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Doing ‘the’ work

Doing ‘the’ work

I feel like I have a love // hate relationship with this phrase: ‘doing the work’.  It became super popular a few years back with Nicole LePera (‘The Holistic Psychologist’) published her first book, ‘How to do the work’, but it was already associated with engaging in therapy long before that (see below).  One of the issues I have with the phrase is that in our clumsy use of language it connects the idea of therapy with labour (‘work’) and that often comes with negative connotations.  Sure, therapy requires effort, and it requires active engagement beyond being in the room with a therapist / showing up to an appointment. I think my fear is that the overuse of this phrase might put people off the idea of engaging in something that whilst might be emotionally challenging at times, is actually something that can / is often an enlightening – even at times enjoyable – experience.

As I’ve spoken about in other blogs, I’m totally on board with the idea that therapy is a doing word.  It’s all very well and good finding a therapist that you like and connect to attend your sessions diligently and even actually resonate with the suggestions and strategies they share with you, but impactful and life-changing therapy requires action.  It’s a bit like going to see a physiotherapist after a hip replacement – if you don’t practice the exercises, remind your muscles multiple times a day how to (re-)connect to your brain and each other again you simply fail to progress (ask me how I know!).  Doing therapy isn’t like a magic-wand experience – how awesome it would be if I had a stick that I could wave and literally erase people’s psychological pain – alas it involves consistent input from us both.

Doing the work can look a little like this:

  • Taking time to reflect on what you’ve learned in session – maybe even using a reflective journal practice to make notes of any ‘ah-ha’ moments
  • Practicing new ways of thinking, speaking and being – firstly in session then outside with other people
  • Learning to be comfortable with your emotions – noticing, naming, and sitting with them
  • Noticing the way that your body responds when you experience emotions – and maybe what you interpret that to mean
  • Understanding your default beliefs, patterns and adaptations that no longer serve you
  • Defining and deploying healthy boundaries (and enforcing them)
  • Engaging with others in new, more healthy ways
  • Being present in this moment
  • Releasing things (situations, people’s reactions/responses/behaviours) that you can’t control

 Byron Katie’s Four questions – ‘The Work’

Back in 2002 a book was published called, ‘Loving what is’ by Byron Katie who had discovered that when she believed her thoughts (beliefs/cognitions/stories) she suffered, but when she didn’t believe them, she wouldn’t suffer the same way.  She declared that it was “true freedom” when she not only detached from her beliefs but actively worked to turn them around.  She has created a series of free resources on her website (click HERE) but in summary, if you want to explore what this kind of therapeutic ‘work’ is like, try to work through an example in your own life using this approach:

Think of a stressful situation with someone—for example, an argument / disagreement.

Example: “Lilly doesn’t listen to me.”

 Then ask yourself the following FOUR QUESTIONS:

  1. Is it true? (yes or no – if no, move to question 3)

Example: “It feels true, from my perspective…yes.”

  1. Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (yes or no)

Example: “No.”

  1. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?

Example: “I get frustrated, sometimes I sigh loudly or roll my eyes and ultimately I shut down and avoid sharing details of my life with her which makes me feel lonely and disconnected.”

  1. Who or what would you be without the thought?

Example: “I don’t know really…I’d definitely be less irritated and maybe more likely to be open and engaging.”

Lastly, Byron Katie encourages us to turn the statement around. Often the statement could be turned around towards our SELF, the other and to the opposite.  So, if the original statement is “Lilly doesn’t listen to me” the turnarounds might be:

  • I don’t listen to me
  • I don’t listen to Lilly
  • Lilly does listen to me

The goal being to keep reflecting on the turnarounds until you find the truest version that resonates most with your revised experience.

Now I’m not suggesting for one second that those four questions are all ‘the work’ involved in therapy – far from it – but when it comes to reflecting, examining and gently challenging the stories (beliefs) that we find it all too easy to subscribe to, it can be a very useful way to understand some of our default patterns.


If you are ready to start doing your own ‘work’ we have a team of experienced therapists at Thea Baker Wellbeing – please reach out to us at: / 03 9077 8194.