Part of a therapist’s job is to help children with adjusting to change in a healthy and productive way. Typically this involves changes that happened in a family PRIOR to the therapists involvement (like a divorce, move, new school, medical diagnosis, etc) or to a change that happened after they started therapy (like a new baby in the home, changing schools, or a traumatic event that happened after your initial contact).
The more difficult task for me, is to help kids adjust to change when the reason for the change is ME.
As in…I’m moving out of state next month and have to change my relationships with all of the amazing families that I have worked with in Memphis, TN. The children who still require therapy will need to change to a new provider. They will need to go to a new office and form a new relationship with someone else.
Now, the only two things that I can say for sure about change is:
1). People usually avoid it when possible.
2). Major growth often occurs when you go through change.
1 – Dealing with “Change Avoidance”
Change avoidance comes up for me with food. I have these great plans to go to a restaurant and order something different this time. And then I get there and low and behold…I end up ordering the same thing every single time. (My husband could literally order for me at any restaurant we walked into because it is so predictable.)
It also comes up in shopping habits. I literally shop at like 3 stores. Not because they are necessarily the best but because I am familiar with the layout, the sizes, the pricing, the coupons, etc. There might be better stuff out there but I go to the same few places over and over again because it makes my life simpler.
And anything related to gambling. I love to play FREE poker games or at home with friends. But I am the one that went to Vegas and spent exactly ZERO dollars at the casinos.
How does change avoidance come up in therapy?
The same is true with service providers like me. Most of the clients in my office this month have been resistant to changing to a new therapist because they know me. They know what to expect. They know where things are. They are comfortable.
One of my clients said,
“I met my new therapist and I don’t like her. She’s not like you-she’s too nice.”
I chuckled because that was a compliment. This child was worried that her new therapist wouldn’t challenge her when she needed it. But she will. Or, she will do it nicely and they will find their groove together.
We avoid change because it can be scary. It could lead to failure.
What if? becomes the thought that takes over every action.
What if I order something different and I don’t like it? What if I go somewhere else and it’s a waste of time? What if this new therapist doesn’t get me?
What if questions seem to always lead to anxious, worried, negative, worst-case scenario outcomes.
That leads me the second point.
2- Major growth often occurs when you go through change.
It is the PROCESS of going through major changes that leads to growth. I did an interview with Joe Sanok of the Practice of the Practice podcast. We talked about successes and failures and I said something like,
“Embrace the anxiety that comes with risk.”
Aside from my food related change avoidance, people who know me would probably describe me as pretty adventurous. I intentionally seek out new experiences on a regular basis. That includes traveling (for our anniversary, we GO somewhere every year instead of buying presents). I gently force my children to do things that they are afraid to do (amusement part rides, feeding wild animals, going to high places, talking to people in public). And we move. Literally. As a military family, we pack up and move to a completely new place every three years.
And I LOVE IT!
I moved from my hometown, Pensacola, Florida to San Diego, California. During that time, I was exposed to the best play therapy training I could ask for and became a Registered Play Therapist. This was an opportunity that was not available in my town at that time (and is still difficult there, but we’re working on that).
We moved back to Pensacola and I joined a group practice at Psychological Associates. I learned so much there about providing outpatient therapy to kids. And, I started teaching play therapy to others.
Then, we came to Memphis, TN. This time, I went out on my own and started a solo private practice. This is something that I thought about in Pensacola, but didn’t do because I was happy and comfortable at my job there. And I continued to teach about play therapy.
In the transition from Memphis to Oahu, Hawaii, the anxiety about the change (we might be in a hotel for 2 months, the waiting list for day care is a year long they said, what if…) started to take over.
But then, something magical happens.
I came up with an idea to host the first ever Play Therapy Virtual Summit right before we move. The idea came from my love for play therapy and my need to adapt to the change coming in my life.
And thankfully, it has been quite popular. But frankly, the experience of completing this project is where the growth occurs. It is the process of taking something unknown and turning into something manageable that gives us that boost of confidence.
To my clients in Memphis, I want you to know these things:
I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve you for the past three years and for the privilege of being a part of your families life.
I take with me the lessons that I Iearned from working with you and and your children.
In change, we will all grow.
I suck at goodbye’s
In military communities, people don’t really say goodbye. There’s always a chance that we will live in the same town again in 3 years or so. There’s a sense that if I don’t see you or talk to you in a few years, we can pick up right where we left off. So we usually say, “see you later.“
As a therapist, I am supposed to be good at “termination activities” but the truth is that is something I need to work on. I had a great session with a child that decided to make a treasure box as our last session (child’s idea, not mine) and it turned into a great termination activity where I left a note for her about our time together.
And then, as this client walked out, you know what I said:
“See you later.”
It’s okay to avoid change sometimes. And it’s good to embrace the anxiety that comes with change sometimes too. My email address is always good. Let me know how your children are dealing with changes and the growth you see when they manage this new adventure and come out feeling more confident than before.
I leave you with my favorite quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.
Loved this article! My heart goes out to all military families that deal with long absences from significant others, families and friends. Particularly when they get deployed for months at a time. I am in lucky in the fact that I did not meet my husband until after he had honorably discharged from the Army. However, I do not thing I could have had children with him knowing that I would be doing it “solo” for months at a time. Granted, it has gotten better I presume with cell phones, face time, Skype, emails and texting. But nothing can replace that precious person when you need to vent or just need someone to take charge of a situation because physically and emotionally you just don’t feel like you can…….but you have to. I would also suspect (and please correct me if I am wrong) some resentment on the side of the spouse that is staying with back with the kids (or may even the one that got deployed). I loved your perspective on change and how you seem to get through it. Listing all of your successes and how you have “re-invented” yourself as a professional is amazing. My heart went out to your little clients who didn’t do so well with the news that you were leaving. That is so hard. I know when I left the private practice that I was working in some of the children had some strong reactions to this. I really loved the shadow box idea your client came up with. What an amazing way to honor your connection and relationship that you have developed. What I do know is this, you were meant to be a an LCSW and play therapist. And the world is a much better place because you do move around and are able to meet children that for one reason may not have had the opportunity to meet you otherwise.