Hello again. You might have noticed that the words on my website home page have changed to HOPE, HEALING & HAPPINESS. I now meet regularly with a small group of women working in the health and wellbeing field, and we recently talked about what is at the essence of each of our working lives. Together we decided that the key words for my work are hope, healing and happiness. These words really resonated with me, as often times it is hope that individuals need – the sense things will turn out okay, or that they will feel better. Finding this optimism, and engaging in behaviours that might assist, can be very difficult at times, and sometimes we work hard as clinicians to help people locate their sense of hope.
My practice also involves healing, whether related to physical or mental health, and whether using words, medication or other modalities. I am very aware as a doctor and therapist, how powerful reassurance or a kind word can be, or how comforting gentle touch can be. The word happiness has gone out of fashion in my field in recent years. It is a fleeting emotion (it comes and goes), but I think it is still good to aim for some happiness in life, whether from connecting with people, doing something you enjoy or having a laugh! Working towards a fulfilling life comes from living a life consistent with your values, and finding meaning and purpose in your life, and these endeavours can generate happiness too.
Now you will understand why this blog is all about hope! Together we will look at what hope is, ways we can find it and how it can positively enhance our health and well-being. Feeling a sense of hope in life is paramount to our general health and can assist in the treatment of anxiety and depression. It can be helpful to not think of hope as intangible wishful thinking, but rather focussing on more optimistic thinking, and engaging with the process of identifying our goals, then actively putting strategies in place to sustain the motivation to reach them. We can create a sense of hope in our lives from knowing that if we work in small steps while maintaining love and kindness for ourselves, we can achieve great things (big or small).
What is Hope?
Hope has historically been important to people who look to faith and spirituality, but for many people, it is viewed as blind optimism, wishful thinking or an escape for dreamers. However, hope is a positive state of mind based on the expectation that positive outcomes will occur in our lives. It is also a learnt behaviour, and is the act of expecting with confidence that our individual goals, or benefits for others, will come to fruition. It is a not just a way of thinking, but a behaviour that requires us to have the ability to apply a positive influence in our lives in order to achieve our goals. In fact, a growing number of contemporary psychologists have adopted hope therapy in the treatment of their patients.
The Benefit of Hope:
It is important for us to feel a sense of hope because life is difficult and presents many challenges. By having a strong sense of hope, we will become more resilient, and be better able to adapt to change as well as tackle our goals with a greater sense of optimism and enthusiasm. A growing number of health professionals have identified a correlation between hopeful thinking and stress management and that hopeful individuals are better able to cope with stressful/unexpected scenarios. Hope is vital as it can generate creative thinking, courage and determination to overcome all sorts of challenges in life. Hopeful people are thought to experience better general health, increased determination, a greater sense of achievement and lower rates of depression
Charles Richard Snyder, an American psychologist who specialised in positive psychology, studied how hope could benefit our health, work, education and general sense of purpose. He came to find that there are three main pillars of hopeful thinking:
- Goals – Approaching life in a goal-oriented way.
- Pathways – Finding different ways to achieve your goals.
- Agency – Believing that you can instigate change and achieve these goals.
How to learn Hope:
Hope is a learnt behaviour passed on from family and social groups to the individual. Even if you had a difficult upbringing it doesn’t mean you can’t become hopeful. We can train our minds to be hopeful, just like we can learn a language or expand our cooking skills. It is also important that we surround ourselves with people who make us feel good. One of the ways of learning to be hopeful is through ‘hope therapy‘.
Hope therapy is a relatively new strategy that takes some of its cues from the more familiar cognitive behaviour therapy strategies that have been popular for many years. It involves:
- identifying goals
- planning the strategies to work towards the goals, and
- sustaining the motivation to reach them through helpful thinking.
Part of the difficulty is feeling too overwhelmed to start. Remember to break your goals down to achievable steps and take one small step at a time. Momentum then builds and we achieve satisfaction when steps are completed, helping us move to the next step. Hope therapy also encourages people to be flexible in their thinking and approach (e.g. if one way doesn’t work, then try a different way!).
Feeling a sense of hope in life is paramount to our general health and can assist in the treatment of anxiety and depression. We can create a sense of hope in our lives from knowing that if we work in small steps while maintaining compassion for ourselves, we can achieve our goals. No matter the hardships you have experienced in life, it is possible to learn to be hopeful about not only the present, but for what is to come in the future.
How Hope Therapy Can Get Through Tough Times. Catherine Ryan. Modified April 2010. https://www.alternet.org/story/146459/how_%22hope_therapy%22_can_get_us_through_tough_times.
6 Ways to Infuse Therapy with a Sense of Hope: Offering a Light at the End of the Tunnel. Lisa Ferentz. Modified March 2015. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/healing-trauma-s-wounds/201503/6-ways-infuse-therapy-sense-hope.
How Hope Can Help Manage Stress. The Wellbeing Team. Modified 2017. https://www.wellbeing.com.au/mind-spirit/mind/Holding-on-to-hope.html.
How Hope Therapy Can Get Through Tough Times, Catherine Ryan, Modified April 2010, https://www.alternet.org/story/146459/how_%22hope_therapy%22_can_get_us_through_tough_times.
 How Hope Can Help Manage Stress, The Wellbeing Team, Modified 2017, https://www.wellbeing.com.au/mind-spirit/mind/Holding-on-to-hope.html.
 How Hope Therapy Can Get Through Tough Times, Catherine Ryan, Modified April 2010, https://www.alternet.org/story/146459/how_%22hope_therapy%22_can_get_us_through_tough_times.