observe yourself, both when you’re struggling, and when you’re managing well.

Notice the situations that put your habit-change efforts at risk, as well the circumstances that facilitate your efforts.

Is it lack of sleep that thwarts your progress? Is it lack of expertise and/or confidence? And if so, how can you help yourself on that front? What do you need to do to get more sleep, or who or what do you need to consult for more know-how?

Observe yourself and your efforts in order to support a problem-solving approach. Ask yourself, what’s not working and why? Rather than, “this is hopeless, I’m hopeless, it’s no use.”

Observing in this way promotes mindfulness. It helps you to pay attention in the moment, rather than succumbing to automatic reactions (which most often involve self-recriminations and giving up).

How would you respond to a friend who’s trying to improve their fitness but who is frustrated because work pressure has won out over exercise this week? You’d empathise and encourage them. So, show the same kind of compassion to yourself. Be kind to yourself as you confront the inevitable challenges that go hand-in-hand with habit change.

As Dr Melanie Greenberg explains, self-compassion helps you meet life’s challenges. She cites research where subjects who were given a compassionate message after eating doughnuts, were less likely to submit to temptation later.

If (and in all likelihood, when) you slip up, self-compassion is your best weapon against throwing in the towel. It’s the difference between:

“I’ve done it now tucking into those chips, I’m hopeless. I’ve got no self-restraint and the fat to show for it, may as well have the pizza and beer too.”

And “damn it, I wish I didn’t start on those chips. Then again overall I’ve had a good week. I’m bound to trip up occasionally, I’ll get there, doing okay, and I won’t fall for the chips next time.”

Learn to be observant and compassionate towards yourself, and your habit-change achievements will prevail.

10. Guarantee your own success

This is about doing the opposite to setting yourself up for failure. And it draws on many of the points above.
If you are clear on the change you want and why, you have committed to it and embraced the idea that habit change is a process, it is simpler than you think to guarantee your own success.

Identify the next smallest (even tiniest) step that you need to take.

The next smallest step you need to take, is the one that will be a step in the right direction, and it must be small enough that you can’t fail.

That’s it.

Will you set an alarm right now to chime in 30 minutes to prompt you to get up and stretch or walk around the block?

Will you switch that afternoon treat for a piece of fruit?

Will you delay your next cigarette, or wait until you sit down to eat before you open the bottle of wine?

Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps your next step is to make a list of information and/or things you need to get started.

Whatever your next step is, remember it must be so doable that you can’t fail.

My motto is “start small, start now”.

So, what is it for you? What’s your next step?

Holiday Anxiety: 5 reasons you might NOT look forward to the festive season

holiday anxiety

Here’s my post from many years back on holiday anxiety— because it’s important to say that understandably, it’s a very stressful time for many people. Approach the holidays with caution and be kind to yourself!

Last Christmas was a peculiar affair for me.

For the first time in years, I didn’t head interstate. With some trepidation, I asked my family for the year off to catch my breath and de-stress. They gave me the okay without hesitation or fuss. Lovely.

I would relish catching up on some rest. I was looking forward to this strange Christmas and on balance. In the end, it was fine. But, not as easy as I’d expected.

I planned to drive my family to the airport, then on to the office. See the few of my counselling clients who themselves had yet to quit for the year and wind up the afternoon righteously with some last-minute admin.

Then I’d chill out as I pleased, all smiles…

As I drove away from the airport, my bursting into tears took me completely by surprise. However, the pangs of guilt on Christmas morning did not.

Just as strange as my quiet morning was Christmas afternoon at the movies. It was fun to hang out with my teenage nephew and I laughed loads with him at the Ben Stiller/Eddie Murphy film–but surely this couldn’t be Christmas day.

It was totally different to past years but pleasant–even if it hadn’t been so pleasant planning with my ex-brother-in-law, in order to see my nephew.

Relatively speaking, the entire experience was low stress, but it highlighted some reasons Christmas can be so damn painful for so many people.

holiday anxiety

Christmas holiday truths I’ve learned from being a counsellor

Aside from any personal experience, in my counselling work, I am well acquainted with the challenges and stress that holiday anxiety brings.

Some people have high hopes and will indeed have a lovely time. Others expect to, and will enjoy some of it. But for many, Christmas will bring pain or disappointment.

It’s an impossible to set up for many reasons–here are the main ones.

‘Tis the season to be jolly (regardless of how you really feel)

For a start, you are supposed to be joyous and you only get one chance a year to get it right–to live up to the celebrations, the tradition, the image of ‘happy families’.

