How Many Therapists Does It Take To Change A Light Bulb?


Question: How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?

Answer: Just one - but the light bulb has to really want to change.


A corny riddle – yes.  Do I think it’s funny?  Not overly so - maybe a ‘2’ on a scale of 1-10.  I think I remember cracking a little smile the first time I heard it.  That’s probably only because I am a therapist and it pokes a little fun at my profession.  Anybody that has been in or around therapy for any length of time ‘gets it’.  It makes ‘light’ of a principle that seems to be at the heart and soul of therapy: A therapist can’t make a person change.  He/she has to want to.


On the surface that certainly seems to be a true statement.  I am not sure one would get much argument about that from anyone who is in the business of trying to help people change.  It is not uncommon to hear a group of therapists, speaking amongst themselves, come to the conclusion that a client who has been unsuccessful at making a change… “must not want it bad enough - if he did, he would change.”


Oh really??  Tell that to the client I saw last week, sitting in the chair across from me, tears streaming down her cheeks, distraught, filled with self-loathing, thinking it might be better if she ‘just wasn’t here anymore’ because she ‘completely blew’ the plan we had laid out for her the previous week.  Tell her the joke at the beginning of this article – that ought to get a few laughs…!!  Pretty absurd when you put it in a different context – isn’t it?  You can’t convince me for a moment that she doesn’t want to change.  She wants it so bad she can taste it.


I’m sorry folks.  The ‘she just must not want it bad enough’ paradigm doesn’t cut it for me.  I’m not buying it.  It would be a convenient way for me to absolve myself of the real truth – that I haven’t found a way to help her believe that she can change.  I haven’t yet taught her everything she needs to know to take charge of her thinking.  My greatest hope, prayer really, is that she doesn’t bail out on the process before I can figure out a way to teach her how to gain complete control of her thinking.  In that moment I am praying that I will be given enough time to reach in my bag of metaphors and pull out ‘just the right tool’ to bring a spark to the dying ember and re-ignite the flame of hope before she walks out the door.


When I walk out the door of my office, you better hope there is no one standing there ready to give me the message that ‘she must not want it bad enough.’  I pity the poor fool who tries to tell me that.  It wouldn’t be pretty.


Nothing could be further from the truth.  To dismiss ‘failure to change’ as a ‘lack of desire’ is about the most irresponsible idea one could possibly entertain.  I want to scream from the mountain tops: “Wake up, people – that message is so terribly misleading!”


Am I willing to take responsibility for ‘lack of change’ on the part of my client??  You bet I am.  Full responsibility!  My responsibility only ends when that client decides to quit coming to see me – then I have to let it go (obviously I have no choice at that point.)


Successful change is about learning how – period.  It is my job to do whatever it takes to show a client how to do that.  If I am not successful, I have not done my job to my degree of satisfaction – period.


Change is so infinitely more than simply wanting to.  Here is another riddle for you:

Question: How many people who try to make a change, and fail, really wanted change?

Answer: All of them.


Now that is not so funny, as far as riddles go, but it is ‘dead on.” 


As we head into the holidays, many folks are beginning to think about New Year’s resolutions.  I have already thought about a few my self.  I would imagine that many of you are outlining that list of resolutions with some degree of ‘doubt’ as to whether or not ‘this will be the year?’  Will I want it bad enough this year?  You’re making me want to scream from the mountaintops again.


Make this year different.  Before sitting down with your list, do this: make an appointment to come and see me – free of charge.  I will take full responsibility for teaching you everything you need to know to take charge of your thinking for good.  Wanting change is only the tiniest ‘first step.’  The rest takes commitment to the process and a very good coach to gain and keep the momentum.


Don’t settle for a ‘happy’ new year; make it a ‘happy’ new way of achieving your dreams, for keeps.  Be ‘in charge’ of your destiny.


Don’t settle for a therapist that thinks anything less.  Set an appointment today.


All Rights Reserved.  Copyright: December 2008.  Take Charge Counseling and Consulting. 

Author: Miles Nitz, MS, LMFT