Every week, Toronto-based psychotherapist Susan Valentine helps clients navigate troubling and traumatic change in their lives, often related to the loss of a loved one through the breakdown of a relationship or death. This work, she says, usually involves helping people recognize—and release—mechanisms that keep them from accepting their new reality. “It’s normal to go through denial,” she says. “It’s a necessary state of protection.” But, she adds, if we stay in that state, we don’t move toward healing.
One recent client used what Valentine describes as a common procrastination technique around acceptance: obsessive information gathering. The woman and her husband had been having difficulties, but when he asked for a divorce, she was caught off guard. And after their school-aged son said he wanted to live with his father, she started consulting the Internet rather than facing her sadness and anger. “She’d arrive at sessions with articles on divorce and co-parenting and notes from her lawyer that she wanted to discuss,” Valentine says. While the logistics around the separation were important, spending valuable therapy time on those discussions was also a way for her client to keep her emotions bottled up.
As Greek philosopher Heraclitus put it: “There is nothing permanent except change.” But that doesn’t mean acceptance is easy when our set path suddenly veers off course. Even 2,500 years later, we could all still use some tips.