a.k.a. Latte Art is the New Rorschach Test
Over the years both individuals and couples have asked me, “how long does counseling take? When can I expect to be better?” I have never found an answer that I have been entirely content with. Partly because the answer varies from one person to the next depending on individual circumstances and complexities. There is usually some incremental progress along the way but often there are stalls due to obstacles needing attention. These stalls are not only expected but essential to the process. Nevertheless, they are stalls and can be frustrating for sure!
Think for a moment about any new skill you have attempted to learn. How many times did you have to practice one beginner skill before you moved on to a more moderate skill (let alone an advanced skill)? In college I decided to learn how to juggle (yes, because I was a clown—insert any emoji here with eye rolls and sheepishness). Before I could even consider trying three bean bags (because they did less damage than bowling pins), I practiced hundreds of times simply throwing one bag from one hand to the other until I could do it a bunch of times without dropping the bag. I then moved on to hundreds and hundreds of times learning to throw and catch two bags. So, you can imagine how many times it took to develop some mastery of three bags?
K. Anders Ericsson, a performance psychologist originated a theory that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to become a world class performer at anything. Now before you quit due to that overwhelming sense of ‘that’s impossible’, focus on the insight here NOT a literal 10,000 hours! The insight here is obvious and simple. It takes many, many repetitions over a substantial period to really master something. You practiced addition and subtraction hundreds of times over the course of several grade years before it became nearly automatic but even now most of us still have to stop and think on occasion when figuring out the tip at a restaurant.
Learning anything of substance can be deeply rewarding while simultaneously be deeply frustrating! Recently my wife and I bought an espresso machine. Actually, it was a birthday gift to her from myself and our children. I have taken on the challenge of learning to make lattes. Inspired by the local baristas who serve our lattes with a cool heart or tulip or some other creation, I have been trying to learn how to do my own latte art. I have discovered that latte art is the new Rorschach Test. I cannot tell you here in this blog article what some of my attempts at a heart have turned out to look like (don’t judge me!). I am considering bringing lattes to my office to see what our clinical staff see so I can analyze them, lol. My point is that I have ruined many a hearts, latte hearts that is, just to be able to create one that is decent. Creating two in a row? Forget about it…for now anyway! I am enjoying every attempt along the way however. I understand cleaning up the mess is part of the process of learning.
Therapy can be immensely effective and healing over time. You WILL fail many, many attempts before you begin to enjoy some successes. You will grow from the inside out, relearn old skills and develop new ones. Along the way, your therapist will support you, learn with you, fail and recover with you, help you with your relationships, your emotional and cognitive functioning, cultivate new insights and practice with you over and over and over again until all of a sudden you realize you are doing it fully and effectively on your own with God’s never ending help.
My best encouragement here is keep trying. Not only are you learning new skills but are probably unlearning old, deeply nuanced and defended old ways of working in relationships, with your thoughts and feelings and habits. Give yourself AND your spouse and the rest of your family a break from any expectations of time and instead focus on making repeated and refined attempts from one day to the next yourself. Change requires this whether you are working with a counselor or not. Over time combined with thousands of intentional attempts is powerful. Don’t consider yourself on your own. Be connected to the Lord God and a supportive friend, mentor and/or counselor.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” -Paul the Apostle