Deeper Level Change in Individual Therapy

People come to therapy with varying expectations about the process and the tie that binds them is an awareness that something isn’t working for them as they are in distress emotionally and/or in their relationships.

I see my role as witness, guide, explorer and teammate.  I am not the “expert” but rather one who “might know a few things” through my training and has honed an intuition and skill for uncovering underlying processes that potentially block the individual.  From a place of curiosity, 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 journey with people to very personal places where possibly no one (even the client) has been.

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 holds the seeds of change.  It is often said that the relationship trumps any particular theory used by the therapist.  Where there is security and trust there is space created for peeking into places that may feel scary, dark or overwhelming to you.
  • 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 is driving you unproductively now is the first step towards challenging and shifting those beliefs.
  • 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, perhaps you now have an underlying belief that you don’t matter and this plays out in a poor self concept or feeling undeserving.
  • Allowing yourself the emotional experience.  Is there pain buried long ago around trauma or unmet needs?  Often these feelings are not understood (especially in children), pushed away then defended against with coping skills wisely created to avoid pain.  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 little you who was hurt.  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 by my experiences with others within the four walls of my office.

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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