If you talk with most people for long enough you will find there is something they desire to do more or less often, better, faster or slower, etc. Satisfaction, comfortability, happiness, and fulfillment are often reasons humans desire change. Change is frequently the subject of clinical counseling sessions (e.g. behavior modification, cognitive restructuring, etc.). Counselors’ methods for helping individuals and families with change differ as vastly as the spectrum of which change itself occurs. I’ve found beyond the interventions, models, and techniques lies a simple formula for positive change—E.A.T.
Embody it: Embody Positive Change
I emphasize positive because individuals often fail to realize change is always occurring. Yes, when clients are stuck and continue to be in a routine of self-loathing, hurt, or pain—they are still changing. These changes often seclude themselves but come in the form of gradually conditioning the body and mind to operate in the negative state. Think about gaining or losing weight, suicide, hoarding, etc. Regression is as much change as progression. When an individual embodies positive change they can move from day-to-day intentionally. They have realistic expectations and goals pertaining to change. They gain a clear purpose for change and understanding of its requirements. It is embraced and becomes intrinsic. When a client embodies change they no longer look at it with ambivalence and they steer clear of viewing change as a possibility—they own it.
Key factors: Developing healthy beliefs, internal motivation, and insightful perceptions.
Accept it: Acceptance
Understanding our discomfort is crucial to moving forward. Being able to mindfully integrate the past into our efforts to move onward serves to guide our journey. Acceptance includes understanding positive change may take time—thus accepting the terms of the journey. It may prove helpful for client’s to understand how long it took them to get to where they are now and how entrenched they may be in their current beliefs.
Client’s often need help accepting barriers and limitations in a productive way; moving from making (often seemingly valid) excuses to creating opportunities. Setbacks are often disheartening; however, they also serve as evidence of desire. Helping client’s understand their discomfort as being a rejection of dissatisfaction can prove empowering.
When a client is receptive of validation from others it serves as a testament to their acceptance of the past and more importantly their acknowledgement of their own progress. Positive self-talk and affirmations are great tools for fostering acceptance.
Key factors: Attaining willingness and self-worth as well as building on strengths.
Tell it: Tell a New Story
Believing your story and understanding the reality of where you are versus where you were is integral to positive change. The story you tell yourself is revealing—both the language and tone. Earnestness is not easily feigned when you talk to yourself; therefore, telling yourself your story is often a great place to start.
The reality is we tell our stories any time we interact with others and often when no one else is around. By placing emphasis on telling a new story, clients are more attuned and develop an understanding of what they are saying about themselves in their daily goings-on.
Verbally telling your story to others not only provides connection but is a litmus for positive change. Oral accounts may or may not be necessary depending on a client’s issues; however, narration is not the only way to reveal the journey. Clients' can tell their new stories by “the way they walk.” In essence, their behaviors and interactions with others will reflect the positive change. Telling your story is more about reveling in the successes you experience and being your own beacon.
Key factors: Resilience, consistency, and longevity.
Why is this understanding of change important?
With many counselors often operating from integrative approaches it’s easy to get hung up focusing on the client’s goals versus where they are in the process. Often moving back and forth from various techniques and interventions the counselor may easily get sidetracked and even begin to lose sight of the client’s journey. EAT provides a reminder to counselors to not only engage the client in a productive, goal-oriented way but also stay abreast of evidence of the incremental process of change. The latter being critical for goal attainment; prompting counselors to provide encouragement, validation, and support from a positive perspective with an emphasis on progression. From time to time, clients and counselors alike fall victim to downplaying a victory as a “small victory.” However, any championship team will tell you the biggest wins are often achieved during the season.
Lastly, you likely notice the overlap between these non-linear concepts, which for me serves to weave together its integrative style. Also, framing these concepts in this way leaves you with an acronym easy enough to remember.