When Willpower Doesn’t Work

By Steve B. Reed, L.P.C., L.M.F.T.


So, you have been looking at the list of changes you want to make in your life. They may include:

1.  lose weight
2.  get my career into high gear
3.  face my fears and overcome a phobia
4.  increase my self-esteem
5.  improve my love life
6.  feel less depressed and more satisfied with my life
7.  learn to cope with work stress
8.  free myself from the baggage of my past

These are some of the difficult issues that people usually face. Whether your list matches the one above or not, it may be as challenging.  For many people, change is too challenging and too difficult. Therefore, they keep recycling their list of desired changes from one year to the next.

How does a person change their life when will-power doesn’t work? When willpower fails, where do you turn? People often turn to professionals to help facilitate the changes they desire. Licensed Professional Counselors, Psychologists, and Clinical Social Workers specialize in guiding people through the process of change. They help people mobilize their own inner resources toward their desired outcomes.

But, before you take your list of frustrations to a therapist there are two key points you may want to consider. First, not all therapeutic approaches are equal, and second, the way a person approaches their counseling can determine a lot about how successful they will be.

Over the years many counseling methods have been developed to help people who seek a change in their life. Some therapies only pay attention to behavior, others to thinking, or to discharging feelings. Some approaches are long on listening without giving feedback while others seek to analyze and explain every aspect of one’s life. Now more research is being done to determine what is and is not effective in helping people create positive change in their lives. New therapeutic methods are being examined and proving more effective than anything before. Two of the most effective approaches include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing  (EMDR) and Experiential FOCUSING.

The second consideration is how a person approaches counseling. Several years ago, Dr. Eugene Gendlin conducted research to determine what makes counseling effective.  His most startling discovery was that the way a person approaches their counseling, how they process their problems in counseling can indicate whether they will be successful or not. He identified several things that were common to people who did well in counseling including 1)  the tendency to tune-in to how the body senses and experiences a problem, 2) a willingness to listen to the feedback that their mind was giving them through those physical sensations and 3) the skill to clarify the meaning contained in those bodily messages. This ability to tap into their own tremendous wisdom at a mind-body level, to gain new insights, and to shift feelings has been found among people who are the most successful in counseling. Once this was identified, Dr. Gendlin was further able to train freshman psychology students to listen for these factors in the audiotapes of thousands of initial counseling sessions. His students were then able to predict who would be successful in creating the change they wanted. Dr. Gendlin eventually was able to teach people how to approach their counseling in the same way that the most successful people do.

Now that people can be taught how to work in therapy to increase their chances for success and with the advent of newer, more effective counseling methods, new hope for positive change exists. It is tools like these that are putting more positive results within people’s reach.

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