Change Your Behavior, Change Your Life: When to Ask for Help

A man sits in front of me exploring if he wants to leave his wife. Before he came to me he weighed the pros and cons, had an affair, re-committed to his wife, talked with friends and searched for advice on the internet. But now he’s at a loss, so he’s coming to me to figure it out. He says he was content with his mistress and is content with his wife. I gently suggest that if he was truly content with his wife or his mistress he wouldn’t be in my office. His behavior shows what he’s really feeling, even if his word is “content.”

Behaviors can be clues, helping us figure out the whole picture. The woman who complains she can’t lose weight but always eats dessert; the teenager who wants friends but says no when he’s invited out. There are always lots of reasons, many of them good, for continuing our behaviors. But eventually if we want to change something in our life—a partner, our body, our social life—we have to change what we do.

Most clients at some point say to me, “I know what I need to do, I just can’t figure out why I’m not doing it.” There’s a myth about counseling: people come to counseling at the first sign of a problem instead of trying to figure it out themselves. The truth is people who come to counseling have researched, read, talked, explored, experimented and started all over again. They are more aware of their “problems” than anyone around them could ever be.

Counseling can help unravel why all the techniques you’ve tried so far haven’t worked. Sometimes the goals are the problem; maybe the woman wanting to lose weight is a size two and has an eating disorder. Sometimes the environment needs to change: the teenager signs up for soccer camp in Golden and meets some new kids. As a counselor I can’t predict outcomes—will be choose his wife or his mistress?—but I can help you see why your solutions haven’t worked, suggest some new ones and work with you to make permanent change.