January 24, 2019

The Importance of Hope

Anxiety & Depression
Mental Health & Wellbeing

The Importance of Hope

Do you know what factors make therapy effective? So many things contribute to good, efficacious therapy. These include a good client-counselor relationship, specific counselor qualities, and evidence-based practices. There is another extremely important factor that is often overlooked, and this is hope.

What is Hope?

Hope is defined as “a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen”, or, “grounds for believing that something good may happen,” and it is one of the four most powerful factors that contribute to effective therapy.

Hope as Fuel

Much of therapy revolves around goals: identifying and setting goals, coming up with a plan to reach them, and taking steps towards them. It turns out that while goals and strategies can be helpful, they are not nearly so helpful if there is no hope supporting them. If a client has goals, but doesn’t expect to be able to reach them, or does not believe that they can “get better”, it is much more difficult to reach them. Hope is not just optimism and it’s not just foolishly assuming that the best will happen. Hope is deeper than that, and does not require throwing realism out the window; it does, however, often involve risk. You are hoping for something that is typically not guaranteed, which is why it can be scary and difficult for people to choose or buy into. Because of hope, this risk can lead to a greater sense of happiness and overall life satisfaction. Practically speaking, it can also greatly increase your chances of accomplishing your goals.

Hope is More Than Just Optimism

In recent years, many studies have been conducted to show the impact hope can have not only on individuals seeking therapy, but also individuals in social groups, such as athletes and students. It is consistently found to be related to positive outcomes across the board. There is a great article in TIME magazine, written by Tali Sharot, that is called Optimism Bias that went so far as to say that hope has always been crucial to mankind and that our brains are wired for optimism. The author illustrates hope in this way: “to make progress, we need to be able to imagine alternative realities – better ones – and we need to believe that we can achieve them.” In addition to psychological benefits, the article states that hope “lowers stress and improves physical health”. Hope is not only important in therapy, but it is important in everyday life; for individuals, and for the greater community.

Finding Hope in Hopeless Situations

Hope is not always easy to come by, and forcing hope doesn’t typically work. Many of us have good reason not to hope. If you’ve experienced significant trauma or grew up in a chaotic and unsafe household, you likely didn’t have time or energy to spend hoping for things. In a circumstance like that, you had to focus on getting through the next week or day or hour. If you’ve been consistently let down, disappointed, or hurt, hope may not seem safe or worth it. If you find yourself in that place, it can be extremely difficult to allow yourself to hope again. It might take time, but the research is showing over and over again that if you take that leap and allow yourself to hold on to hope, it just might pay off in huge ways.

Hopelessness can be scary, and it can quickly lead to despair. If you are struggling with hopelessness, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me or another therapist as a resource. Even if you can’t feel it or see it right now, there is hope for you and you’re not alone. We would be privileged to walk with you through whatever you are struggling with.

Written by therapist Clair Miller

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