Whether it comes from old childhood wishes, the hype in the media and retail spaces, or endless Christmas lunches, drinks and festivities, we’re primed with expectation.

It’s an awful lot of pressure.

No matter how tight your budget is, gifts are a must. No matter how stressful things have been, you must get into the spirit of the holidays. No matter the arguments about where and with whom to spend Christmas day, you forge on.

Yet the holidays don’t diminish stress or debt. More likely, they exacerbate them.

Christmas doesn’t cure illness or mend broken hearts. It doesn’t solve conflict and is often a source of holiday anxiety.

Whatever your struggles may be, at Christmas you expect or are expected to be jolly.

It can be tough.

When your regular schedule grinds to a halt stress can escalate

You lament your “daily grind” but the predictability of your usual routine supports you. This is especially true in the lead up to the holidays when you’re insanely busy.

Then, suddenly, everything stops. Routine collapses.

No work. No Friday night drinks with the usual crowd. Maybe no classes, personal training or counselling.

At a potentially challenging time, it can be tough without the usual distractions to keep you busy. And tougher when your usual support team is unavailable–off facing their own family.

You may experience a kind of busyness hangover–part exhaustion, part agitation.

You may have felt alone, with too much time and space to think and worry. Perhaps there are issues that have until now only niggled at you. When holidays kick in and the fog of the rat race clears, these can loom large and be unsettling.

Family is family, and it’s not always love, fun and games.

Those old dynamics are always there, whether out in the open or bubbling underneath. At any moment, a simmer can build or someone can blow.

Who skimped or splurged on gifts? Who’s being passive aggressive? Who’s not helping? Who’s getting louder and ruder with every passing hour?

Unresolved issues and old rivalries too easily erupt on this annual, consumption-fuelled, family-focused festival. Instead of the celebrations being a joyful time, they can be strained or even a complete disaster.

You might be relieved when it’s all over.

holiday anxiety

Feelings of loss and longing can arise

Birthdays, anniversaries and other special days often trigger grief–loss of a loved one, longing for the past or for the life we hoped to have.

Christmas does the same on an enormous scale.

Perhaps your loss is experienced by waking on Christmas morning knowing your children are with your ex. Maybe it’s remembering Christmas as it was before a loved one died. Or maybe it’s because of being away or alone when you would rather not be.

Little is more painful than feeling alone or bereaved when you ‘should’ be celebrating with loved ones.

Holidays mark the passing of time

Annual events confront you with passaging time.

Each Christmas has you think of past Christmases. Often you see people you haven’t seen for an entire year.

You’re a year older, the littles are bigger and the oldies aren’t getting any younger either.

With that sense of another year having passed, you can’t help but reflect–a good thing perhaps, a confronting thing, likely.

It might or might not be as big as being confronted with your own mortality–but certainly you can take a serious look at yourself and your life. Is this where you wanted to be by now? Are things the way you want them to be and how do you hope they’ll be next Christmas?

If the holidays make you reflective and heavy-hearted, you are not alone!

Bah humbug… not

Despite appearances, I’m not anti Christmas. I’m not advocating a ban.

I simply suggest an acknowledgement of how the festive season can contribute to holiday anxiety. Beware of your expectations.

The usual holiday tips apply, with a couple of extras:

  1. Try for moderation in all that you consume.
  2. Get into nature as often as you can.
  3. Make time to be active and to rest.
  4. Take time out from family where applicable.
  5. Have briefings and debriefings with someone who won’t judge you for a lack of Christmas spirit.

I won’t say happy holidays–instead, be kind to yourself. I’m all for peace and goodwill!

How will you meet the challenges of holiday anxiety?

Who is the best therapist in Sydney?

best therapist in sydney

Who is the best therapist in Sydney?

Are you currently in search of professional help or contemplating it? Of course you are looking for the best therapist but how can you judge the best without speaking to them all first?

Chances are, you may have Googled the “Best Therapist in Sydney”. But what comes next? Do you judge by qualifications? Or whether they use the latest evidence-based intervention? Or have the most 5-star reviews?

The answer depends on who is asking. For example, the best therapist for a couple with relationship stress generally differs from the best therapist for an individual dealing with past trauma.

How to find the best therapist in Sydney, for YOU

1. Ask a friend, colleague or your GP — recommendations from a trusted source can be powerful.

2. Check out therapists’ websites — you can get a good feel for their approach and professionalism by reading the information they provide.

