Love And Life Toolbox

Deeper Level Change in Individual Therapy

People seek individual therapy for a number of reasons but typically, something isn’t working for them emotionally or in their relationships. Those seeking this kind of support also come in with varying expectations of what the process looks like.

I see my role as witness, guide, explorer and teammate, with the benefit of a therapy education and honed intuition and skill for uncovering the underlying processes that block people from thriving. I ask a lot of questions, led by curiosity about who the person is in front of me. I might say something like, “Tell me what you think about this…Is it possible that…” This is the “explorer” part of my work and I consider it a privilege to be allowed the opportunity to take this journey with those who have come and put their trust in me.  It’s crucial to understand the core belief systems that drive people as these inform so much of how they operate in life.

Therapists work from different theoretical orientations (or a blend, like me). But here is my take on some of the aspects of deeper level change in individual therapy:

  • The establishment of emotional safety in the room:  The therapist-client relationship sets the state for change. A client needs to feel heard, seen, validated and empathy.  They also need to feel understood and a sincere desire to help.  All of these are aspects of emotional safety, also critical for intimate and other close relationships. Security and trust in the room opens a safe space where scary, dark or vulnerable places can be looked at.
  • Identifying the core beliefs that are serving as obstacles in your life:  What is your narrative about self, others and the world? How did you come to these beliefs?  People often develop their core beliefs in childhood through direct or indirect messages from parents, others around them and experiences.  Identifying what narratives drive you now is the first step towards challenging and shifting those beliefs.  Examples of core beliefs are; I’m not good enough, People will leave me, etc.
  • Identifying unmet needs that remain wounds that trigger you now.  Again, often sourced in childhood, what did you need emotionally that you didn’t get?  These unmet needs often funnel to the development of core beliefs.  If your mother was too busy to provide the nurturance you needed or she was emotionally unavailable, perhaps you now have an underlying belief that you need to take care of yourself (emotionally or otherwise) and this plays out in fierce independence.
  • Allowing yourself the emotional experience.  Is there pain buried within you?  Often these feelings are not understood (especially in children), pushed away then defended against with coping skills wisely created to avoid uncomfortable feelings.  Part of the process of deeper change is acknowledging pain – not to stay stuck in it but to move through it.  Otherwise it has a tendency to show up in problematic ways that you may never even considered were related.
  • Developing self-compassion.  Once you’re clear about the impact of your experience, you are in a place where you can have compassion for the younger version of you.  If you befriend your inner child, you can then imagine him/her back then, feel for his/her experience and learn to soothe him/her.  The inner child is there in all of us but often is hiding. Consider your inner child active when you are triggered emotionally in a big way (anxious, afraid, angry…) and be especially mindful of repetitive patterns of reactivity.  It’s likely that your little one is activated. What does he/she need?  You can learn to self-soothe by connecting with your inner child. 
  • Noticing.  As you move through the therapy process and learn more about yourself, you will likely notice things. Perhaps you catch yourself reacting as you have before but you are able to pause and consider what triggered you, re-assess the meaning you assigned and do something different in the moment!  This is deeper level change in action.

There are many other elements of deeper level change in individual therapy but these are some of the areas I consider particularly important.  Doing therapy is brave work and I never cease to be humbled and amazed by my experiences with people.

I offer in-office or online therapy to residents of California. See my Marin Therapy and Counseling services, just north of San Francisco in Marin County, Ca.

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in,, and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.

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