In the work I do, the word ‘hope’ seems a little out of place.
As a family and marital therapist, I use psychology as a frame of reference for understanding my clients and guiding me on how best to assist them. Psychology, a science that seeks to study human behaviour, forms its ideas after close observation and rigorous testing of these observations in controlled studies.
‘Hope’, on the other hand, is based on our beliefs and expectations.
‘Hope’ and ‘science’ appear to reside in contrasting worlds. After all, when conducting scientific studies, we are warned to guard against our expectations as they can lead to biased interpretation of objective data.
It is therefore surprising that the role of hope and expectancy has been identified as a critical factor for good outcomes in psychotherapy. Research has shown that good outcomes occur in roughly two out of three cases, and it is estimated that the role of hope and expectancy in positive outcomes is approximately 15 per cent. Small, you might think, but for clients and their loved ones, every percentage point counts.
A number of studies in the fields of counselling and medical science have attested to the importance of clients – and I daresay, of their counsellors too – believing that change through counselling is possible.
Two encounters I had recently pointed me to the importance of hope.
The first time was when I was training volunteers who help discharged prisoners re-integrate into the community.
Although these individuals have served their time in prison, many wonder if society and, more importantly, their own families will ever accept them. They may have paid the legal price for their crimes, but have the emotional, psychological, and social debts to those they hurt been reduced or cleared? They wonder if they will be given a second chance and forgiven for their past mistakes. Even greater is the need for hope if their ‘mistakes’ were made over and over again.
In the other case, I sat with a couple who have been in conflict for almost as long as they have been married.
Their disagreements compounded over 15 years. Conflicts with both sets of in-laws, lifestyle and parenting differences, financial irresponsibility, and most recently, infidelity, marked the potholes of their marital journey. Yet as they faced each other in my office, the question each had to confront was: “Dare I hope the other will change? Can I trust my spouse to begin acting in a financially responsible manner, to be faithful and to love me above all others?”
What is the basis of having hope in situations such as these? How can they argue for another chance after so thoughtlessly squandering earlier ones?
Hope may take the form of expectation that there will be no repeat of past disappointments. Sometimes, we offer a reprieve when we see some fundamental change in the person, where in the past such behaviour was largely absent. Another reason for hope is that the parties involved may see there are still things that are important and dear to them. For spouses like in the second case above, it could be their children or that despite all the hurts, they still love each other. Still others may stay in their current situation out of sheer necessity, because other options are unavailable or unattractive.
As believers – and now I am referring not to ‘believers of science and psychotherapy’ but to believers in Christ – why do we hope? Or more specifically, what is the basis of our hope?
Our faith tells us that we have hope not because we lack other choices, but that the source of our hope is God, who can and does deliver. What is impossible for man is possible with Him. With our eyes on God, our current struggles are but momentary discomfort when seen in the light of our lives in eternity.
As people of faith, we can hope not because of who we are, but because of who God is.
Benny Bong –
has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
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