Taking Two Steps Back is Part of Your Progress

“Progress is a staircase; process is a circle.” This information, which I delivered to my client, is met with a dead stare and a not-so-hidden look of “Are you kidding me with this right now?” He just told me that he feels no change is happening in his life and that he is starting to lose hope his life will ever move forward. I think he was expecting me to respond with a hopeful message or commiserating understanding and instead I drop a Confucian adage that leaves him with such a sardonic look on his face that even the most angst-ridden teenager would be jealous.

I did it on purpose. To leave him in the tension of his frustration and to help him gain perspective on what “moving forward” really means. In the therapeutic process there is almost never a steady upward climb towards personal growth. It is filled with pitfalls, huge leaps, and stutter steps along the way. One of the most predictable parts of therapy may actually be that a point will come when a person who has made a giant leap forward, takes two giant leaps backward. During each of these frustrating moments, it is important to work through what is happening within the client as well as what is happening in their external world so as to better understand the context for the regression. This is process. It may feel as if there is no directional movement behind it, but without it, real progress will have difficulty coming into being.

As our country and our world heads into unknown territory, it is important for all of us to understand that progress alone is not an accurate measurement of positive growth. It is our processing of defeats as well as our victories that is a more useful indicator of change. This is where the pain lies and this is where we are most susceptible to struggling in it alone. Neither progress nor process happens in a vacuum and both require support and understanding. My work is to remind others of that very important fact and to make sure no one moves up the staircase or works through their understanding of themselves alone.