The Value of Hope—and Hopelessness

Wild flower blooms through crack in concreteHope is an important component of the healing process. In fact, believing therapy will work is an important predictor of success (Wampold & Imel, 2015). Yet, many people enter therapy as they near or begin experiencing hopelessness. At times, hopelessness can be a sign of serious concern warranting consultation with a mental health professional. It can also represent an opportunity for important life changes and transitions.

Finding a Therapy That Instills Hope

Unfortunately, harnessing the healing power of hope is not as simple as deciding to have hope. Hope is not a decision, but rather something that empowers decisions. This has important implications for therapy, including choosing the right therapist and approach. It is important to find a therapist and therapy approach you believe can help you. The same therapist and approach will not work for everyone. Leichsenring and colleagues (2018) reviewed research that suggests having a diversity of therapy approaches is best for the community of therapy consumers. This is likely, in part, because different approaches to therapy fit better with different people.

Each person’s path to hope is different. What instills hope in one person may not work for others. Still, we can learn from the stories and experiences of others. Effective therapists often become experts in helping people find and use hope to heal. Over time, therapists witness many ways people find hope in difficult situations and can draw from this collective wisdom in helping future therapy seekers.

Honoring Hopelessness

… hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like the roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men pass one way, a road is made. (Lu Xun, 1921/1959, p. 101)

Many people experience a sense of hopelessness at times. While it is important to seek professional help if stuck in hopelessness for too long, not all aspects of hopelessness are bad. When we sit with hopelessness for a while, we may begin to see new possibilities emerge. The message embedded in hopelessness, in this case, may be to take some time to reflect on one’s life context or situation. Often, this is best done with a trusted therapist.

As a therapist, I have walked with many people from a place of hopelessness to a place of hope. While it is tempting to try to take shortcuts to get out of pain more quickly, this often produces a false and short-lived hope that does not empower change. It can be valuable to take some time to find a sustaining hope. At times, hope begins to emerge through trusting in someone. Having walked with many people through dark times to places of growth, experienced therapists tend to develop a strong faith that therapy can provide healing. This faith in the healing power of therapy can vicariously provide hope for people in therapy until they can find their own hope. This illustrates another reason it is important to find a therapist whom you trust.

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Conclusion

Learning to listen to one’s emotions can be an important part of psychological healing and growth. Some emotions are more difficult to listen to and understand than others. Hope and hopelessness can both be valuable when we learn to befriend these emotions and discover the messages and lessons they have for us.

References:

  1. Leichsenring, F., Abbass, A., Hilsenroth, M. J., Luyten, P., Munder, T., Rabung, S., & Steinert, C. (2018). “Gold standards,” plurality and monocultures: The need for diversity in psychotherapy. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9.
  2. Lu Xun (1959). My old home. In Y. Xianyia & G. Yang (Ed. & Trans.). Lu Xun: Selected works (Vol. 1, pp. 90-101). Beijing: Foreign Language Press.
  3. Wampold, B. E., & Imel, Z. E. (2015). The great psychotherapy debate: The evidence for what makes psychotherapy work. New York, NY: Routledge.

© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Louis Hoffman, PhD, therapist in Colorado Springs, Colorado

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • 2 comments
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  • Ellis

    Ellis

    June 27th, 2018 at 8:51 AM

    That’s all there is? I guess I was expecting some reasons why hope and hopelessness are both of value. This article just tells me they’re valuable.

  • Louis Hoffman

    Louis Hoffman

    June 28th, 2018 at 11:09 AM

    Ellis, thank you for your comment. There are limits to how much specifically can be addressed in a blog with limited space, and I appreciate you sharing what would have been helpful for you and your interests. I’ll try to address what you were hoping for some in this reply.
    There is much more than could be written on the topic, and much more than has been written on it. The purpose of the article is more about how hope can be valuable and how to work with hope. I agree that there is value in considering why and I may be able to write an article about that in the future. Yet, there are different ways to consider the why question, too.

    One of the challenges with addressing the why, especially in a blog, is pointed toward with the statement, “Each person’s path to hope is different.” How it is expressed or experienced within the person is also different. These challenges, along with other factors, make the why of hope a difficult topic to research, which leads to many different opinions about why hope is important and how it specifically works. One of the most common answers to why is connected to theories about the placebo effect and the individual’s ability to heal oneself. These theories frequently suggest that our thoughts, behaviors, and even beliefs impact our brain and brain functioning. Some would advocate that hope has a direct chemical impact upon the brain; however, this is difficult to study or prove. Others would advocate for more spiritual explanations for how hope impacts one’s psychological and possibly even physical functioning. However, other scholars and practitioners would argue that hope does not have a direct impact, but rather hope impacts our thinking, expectations, and behavior and, through this, impacts other aspects of our psychological functioning. The many different theories make this an exciting and complicated topic.

    The value of hopelessness is even more difficult to research. There are some theories, and some research that supports the ascertain that there is value in hopelessness, but more research is needed.

    There are other ways to approach why that are closer to what is discussed in this article. For example, the blog discusses that hope can increase the effectiveness of therapy, which is a reason why hope is important. The debates about why it helps are in line with the discussion earlier in this response. Also, the article discusses that when someone sits with hopelessness, there can be benefits: “When we sit with hopelessness for a while, we may begin to see new possibilities emerge. The message embedded in hopelessness, in this case, may be to take some time to reflect on one’s life context or situation.” Here, the why it is valuable is that it can help us find answers, or deeper answers. When we rush to fix prior to understanding why, it can be difficult to address the root cause. It is quite common for people to try to find answers before understanding the problem or challenge in depth. These two answers to why hope and hopelessness have value are connected to the statement toward the end of the article, “Learning to listen to one’s emotions can be an important part of psychological healing and growth.” The experience of hope and hopelessness, if we listen to these experiences, can help us better understand ourselves, which, in turn, can help us find deeper solutions to our problems.

    Thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment. There still is much, much more than could be said about hope, including about the why of hope. Hopefully, the reply provides some clarification relevant to your interests.

    Blessings,
    Louis Hoffman, PhD

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