3. Book a call — speak directly with the therapist or service and ask questions!

4. Clarify your need — does your issue require a therapist with specific training or experience?

5. Determine your practical preferences — what is your availability, budget and location?

To help inspire your process, we interview Jacqueline Stone alongside her esteemed retired associate, Heather Firth. Together, they bring their wealth of expertise from over three decades of therapy in private practice at Jacqueline Stone & Associates. With their vast knowledge and insight, they are the ideal guides to assist you in considering the best therapist in Sydney, for you.

best therapist in sydney

Firstly, what makes therapy successful?

Jacqueline Stone: The relationship between a therapist and a client is pivotal. It goes beyond rapport and, in fact, if your therapist is not a person you want to meet for a coffee or hang out with on a Friday night, that is not a bad thing.

In the literature, it is called the Therapeutic Alliance — that makes therapy successful. It comprises many elements, including a commitment to one another to do the work and not to avoid difficult topics or feelings, but to talk about the discomfort, if it is not yet time, or not yet possible to talk openly about the root of the discomfort.

It is important to recognise that sometimes successful therapy is about timing. Are you ready to ponder what is underneath your current struggles? Counselling or therapy is still successful if it supports you through a difficult period, but probably when people think of therapy being really successful, they are thinking about when a person achieves a significant change in themselves or their outlook, or overcomes long-standing hurdles or situations in their life. And sometimes it has to be the right time for that kind of work to occur.

Sometimes clients come for help when faced with a challenging situation, and they finish once they’ve been able to deal with the key issues. Then they may return later ready for deeper change — they can commit and achieve truly life-changing therapy.

I trust you will have an innate sense of who the best therapist in Sydney for you is. However, it’s important to recognize that therapy may not be a simple journey. While it may come smoothly, it is unlikely to be entirely comfortable.

Successful therapy is about working through what lies beneath the stress, the depression, or anxiety. It’s about the therapist listening to you deeply, hearing what is going on for you, arriving together at a place of understanding. Understanding the way you are in the world, what patterns of relating or relationships are stuck or causing you problems. And working together to overcome black-and-white thinking, to confront and grieve loss or trauma and to make big shifts from, say, shame to self-compassion.

What makes a good therapist?

Jacqueline Stone: Good therapists encompass a wide range of shapes and sizes, and determining the best therapist in Sydney for you, may not align with another individual’s preference. I believe certain qualities are commonly found among great therapists.

Beyond good training, professionalism and integrity, specific personal qualities make a therapist good. I think these include a curious mind and intellect. Good therapists are driven to understand the world and people and they are open-minded and are natural lifelong learners. They soak up ideas and perspectives from their reading and their listening, from their pastimes, and from all their interactions with people and the world.

Most, if not all, good therapists have done significant therapy themselves. Whether it is part of their initial training or within ongoing training and development, spending significant time in the role of client, not only helps with their own personal healing, mental health and development, but it also offers a deep appreciation for how therapy works and the demands it places on the client.

I also believe that good experience of therapy as a client, gives therapists confidence and perseverance in the work they do with their own clients.

Beyond essential skills like effective listening and high-level communication skills, a good therapist requires patience and resilience, along with their own healthy sense of sense worth, if they are going to foster this in others.

What is a good therapy experience like?

Jacqueline Stone: I count it to be an incredible privilege to work with people who are striving to overcome stress, trauma, pain, conflict, or inner demons. While it is challenging work, it is very rewarding to see people recover and thrive.

When people face long-held painful memories that cause pain or anxiety, I am often amazed at the courage they find to move beyond just coping, avoiding, or numbing themselves. When we build enough trust and safety to make being vulnerable possible, it is lovely to witness a client surprise themselves with their own resilience.

For some, therapy is like a whole new language, talking about, say, how conflict or tension in their relationships feels, is foreign and uncomfortable. It presents an entirely new way of tackling things and for someone who is used to being good at things, or perhaps the best, to come to therapy and be a beginner is a big ask.

But I think connecting and sharing is an innate human drive, so people take to it and improve and often excel and the flow-on effect in their lives is striking. Perhaps a new opportunity emerges at work or at home and it is wonderful to witness.

It might also surprise you to know how often there are lighter moments in the consultation room. As anxiety subsides, depression lifts and brain fog clears, delight, humour and passion often appear. I cherish the stories of old or new pursuits emerging, like music or travel or play with children. Or jokes at the client’s or the therapist’s expense are shared.

