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Can talking change anything?

managing change
1. Repeating unhelpful patterns and how to change
2. Can talking change anything?
3. How do we adapt to change? Reflections from Covid 2020.
4. Can you Change your Perspective?

People often ask me: “how does simply talking actually help or solve any of my problems in the real world?” It seems such a simple thing to do, to talk and to be listened to, but it’s actually not that simple or straightforward, as I hope to explain.

Why don’t I just speak with a friend?
At a basic level, saying things out loud to another person can feel totally different from thinking alone, and can be hugely relieving. So why not just speak with a partner, friend, parent, GP or clergyman? It’s fabulous if you do have someone like this in your life, and it can be hugely beneficial. In today’s digital era, we definitely need to be talking and listening more, face-to-face, within our families and communities!

However, sometimes a family member or friend can be part of the problem, or they may try to offer advice based on their own experience, which may or may not feel helpful. There’s also a limit, I find, to the extent that friends or family can help, especially if the problem is chronic. Indeed, talking endlessly about a problem to those close to us can be counter-productive, and sometimes detrimental to the relationship. It is hard to put our own agenda to one side so that we can be fully available to listen and respond, without bias, to another. Well-trained therapists aim to do this in a variety of ways.

Professional therapy offers something different
By committing to our own self-awareness, therapists aim to listen impartially with empathy and compassion, whilst paying attention to relevant underlying issues. A therapist can be trained to understand and withstand the inevitable psychological pressures that emerge when engaging at an emotionally-intimate level with another person. Additionally the therapist will have no other role in your life, which can help you to feel more secure.

Regular and contained therapy sessions open up a safe space to begin talking more openly about difficult or painful feelings, sometimes for the very first time. You can become more reflective, objective and start to feel understood. This in turn helps you to understand and accept yourself in a more complete way. We all have blind spots – especially about ourselves – and talking with a professionally trained therapist can help uncover and identify patterns of behaviour which may be unhelpful in your life or in your relationships.

Is the past really in the past?
Another question many people ask me is: “Isn’t it better to leave the past in the past?” The real question is: “is the past in the past or is it in the present?” We can all be unaware of how our past can affect the way we feel about ourselves, perceive others and conduct ourselves in life, work and relationships. Every one of us carries small or large wounds from our past which often impact our present-day life. A therapist can help reveal and untangle these dynamics, and to assist you to gain more self-awareness and self-acceptance. If you can see what you do and why you do it, you have more choice with your reactions instead of being stuck in unhelpful patterns.

Therapy can literally rewire the brain and nervous system
We now know from neuroscience research that our brains remain plastic throughout life. Studies using fMRI scans reveal how talking therapies can produce greater connectivity in the brain and can physically change its structure by creating new neural pathways. This can be achieved, for instance, by learning to cope with raw emotions; receiving empathy and compassion from another person; thinking about feelings and putting words to them; changing our deeply-ingrained thought patterns and beliefs; processing our automatic bodily reactions (embedded within the nervous system) when under stress or threat, etc. So science now confirms what therapists have known for decades!

Talking and being listened to, in a safe setting and in a particular kind of way, is often complex – not simple – but can certainly lead to lasting change from the inside-out.

Wendy Bramham
October 2019

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