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Problems and Goals

July 1, 2017

Problems and goals are part of the common narrative of getting help. It's an easy narrative to tell, which is why it is told over and over again: figure out your problem, set a goal to resolve it, determine the steps to get there, and begin completing those steps. 

 

This sort of language plays very well when mental health workers are advertising for or talking about their work. It plays well because people are ready to hear it; the narrative is baked into our very language. We are going to "resolve our issues," "overcome our problems," "get back on track." The language is active and reassuring.

 

But it's also simplistic. In the first place, many people are not sure what the problem is—and their only goal is to feel better. They may feel marginalized from the start because their distress does not fit neatly into the problem-boxes of Psychology Today, Good Therapy, or other intake forms. In the second place, this positive emphasis we have on conquering our problems and reaching our goals is exactly what prevents some people from achieving emotional growth. 

 

As an example of this last point, think about going to a friend for help. Let's pretend you are trying to start a business but have serious doubts about your ability to succeed. Your friend—a good friend—tells you not to worry: you've always succeeded, you work hard, people will love your product, everything is going to turn out alright. Now, this probably feels reassuring to hear, and maybe you go about your day a little more optimistically. But the conversation did not allow you to air your concerns about your business. Tomorrow will come, and most likely you will still have the same concerns. 

 

 

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