And I love it when new directions or decisions are made. It’s a telltale sign of the client’s hard work paying off.

Heather, what makes therapy successful?

Heather Firth: The relationship between therapist and client is the most important thing, and the research backs this up. Repeatedly, research shows that when the professional relationship between therapist and client is positive, therapeutic outcomes are better. Which, of course, sounds obvious.

It is often a big step for someone to come to therapy for the first time. They have perhaps been thinking about it for ages, weeks, or months, even years. It’s hard trying something new, and therapy is no exception.

Sometimes there’s an instant connection, an instant and easy rapport. Sometimes it takes longer, and that’s why we suggest committing to a few sessions to see.

Sometimes, although it is rare, it is just not there, the connection, and that’s an easy argument for trying another therapist.

When the connection works, being listened to non-judgementally, and really being heard, for some people for the first time in their lives, is powerful. It is the foundation for change. It is how therapy works.

When trust is built and felt, therapy enables a client to share their struggles and their feelings, and to think together with the therapist. This process brings about change.

It takes courage, courage to take the first step. To develop the connection and trust and to talk about how things are for you. But it gets easier, and it brings confidence, a sense of inner strength that grows, with continual connection.

It’s not a quick fix. Depending on the damage felt by a person, or trauma they experienced sometimes very early in their lives, it can take longer. It can be daunting, but some people want to continue to work together over a long period to get the best possible outcomes.

It is common for it to take time to be honest and more open with the therapist because, especially if you’re a people pleaser, it is more difficult to share both the good and the bad.

Maybe a client is inclined to always think they are the one who is wrong. They struggle with the power imbalance, like a parent-child or authority figure/adult-child dynamic. It takes time to come to realise they can speak up, to really feel their adult self.

Successful therapy is most often uncomfortable. Because it is a lot about not knowing what you don’t know, so vulnerability is an important part of it. It is about people letting themselves feel genuine feelings, to feel and sit with discomfort and difficulty and revisit painful times.

Most people come to learn that pain and discomfort are better than anxiety and depression. That, together with a therapist (or within another relationship) it is what enables you to have pain eased. Rather than suffering on your own, going round in circles in your head, or in life.

Therapy comes to be a place where problems feel more manageable, less overwhelming. Safety is created between the therapist and client, and this makes excellent therapy possible.

best therapist in sydney

How to find excellent therapy?

Heather Firth: Word of mouth can be powerful. When a recommendation comes through your personal network, it can be easier to build trust and confidence initially. Sometimes the recommendation will come from a therapist — in speaking to a therapist, they may not be suitable for you, but they can make a recommendation from their professional network.

It is important, all being well in a first session, to commit to a few more sessions, to find the right therapist for you and to be open to how things unfold.

If you feel uneasy, it’s best to communicate this with your therapist. Addressing uneasiness with the therapist strengthens the professional relationship. A good therapist will invite and model this type of healthy communication.

What is a good therapy experience like?

Heather Firth: When trust is built, a client can express emotions they usually hide, like anger and fear. Hesitation and even denial can shift.

Positive changes come when clients can express their present feelings, that were similar to when they were a small child. Maybe they recognise that the disappointment they feel from their boss is like what they experienced with a parent when they were young.

The patterns of relating and relationships are etched very early in life, both positive and negative, and new freedom emerges when we can come to see how this wiring affects us in the present.

Many powerful emotions emerge, including disbelief, broken dreams, grief…but when no longer hidden, they are no longer a burden.

It is always special to realise insight emerging for a client who had always seen things one way and had been stuck within this limited perspective. Then, to see their own new insight and to release old pain and emotions, and to become lighter and more hopeful is wonderful.

It can be a bumpy road, even the client/therapist relationship can be bumpy, but that is realistic because it is a relationship like any other, except in therapy there is the opportunity to work with it constructively and kindly. To model openness and honesty and to talk things through.

Psychodynamic therapy is experiential…not just thinking but feeling, building awareness and resilience, recognising that therapy is neither all bad nor all good, which reflects reality and the human condition.

therapist in sydney

What makes a good therapist?

Heather Firth: A good therapist sits with a client no matter their feelings. They give the time, space, respect and accept the person as they are.

To be heard, and to feel heard, is the greatest gift. To experience it brings relief. It helps people put their own feelings and thoughts into words. A therapist helps them make sense of it, talk things through together and process: the therapist doesn’t know but facilitates exploring together, to draw out the client’s knowing.

Good therapy is unique every time. It’s a creative process.

