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Success in therapy: The hidden benefits of failure

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Today’s culture values success with an unyielding drive for perfection. Even our Instagram filters smooth over life’s wrinkles with rose-colored perfection. Maybe it’s time to take a deep dive, beyond the sound bites of success, and consider the transformational power of not succeeding. Failure deeply impacts our outlook and musters a good dose of resilience when we pick up, strap on those boots, and charge on. Take Thomas Edison, for example, who failed more than 1,000 times before inventing the light bulb. How many planes did the Wright brothers crash before that first flight? Even Colonel Harland Sanders was rejected thousands of times before getting his first KFC franchise. Anyone who’s succeeded has failed––paving the way to the top with every mistake made.

Success isn’t possible without failure, and defeat is worth exploring. Why does failure crush spirits for some and motivate change in others? Those who harness failure’s lessons to try again know its transformational power. Now you can, too.

Use failure as a catalyst for growth

1. Build resilience

If there is anything that separates success from defeat, it is the intestinal fortitude and fearless capacity to persevere, despite the outcome. Resilience allows us all to face difficult or challenging life experiences and turn them around.

For both therapists and students, bouncing back begins with a growth mindset. Instead of dwelling on what didn’t work, it’s important to redirect quickly and find new, novel solutions for success. It builds inner resolve, tenacity, and courageous determination to fail no more.

2. Inspire creativity

When things are working, therapists and students, like most of us, keep doing the same thing. Why change a good thing, right? Einstein argued, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Failure forces us to rethink approaches and attempt something new; to adapt and change. It’s human nature and how species evolve to survive. Think about tadpoles starting as fish-like and evolving legs to walk on the ground. Researchers have also observed this in labs. When a rodent is rewarded for pressing a lever, it repeats the action. When it stops being rewarded for that same action, the rodent tries new approaches, from apparent frustration to biting the lever or jumping into the air.

Creativity spurs imagination and problem-solving. For therapists and their students, finding creative ways to bounce back hinges on building rapport grounded in respect, empathy, and honesty. Change happens with trust and support.

3. Aim for more

To realize potential, achieve a personal best, or do what appears to be the impossible, we can’t be afraid of failure. Even Michael Jordan attributed his success to failing “over and over again.” His missed shots or failed plays didn’t keep him from aiming for a national championship. Embracing the notion of failure is both vital and necessary to any future success. If there is no risk of failure, we may not be not aspiring high enough. This doesn’t mean we all should aim for the impossible, or even the highly improbable. For clinicians and students, goals should be personal and lofty, pushing capabilities to find new abilities. Failures are the barometer for aiming just high enough.

Failure is a life fully experienced

In a“viral video” culture, split-second successes give the false impression some were born with all that talent. We don’t realize that the one moment of greatness was the culmination of hours, days, or years of preparation and failure. Accepting failure and experiencing what it brings up ignites self-discovery and growth—a powerful combination for success.

For more guidance on fostering success in therapy, explore Presence Insights for expert advice on using technology in therapy and supporting more students with diverse needs.

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