Rethinking Shame As A Motivator For Change.

When individuals begin to see me for therapy, it is very often because they have gotten fed up with some part of themselves that they feel needs changing, fixing, or altogether eradicating. They’ll introduce this part of themselves to me as their “stupid anxiety” or “annoying depression” or “ridiculous obsession with eating,” etcetera. They judge themselves mercilessly for whatever their perceived problem or issue is, and often report that they’ve felt judged by others for it, too. Maybe a parent remarked that they really need to “get over” themselves already, or somebody told them to “suck it up.” So, they land in my office, totally prepared to magically become different people and to get rid of whatever pesky part brought them there in the first place. They are ashamed, and they don’t like feeling that way. Nobody does. 

Personally, I’ve tried to think of a time in my life in which shame has motivated me to be or do better, and I’ve come up with nothing. Conversely, I can think of plenty of times throughout my life in which I was shamed by others to be or do better. When I was a child, a neighbor’s dad yelled at me to pay better attention, grabbed a stick that I was holding, and broke it over his knee for emphasis. As an adult, an acquaintance mocked me for becoming anxious in a social situation. In college, a Spanish professor used dismissive language to remark on my ineptitude for learning languages. 

Were these experiences intended to motivate me to make personal changes, they failed miserably to do so. I didn’t develop better attention skills, I just stopped going over to that neighbor-with-an-anger-management-problem’s house to play. I didn’t stop being anxious; I made a choice not pursue a friendship with that person. I didn’t sharpen my Spanish skills; I dropped Spanish and pursued a minor that spoke more to my natural abilities. 

I have a million more memories like these, because everyone does. Our culture is very intent on making us feel bad about all the things that we don’t yet know or don’t do well, with some misguided idea that we are somehow going to do them better once we feel that way. Here’s the  truth: Shame doesn’t create change, it creates fear. And, ask most world religions, step programs, the social sciences, or any life coach worth their salt: Fear is not a good motivator. Self-work must start from a place of love, acceptance, compassion, and gentleness in order to be effective. Fear-based change, if it happens at all, does not last. Eventually, we revert back to whatever we were doing before, or a part of us that’s been shamed into a corner re-emerges. As a culture, we need to rethink our use of shame, because it is not a helpful or useful tool. It simply doesn’t work. 

When clients are coming from a shame-based lens, I encourage them to instead approach the parts of them that they find disagreeable from a place of kindness and neutrality. If any judgments about those parts exist, we ask them to step aside to allow us to work with those parts compassionately, so the parts are better able to hear us, and don’t feel bullied into changing (because bullies don’t motivate change, either). We hear what those parts want and need from the client, and we let the client nurture the parts based on that information. We don’t let the parts run the show, but we let them know that they are welcome and valuable, and not something to be ashamed of. In our cultural climate, I think this is a radical way to approach change. But the results are lasting, and the process is respectful. 

Approaching change from a lens a self-compassion can significantly alter the way we think about our self-work. Shame, coming from ourselves or those we care about, should be viewed as something to gently challenge and re-examine – not a jumping-off point. 

Originally posted on my blog, Common Humanity, at Psych To read more, visit


Useful Information

Some frequently asked questions and useful answers.

Online therapy works in the same way as in-office therapy, but is done online, similar to a Skype or FaceTime conversation. Clients are able to have sessions from home, work, or any other convenient location. We meet with clients using a HIPAA-compliant secure platform.

Online therapy allows you to work with us from the comfort of home, or any private location of your choosing. For some, the screen provides an added layer of comfort that makes the challenging work of being vulnerable in therapy a little easier.

Online therapy also creates the unique opportunity for you to work with us without the constraints of proximity! The practice was born in Keene, New Hampshire, but has since grown to service clients anywhere in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Florida, and New Hampshire.

Online therapy is a great option for clients that travel for work, for college students that go home during the summertime and do not want a break in their sessions, and for anyone with a challenging or inconsistent day-to-day schedule. It is an excellent choice for clients seeking a therapist with a particular specialty that they are unable to find support for locally. Some of our clients report that online therapy makes the vulnerability element of therapy a bit less intimidating.

No. For some clients with more complex symptoms or safety concerns, having a local therapist that is readily available is important in case of crisis or the need for a higher level of care. Online therapy is also a challenge for clients that do not have access to a private, quiet space to be “in session” for the hour, or for those that do not have adequate internet connectivity.

There are several reasons why we don’t accept insurance. The most important are:

Confidentiality. Insurance companies require that your information be shared with them in order to pay for services. We prefer that clients’ information is kept as confidential as possible.

The pressure to diagnose. Insurance companies require that clients are given a mental health diagnosis in order to pay for therapy. We have found that many clients benefit from therapy, but do not meet criteria for a diagnosis. Not using insurance allows clients to access therapy without being given a mental health diagnosis.

Flexibility and freedom. Insurance companies dictate the length and number of sessions they will authorize, as well as when a client is no longer eligible for the benefits of therapy. Because we do not work with insurance panels, you and we can collaborate to determine your individual needs regarding session length, frequency of sessions, and when to terminate therapy.

While we do not accept insurance, many clients choose to submit receipts to their insurance companies to receive reimbursement via out-of-network benefits. We are happy to provide these receipts for you! Please check with your insurance company for details on your benefits.



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