Good therapy is how the client comes to appreciate and accept themselves and the person they are, through witnessing the acceptance of them, by the therapist, repeatedly.

A good therapist has compassion and models this and with time the client develops a greater capacity for compassion, for others and themself.

Is one of our therapists the best therapist for you?

If you are curious, we would like to help you find out. Our website answers the most common questions we get asked, as well as to provide plenty of information and insight while you consider your challenges and your needs.

We invite you to get in touch, via email for questions, or book now for a free call where we can think about your options and you can decide if in fact once of us may be the best therapist for you.

Therapy in Sydney

What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

Some of the most common questions we get are: “What is the difference between counselling and psychotherapy?” And “What is the difference between therapy and psychotherapy?” And “Do you offer both counselling and therapy in Sydney?”

Let’s begin!

Firstly, Therapy, Counselling and Psychotherapy are used somewhat interchangeably. There are differences and overlaps, and where to draw the line between each is arguable.

You can find more technical or detailed explorations of the definitions, however here is a brief look at how we tend to use these terms.

The difference between counselling and psychotherapy

Really, Therapy is just shorthand for Psychotherapy. Broadly speaking people tend to understand Therapy as professional help or treatment for psychological, emotional and/or mental discomfort or pain. Counselling can be used in much the same way.

In brief, Counselling is usually shorter in duration and more specific in scope. Therapy/Psychotherapy is usually more extensive, aimed at alleviating more complex, long-standing pain or symptoms.

What is Counselling?

Within the profession, Counselling is usually used to describe the support provided to someone who is facing specific challenges in their daily life because of a current situation or set of circumstances. Perhaps they are dealing with relationship, financial, work or health difficulties just now. You can often point to a situation or experience at the root of the struggle. Counselling describes shorter-term support or is focussed on alleviating the pain or stress associated with the current difficulties.

What is Therapy/Psychotherapy?

By contrast Therapy/Psychotherapy is sought by someone looking to address longstanding challenges. It might be that a person recognises that the difficulty in their current relationship or in their work or social life, stems from dysfunctional family dynamics growing up. Or that they are looking for lasting positive change in the face of lifelong self-esteem issues.

You might not know what your problem is, or whether you need Counselling or Psychotherapy — which is why the focus of early sessions includes an assessment of your current difficulties or symptoms, as well as seeking details about your life story and family history.

However, even though you might identify that you had a significant loss or trauma as a child and that you have some personality traits or coping behaviours that cause issues in your life today, you might want targeted, supportive Counselling ahead of an interstate move to pursue a promotion or relationship. Perhaps you will consider Psychotherapy later if struggles persist or resurface.

If you want to know the difference between counselling and psychotherapy because you have to choose, fear not, you only need to deal with one therapist who will meet you where you are.

difference between counselling and psychotherapy

Different types of therapeutic support in challenging times

In recent years with the pandemic, many people experienced additional stress and challenges with fear, isolation, unexpected hardship and struggle. Some sought Counselling to help get them through. Some managed to cope but depressive symptoms or some anxiety surfaced later — whether they associated it with the pandemic or not. Again Counselling can assist you through a difficult period.

Or if this challenging time provoked an old injury or weakness that you have long, and perhaps unwittingly carried, some Psychotherapy that looks a bit deeper or more broadly at how you are in the world and in relationships, may be what you are looking for.

Counselling for emotional injuries

If you sprain your ankle, you rest it, use ice and apply extra support where needed. If you are still limping and it’s painful, you see a physiotherapist who treats it to reduce discomfort and restore functionality while you recover.

We could equate that with Counselling, the treatment and support for recovery from a psychological, emotional or mental sprain.

Therapy for underlying, past-based injuries

Continuing the sprain analogy, if we discover the ankle sprain is recurring or stems from a previous injury or weakness, or due to a problematic running style for example, the physiotherapist may offer treatment and habit changes that go beyond the current symptoms to address the underlying cause.

We could equate this more extensive discovery and treatment with Psychotherapy/Therapy.

Please know that our therapy, psychotherapy or counselling services can happen interchangeably with our Sydney therapists!

I realise this is not a perfect analogy but hopefully, it illustrates that the terms can refer broadly to similar types of treatment and that one or both might be suitable for you at any given time. What is important is to realise that you have a choice as to what you pursue at any point in time.

Local Sydney Therapy, Counselling or both!

