Sassy Psychologist: What does learning the piano and pursuing therapy have in common?

A good therapist must have many therapeutic strategies in their tool belt. Every client is unique and while one wants to talk about the past and their family of origin, another might be solely interested in symptom reduction. When I am working with someone who is particularly interested in restructuring thoughts, I usually include a warning label at the beginning of treatment that includes: THIS WON'T BE EASY.  

If someone habitually goes around town overemphasizing the negative and minimizing the positive, they might, for example, accentuate the one exam on which they did poorly while completely ignoring all 4 exams on which they excelled. This is a limited thinking pattern called Filtering. Not gonna lie- if you've spent many years overemphasizing the negative, restructuring thought patterns will be hard. All of your neurotransmitters, neuropeptides, and hormones are functioning in harmony to keep this familiar habit in working order. The chemicals of your body wish to use the path most traveled because, put simply, it's the easiest thing to do. 

What does this mean? This is how restructuring old thinking patterns is similar to learning the piano. Cognitive restructuring requires the same kind of commitment and discipline as does learning to play the piano.  If I were to take a functional MRI scan of someone before learning the piano and then again after learning the piano, there would be notable structural and functional changes. Anyone who's ever learned to play an instrument, or has learned a skill or a trade, knows how much work is involved.  They also know how tedious, annoying, and grueling the training schedule can be.  Another example is for those who train at the gym.  If you want abs or if you want a stronger core or stronger shoulders, you need to train and there is no question about that.  You can’t just go to the gym once and expect results.

Well the same goes for training your mind to think new thoughts.  For you to master an art (or craft or trade or exercise) and subsequently obtain results, much practice is necessary.  Learning to think in a way contrary to what you’ve been used to for years is no different!  You must comply with treatment plan, complete homework, and practice with the guidelines of your therapist.  Discipline and commitment are absolutely necessary.  Of course these are not the only things required but they are imperative if you are attempting to restructure old patterns of thoughts and modify old behaviors. 

A lack of motivation and commitment often play a big part in drop-out rates resulting in statements like, “it’s just not working.”  Listen, I sympathize with the fact creating new programs of thought is absolutely difficult, but it is possible to do so with the right amount of motivation, compassion, and support.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.