Lee A Edwards, PhD

Psychologist, Austin Texas

The 4 Stages of Healing & Growth

In my experience, we don't jump directly from having an unhealthy pattern to having a healthy one (wish we did!). Instead we have to realize the unhealthy behavior, experiment with alternatives and gradually build new habits. The reason I find it worth spelling all this out is that change (and therapy) is hard, so it helps to see that you are making progress even if you haven't nailed the new, better behavior yet. Check it out the progression of change:

1. The Old "Normal"

You do what you've always done, and you don't even notice it much. You're in a fairly comfortable state of ignorance.  Despite the fact that your pattern creates problems, you're blissfully clueless.

For an example, let's use verbally aggressive outbursts. You blow up at people, but you don't learn anything about your pattern, and you don't take responsibility. "They made me get mad. It's about them, not me."

2. Noticing The Problem

You're still doing it, but now you notice it, and you see it as a problem.

You explode at someone, but now you focus on "My blowing up created more problems." Now you can learn: when do you do it? How? What impact does it have? Stage 2 is about dissonance ("I don't like what I'm doing") and learning. No, you haven't changed yet, but the dissonance makes it very likely that you will change (that's a good thing, just not...comfortable).

The dissonance motivates you, and the learning starts to inform you about how to change.

3. Doing It Differently...Uncomfortably

By learning in Stage 2 (and maybe with some input from your therapist or others), you've come up with some alternatives to the old behavior. It takes a lot of effort not to do the old thing and maybe to do a new thing, but you try, and you succeed. Score!

In our example, you simply pause for a second when you would have typically taken someone's head off with an angry outburst. Maybe you even address the problem more constructively, such as saying, "I felt hurt when you..." or "Please stop doing...."

4. The New "Normal"

The promised land, the goal. Whew. You do the new, better, more helpful thing...but now it comes easily and naturally. Touchdown!

Stages 2 and 3 are what I'd call the "working" stages of therapy and change. You're noticing, owning, picking apart...and experimenting, trying, learning. You're building a new way of living that costs you and others less and pays off more richly. All that good works flows naturally into the "new normal": what's effortful now becomes easy over time. Ahhhhhh.


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Licensed psychologist, Austin

(512) 694-1322

4403 Manchaca Rd, Suite A, South Austin, TX 78745