We offer our Sydney Therapy services in the CBD at 185 Elizabeth Street. There are parking stations in nearby city streets, however, most clients who drive in for their Sydney therapy sessions avoid the city centre (and more expensive parking fees) and park either in the car park at the Domain or St Mary’s Cathedral/Cook & Phillip Pool.

It is then about a 400m walk. Limited paid meter parking is also available in the streets surrounding the pool and cathedral, near the Domain and the Art Gallery of NSW.

Exposing relationship stress vs. life stress

relationship stress vs. life stress

When a client tells me about relationship stress with their partner, a funny thing can happen.

At first, they are clearly distressed as they describe the arguments they have had over the past week. They feel furious and hurt.

They tell me of the verbal attacks they have copped, the silent treatment they have been subjected to, and the slamming of doors they have put up with.

They often speak of their partner’s ignorance of their suffering.

And yet, further along in our discussion, a surprising shift can occur.

Relationship stress subsides, and another is revealed

Distress melts away. A clearer, calmer reality emerges.

I can actually see their relief. And it is as if I can see part of their brain come back online. They begin to explain matters with more objectivity.

Of course, this is not me weaving some therapy magic. My only intervention so far is to listen, ask the odd clarifying question, and perhaps offer a reflection now and again, which lets them know that I understand what they are saying.

What has happened is that they have vented (with no retaliation from me). They have felt heard and understood (with no excuses or ‘fix-its’ from me). And so their stress levels drop.

And this is where the funny bit commonly occurs. They begin to defend their partner.

“Look…she did give me a hard time, but she is under enormous pressure at work right now.” Or, “I should say…he’s really having a tough time of it, with his mum being so ill”.

It is not that they are excusing their partner’s poor behaviour. Importantly, however, they are flagging the role of stress – the cause of which is external to their relationship.

So stress can really be a double whammy for couples. It can wield power from outside the relationship and cause havoc from within.

Is life stress causing relationship stress?

The evil power of stress – part I

It may turn out, then, that stress is your enemy, but your partner is not.

Consider one of my clients in a therapy session, as described above. His stress levels are sky-high. He feels furious and hurt.

But in the end, his distress dissipates. He recovers and emerges from ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode to a more grounded state where he is able to see the bigger picture with clarity.

Imagine a different scene – where he is at home confronting his partner, each of them full of anger, upset, and other emotions. Stress escalates and fuels combat.

Nobody is in a position to listen effectively or think clearly at this stage. (This is when smart couples call a cease-fire and suspend the argument until everyone calms down.)

Stress is what makes us lose it. It is the difference between an upsetting argument and an ugly episode of personal attacks, name-calling, and aggression. It goes without saying that it is a destructive element in relationships.

We know that we were hijacked by stress when we felt sheepish and regretful the next morning. We wish we had not said those awful things. We cannot even remember how the argument started.

Of course, not in all cases, but often we ought to point the finger at life stress, not our partner.

The evil power of stress – part II

Now thinking bigger picture, how would you rate your relationship if, by magic…neither of you was under financial or family strain, workplace or time pressure, or dealing with sleep deprivation or uncertainty about the future?

Or, from another angle, do you experience relationship stress when you go on holiday? (A relaxing holiday not requiring driving in foreign cities or other stress-inducing activities.) How is it when you have escaped from the challenges of real life?

Presumably a lot better.

Life stress vs. relationship stress does not answer or solve all of our relationship woes. Removing stress does not necessarily remove communication problems or dysfunctional relationship dynamics. It does not stop your partner from pushing your buttons. However, stress can push an otherwise-ok relationship to the brink and beyond.

How to turn stress into a relationship lifeline

In fact, there is little point in imagining life without stress. What is that expression about there being only two certainties in life…death and taxes? I would add stress to the list.

And while you might not welcome stress in your life, identifying its role in the life you share together can be a real relationship saviour…

It can represent a common enemy. Rather than attacking one another, perhaps you can work together to address the causes of stress in your lives. “Stress is tearing us apart right now” can be a good opener for a productive discussion.

Along similar lines, it can provide a focal point for positive change. Improving relationship dynamics and communication often takes time, insight, and great effort. Identifying small, tangible ways to reduce stress – more exercise, less alcohol, and caffeine, a better diet, more sleep – can bring immediate improvement to how you both feel. This can pave the way for positive change in your relationship.

Do pause and wonder about the impact of stress on your relationship. Doing so is not a panacea, but it can be a really effective start. You might not leap straight into defending your partner after your next argument, but you may feel a little more forgiving of them.

This blog was originally published on the website of Clinton Power & Associates