The Paradoxical Nature of Change


Although changing is the apparent reason for going into therapy, you do not attack it by trying to change. If you are depressed, you start the change process by being depressed, and, significantly, being depressed in the presence of someone, your therapist, who is responsive to you in the state you are in. You do not change by trying to change. Change follows from not changing.  

It was a Californian physician and psychotherapist, Arnold Beisser, who developed Paradoxical Change Theory. Before he rose to this acheivement the defining event of his life was being paralyzed by Polio at the age of 15. 

From that catastrophic event, what he went on to achieve and the paradoxical change theory runs a connection like a gold thread. Paralysis might have stopped a lesser man in his tracks once and for all. But Beisser developed an influential theory of emotional and psychological change by being stopped in his tracks and then changing. The theory goes: change begins when you cease trying to be what you are not and begin being what you are. 

Beisser’s story is testimony that even if have the misfortune to enter adulthood in a wheel-chair, there is no telling what may follow once you have experienced this and…

And it is that little word ‘and’ that is mighty powerful, because after the acceptance of where you are now, comes something different – inevitably, and paradoxically, change occurs when you stop trying to change and just be. For Beisser, be paralyzed and…   

This is all there is to the Paradoxical Theory of Change and it is vital to all therapy not just stuck-ness problems like depression. Paradoxically, you come to therapy not to change but to be. And to get comfortable with being who and what you are. Once you start being, change is inevitable because things in your environment (the world and other people around you) will change. In order to remain faithful to being what you are, you will change in response to the changes around you. The same golden thread flows through it all - being what you are in the present moment and not trying to be anything else. 

In the bluntest terms possible – trying is lying. What you are now is what you are now. It is no use trying to be something else. Frustratingly illogical perhaps, but then so is much else about emotional and psychological distress.