Turning a Bigger Problem into a Lesser One

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Many people find it very difficult to make a decision to see a psychologist. Often when they do so, this has already started a process of turning a bigger problem into a lesser one. Because commonly when people see a psychologist for the first time, they have two problems, or layers of problems. The first problem is what they are seeking help for, perhaps a panic or anxiety reaction, a depressive condition, an anger or behavioural problem, or perhaps a relationship issue or a life adjustment problem. But in addition to that, people commonly have a second problem which relates to their reaction to the first – commonly in the form of non-acceptance or shame. And it is this non-acceptance of the first problem which is the bigger stumbling block, or at least a significant barrier to progress. Reactions to the original problem can also include feeling very anxious about having panic reactions, feeling helpless about ones relationship problem, or even being depressed about being depressed.

Photograph: Daniella K

Acknowledging a problem openly, and particularly acknowledging it to someone who has a very informed understanding of such issues, is perhaps the most important step toward acceptance. Commonly when people reveal such a personal aspect of their experience, they may learn that many others have felt or reacted a similar way. They may learn that many others have successfully addressed such difficulties. They might find themselves sitting opposite someone who has a deep and genuine appreciation of the nature of their difficulties, yet clearly remains optimistic about their prospects of overcoming them. When clients have the experience of being understood and accepted despite revealing something about themselves that they might have found wanting or shameful, they commonly experience greater hope. The experience of standing back from a problem and gaining an increased understanding of it with a therapist’s help can shift a burden from feeling potentially insurmountable to a set of circumstances that might be actively addressed in some way, even though the path of recovery may not be clear at first. Once someone is able to accept themselves having a particular problem, and has reduced their sense of shame associated with having it, the practical steps for best addressing the first problem more readily unfold. At that point, the first problem has become a lesser one.

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