Easy Fixes in Therapy and in Life

By Marta Oko-Riebau, MA, NLC, PhD Candidate

“Nothing ever comes to one, that is worth having, except as a result of hard work.”
~ Booker T. Washington

I have been using an internet marketplace to connect to people in need of therapy. I was very surprised to see how many people who are trying to incorporate a positive change in their life seek hypnotherapy instead of psychotherapy. It made me wonder what it is about hypnotherapy that makes it so appealing to so many people.

Photo by Kostas Tsirogk, FreeImages.com

Photo by Kostas Tsirogk, FreeImages.com

According to The British Society of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis: “In therapy, hypnosis usually involves the person experiencing a sense of deep relaxation with their attention narrowed down, and focused on appropriate suggestions made by the therapist.”

To me one of the differences between hypnosis and therapy is that in the former things are done to the client, whereas in the latter things are accomplished with the client (hence requiring a lot of work). Maybe that is where the popularity of hypnotherapy comes from? We don’t want to suffer and work hard ourselves, but we do like to see quick and radical effects. You don’t have to invest time and energy, you don’t have to consciously work on painful material – you simply get hypnotized and when you come back to consciousness – poof! – the problem is already solved for you. Unfortunately most deep, lasting, and meaningful changes are not that drastic, and definitely not that quick.

Fix Me, Quickly

From a recent phone conversation with a potential client:

– “Hi, can I speak to Marta?”
– “Speaking.”
– “Hi, I found your ad in the newspaper… So, I am seeing this man and we’ve been only dating for a few weeks and he’s already kind of mean … I am calling to see if I should break up with him…”
– “Hi … Let me explain a little bit about how therapy works … I don’t really advise over the phone, therapy is a process and…”
– “Okay, but I just want to know what you think. Should I break up with him?”

As you can imagine, after the caller experienced a few frustrating minutes in this conversation, she hung up without any solutions to her problem. Who knows, maybe she called a clairvoyant afterwards in order to get what she needed: an instant solution?

Photo by Dima V, FreeImages.com

Photo by Dima V, FreeImages.com

Even though this example is slightly grotesque, there are many people who get frustrated with the lengthy process of change in therapy. We like quick and drastic results. This is why, I believe, we prefer diet pills to exercising and antidepressants to therapy. But can we really fix a problem without facing it?

According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, “If you rely solely on medication to manage depression or anxiety, for example, you have done nothing to train the mind, so that when you come off the medication, you are just as vulnerable to a relapse as though you had never taken the medication.” In other words, a pill can help you in the moment, but will not fix your problem in the long term.

The Trap of Instant Gratification

“Believe me, the reward is not so great without the struggle.”
~ Wilma Rudolph

There’s no doubt we live in a society of instant gratification. Instantly downloadable books, films, instant communication via texts or Twitter, instant gratification of sexual desires via high speed porn, instant aquiring of any material goods via online stores, instant access to money to cover expenses via loans, even immediate mood alteration via pills (although this issue is much more complicated – see the note below). Everything that requires time and effort is frustrating. Sadly, the need for instant gratification translates to our relationships, too!

Illustration by Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Illustration by Antoine de Saint Exupéry

Decades ago the fox in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s “The Little Prince” wisely noted, “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things already made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more.” Even though instant gratification may seem great in the moment, it can lead to existential emptiness and depression. Evolutionarily speaking, we were not prepared to live lives without challenges, struggles, and sacrifices.

I remember how growing up Catholic I despised Lent. Lent in my family meant I couldn’t eat chocolate or go out to dance for 40 days! But I also remember how much better the chocolate tasted when I had to wait for it and how much happier I was going out to dance after having a break from it. Instant gratification is seemingly great, but when everything comes easily, is there anything left to strive for?

Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com

Photo courtesy of FreeImages.com

Years ago, as a student of psychology, I came across a fascinating story of a tiger at a zoo who became depressed. I may be anthropomorphizing talking about depression in regards to an animal, but the tiger definitely suffered from a high level of apathy, stopped eating and seemed to be slowly fading. The zoo staff could not figure out what was going on, until someone came up with an idea to create some challenges for the tiger, who otherwise had nothing to do in his cage. Instead of serving him the food, the staff decided to hang the meat on the trees, where it would require some effort on tiger’s part to get it. It worked like magic! Soon, with a little bit of challenge, the tiger regained his energy and motivation to live.

working-Adam Brokes-FI

Photo by Adam Brokes, FreeImages.com

Isn’t this how we operate? With no challenges, no effort and no postponement of gratification can we truly enjoy what we originally desired? Is it possible that the culture of quick fixes and instant gratification is depriving us of what may be the essence of living… struggle, accomplishment, change, challenges, victory, defeat, satisfaction, frustration, _______ (you fill in the blank).
It may be important to remember, that in both therapy and in life,

“Nothing will work unless you do.”
~ Maya Angelou

Note: When talking about people using antidepressants to “fix” their mood, I am not referring to individuals who suffer from clinical depression and need the medication to function. Instead I am referring to people who use antidepressants as the “first resort” when they are struggling in life.

First posted September 15, 2014 on the Endeavor Counseling Blog. 
Marta Oko-Riebau

Marta Oko-Riebau

Marta Oko-Riebau is a registered psychotherapist in Denver, CO, who works with adults, adolescents, and couples. She specializes in helping people who struggle with low self-esteem, lack of assertiveness, cultural transitions, depression, anxiety, life changes, grief, loss, and a variety of relationship issues, including breakup and divorce. Contact her at 303-867-4633 or YourEndeavor@gmail.com. Visit her website at EndeavorCounseling303.com.