This summer, I plan on putting a cut flower garden in my backyard. Some of the flowers that I want to grow take a long time to become mature enough to bloom, so I started growing them from seed indoors in March. I was particularly excited about planting snapdragons, and I desperately wanted them to thrive because they require the most time to develop (over 100 days!!). It was fun to watch as the seeds sprouted tiny leaves, but my joy quickly turned to despair when I realized that the snapdragons were not actually growing. Although they germinated, the leaves stayed the same size for several weeks doing nothing and eventually all tipped over and died.
Begrudgingly, I got the soil and seeds back out and muttered under my breath “I’m not a very good flower grower”. My husband overheard and gently asked me if I had ever grown flowers from seed before and encouraged me to give myself grace. This is all part of the process, he said. Even though I watched videos in preparation to grow seeds that said that killing plants was a part of becoming a flower farmer, I expected that I would just have immediate success. I bought the right seed starting mixture and equipment, researched how to plant, and told myself that it couldn’t really be that hard. Afterall, seeds are meant to grow.
I wonder if people sometimes come to counseling with the same expectations I had with my seeds – immediate success. Is it possible that the expectation is to feel completely better after only a few sessions or be able to implement new coping strategies flawlessly in a short amount of time?
I find myself often exploring these expectations in my office. After a week of working on a new coping strategy and not noticing much progress, people return to my office with a few different ideas. The first idea being that the coping strategies do not work, and the second idea is that something is wrong with them. Though it may not be vocalized aloud, the thought process almost seems to be I must not be very good at counseling or there must be something wrong with me. As we talk through the experience of trying to implement something new and identify the feelings, we often land on the idea that learning new things takes time. We want things to change quickly, and when that does not happen, we feel frustrated.
Sometimes we forget to give ourselves grace while we learn. Just like I am realizing there is a learning curve to growing flowers by seed, the same can be true for counseling. Learning new coping strategies, shifting thinking patterns, or being able to correctly identify and respond to emotions can be incredibly difficult. Frustration with counseling not working immediately is normal (and should be addressed with your counselor), but rather than using it as an out to quit working, learning, or maybe even going to counseling altogether, I want to encourage you to think about those challenges as a part of the process.
Most problems do not develop overnight, so the expectation that problems will disappear quickly might not be the most realistic. The important thing is showing up and continuing to try because even when success is not immediately identifiable, learning is still happening. Killing my snapdragon seeds does not automatically make me a bad flower gardener even though that is what my brain tried to tell me. Not immediately noticing drastic success in counseling does not mean that counseling is not working. Failing something does not mean you are a failure, but sometimes our brains get that message confused. Brains take time to learn new things, but with repeated practice and exposure, new connections can be made, thanks to a phenomenon called neuroplasticity.
So just as I am working to give myself grace and trust the process of planting and growing my first cut flower garden, I hope you will also think about the areas in your life where some grace might be beneficial. If counseling is not producing immediate results maybe the expectation needs to change. The roadblocks life offers are all part of the process. Continuing to show up, trusting the process, and offering grace to yourself are worth celebrating. And just in case you were wondering, I must have learned something from my snapdragon seed error because the seeds I replanted are showing true signs of growth, and though the process will be delayed some, I am hopeful to still have a harvest of snapdragon blooms.