Last week, a client asked me the weighted question that is inevitable in most therapeutic work:
“Do you think there is any hope for me?”
The question wasn’t flighty. It meant something to her, perhaps everything. The quality of her marriage, her future, and how she felt about herself was hinged on my response.
I paused, and hesitated. She asked as we were wrapping up so I was short on time, but knew my answer could ultimately impact the rest of her day.
“Yes, I believe so.”
It seemed like truth to me in the moment, yet the unsettled sense of feeling rushed and even flippant stayed with me, and provoked me to think further about the meaning of hope and therapy.
So, what is hope?
The interweb defines hope as “a feeling that something desired may happen”. Religion heavily integrates hope into spiritual practice, and also adds a sense of “joyful anticipation” of what is to come.
As a therapist, I hear hope as that instillation or promise that something better is coming. Our future is waiting for us with improvement and anticipation.
I believe that hope is why we start coming to therapy and investing in our future. We believe that there is more for us. We believe we can find love, even healthy love. We trust that relationships can get better. We look forward to balance, better time management, and easy conflict resolution. We are confident that we can re-find love and worthiness from within. We anticipate more confidence, more empowerment, more purpose for our lives. We have hope.
So what happens when we start coming, and what we hoped for or anticipated does not come? Does this mean therapy does not work? That the therapist is poorly skilled? Or that we are “too damaged”?
I have loved witnessing clients forge into their breakthroughs against hopelessness. There is an honest, vulnerable energy in our work together that says, “yep, things feel pretty stuck and hopeless, but I’m still going at it!” They are warriors – courageously headstrong, resilient and determined to fight against the insidious belief that there is nothing better for them. And, they combat against hopelessness by doing the following:
- These women keep their side of the street clean. They are open to insight, growing and changing. They ask questions about how they can be better in each challenging relationship.
- These women lean into new, terrifying things and risk failure. They go on dates with different types of people against their shy nature. They compliment and show adoration to their husband for the first time in years. They speak up to their boss.
- These women stop speaking poorly about others. Even in the heat of frustration, anger and feeling missed, they commit their therapy hour to exploring triggers of shame and inadequacy. They wonder out loud why someone could bother them so much.
- These women are adaptable to changing their game plan. They confront old patterns of rigidity and stubbornness. They reconsider what they are even hoping for. They learn to find hope, resolve and reconciliation in the most surprising ways.
- These women are consistent in therapy. They come back each week, and commit to their healing. They are undeniably tenacious. They don’t buy into gimmicks that promise to “lose 20 pounds in 2 days!” etc. They are willing to play the long game to attain and live out hope and promise.
These are my thoughts on hope. Yes, the feeling of hope is simply a state, but the enactment and fulfillment of what we hope for is so much more. It’s work. It’s digging deep. It’s on us.
What does your journey into hope look like? Does it involve doing the work? If you are willing to roll up your sleeves and need a partner, contact me to see if I can help you.