by Dr. Elliott Kronenfeld

If you have ever been to therapy, you know there is a focus on “doing the work”. As a therapist, I find that I say this to many of my clients… “You must do the work! Just being with me for a session a week won’t create the change you want to see. You must take what you get from these sessions and do the work in your life outside of my office.” I didn’t realize how often I said this until one of my clients said “You say that all the time… ‘Do the work! Do the work!’ What does that even mean?”

In that moment I had a chuckle because he was a perfect mimic of me and a realization that I hadn’t been clear at all. I was grateful that he called me out. It was an honest question that deserved a clear, concise, and meaningful answer.

I told him that doing the work means you must ground yourself at the center of your own experience and work from there. Now, I realize that the answer also needs to be clearer. To ground yourself at the center of your own experience means that your life must work for you before it can work for anyone else. This is not to say that it will be easy or comfortable, but you are the one that will answer for your decisions and behaviors. As my children were growing up, I told them they were only responsible for three things: what they think, what they say, and how they use their bodies. To take that level of responsibility, you must be intentional, curious, and aware of the world you live in. You must have enough distress tolerance to handle the challenges and fall out for making the right decisions.

The second thing that must happen to do the work is that you must have a sense of where you are in your life and your current situation as well as what you think your ideal self and life would look like. The ability to take an honest self-assessment and evaluation is challenging work. This is where work with a good therapist can be deeply helpful. It can be challenging to be self-reflective because we often can’t see what is right in front of us. This is the time where we must be aspirational and think about our best life. The gap between where we are and where we want to be at work, in our relationships, and as a person in the world defines the focus of our work.

Once you take ownership of your current situation and define where the changes should be, the bulk of the work is building the muscle and consistency of creating change. It will not be easy. There will be periods of relapse and slipping into old patterns. Working to get back on track and not losing sight of the goal is doing the work. This work will not always be supported by others, and sometimes not by our most trusted intimates. This is where work with a talented therapist can be handy. Knowing there is someone always on your side to keep you on track, help you retain clarity on the work, and celebrate your wins with you can be the key to forward movement.

If you are thinking about whether therapy is for you or just want to know more about setting goals, contact Elliott at or check out his book Couples by Intention: Creating and cultivating relationships that matter! At or on Insta at @drelliottk.

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