Increasing vs. Fixing

by Paul Johnson, LMFT, LPC, NCC
(Originally printed in 280 Living, Birmingham, AL, November 2010)

I see several folks in my office that are embarrassed to be in my office, as if being in my office represents an admittance of failure, that perhaps something they are encountering is not something they can fix alone though they “should” be able to fix it alone. Well, in the words of Lee Corso, let me say, “Not so fast, my friend.”

I like fantasy football. I have four teams (I limited myself this year). I like guessing and prognosticating sports stuff, and to be honest, I am not the slightest bit good at it. I really stink at predicting football outcomes or guessing football performances. In fact, I might go so far as to call myself a jinx, if I believed in such a thing (which I think I do, but am not sure). Because, like Lee Corso, my positive predictions of a certain team or player is a sure sign that said team or player will have a spectacularly awful game. Yet if I try reverse psychology, and pick the opposite team or player than I prefer, they perform outstandingly well, which defeats the purpose of the reverse psychology. Alas…. But every now and then a finicky child eats his or her brussels sprouts, and last year one of my teams actually made it to the finals, and lost spectacularly (Double “Alas…”).

Three of my fantasy football teams are on sites that offer a new feature for its participants this year—to place a personal sport’s cliché by your team name, which I think is fun. For one team I have, “Without football, there is darkness” (that team has a losing record; obviously the owner is still in the dark). For another team I have, “For those who can't handle it, the truth feels like a blunt instrument” (that team is called the Blunt Instruments, though probably should be called the Dull Instruments; they too have a losing record). The third team, again with a losing record, says this: “Therapy is less about fixing problems, and more about understanding experiences; One then has the Power to Choose” (I have “Therapist” in the team name, hence the cliche about therapy). And that’s the point I want to make in this article: Therapy is less about fixing problems, and more about understanding experience; one then has the power to choose.

When I sit with a person or couple or family for the first time, I do not see people with an insurmountable problem. I see people who are overwhelmed with where they are in life, and simply cannot see the resources that are at their disposal. I do not have a magic pill, or fairy dust, or sacred script, that instantly and permanently “fixes a problem”—that is living in a fantasy world. Instead, I have patience, and I have a process, that over time, makes incremental impact and lasting change for living in a real world with real situations and real people. You see, counseling looks at the world through the lens of the wellness model—that people want to be healthy. They want to grow, they want to develop, they want good things for their lives and their loved ones. Counseling does not look at symptoms and merely try to help you feel better. We set aside comfort for the moment in order to accomplish growth. Sometimes the drive to fix leads to decisions that lead to stuck-ness and hurt. I try not to fix the decision. I try to help the decision-maker see more of what is really going on, so that next time the decision-maker can make a better choice, a healthier choice, a more connected-to-others choice. Most of those decisions are not a quick fix, just like a snap decision is usually not the best decision, unless you are very lucky (you are probably good at fantasy football, too—lucky fool). Truth is, having quality relationships, success, and faithfulness is the result of a refining process: the journey of identity and intimacy takes a lifetime.
    C.S. Lewis once wrote, “I may act kindly, correctly, justly toward someone, and yet withhold the giving of myself, which is love.” In other words, I can do it all right, but if I do not give myself, it really does not matter. My children and my wife are less interested in what I accomplish in life and more interested in if I noticed what they did. First Corinthians 13 put it in terms of a noisy gong or clanging cymbal when love (presence, attention) is absent. Only understanding and wisdom can lead to better decisions for you towards the goals you have in life. That is my role, to help you understand more fully the context, internally and externally, in which you live. I know and trust you will do the rest. And… it is ok if it is not so fast.

To talk further about understanding your personal context, please consider LifePractical Counseling for your counseling or consultant needs. You may reach us at 205-807-6645, or contact us via our website. Paul Johnson is a professionally licensed marriage and family therapist and professionally licensed counselor in the state of Alabama. And though he embraces his terribleness in prodigious prognostication, a term he learned from his father, he will not be deterred from trying—after all, an acorn finds a visually-challenged squirrel every now and then.