David A Klegon, MD is the founder of Acadia Behavioral Health. He is Board-Certified in Adult Psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. He graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1971 and completed his psychiatry training at Michael Reese Medical Center in Chicago. Before opening Acadia Behavioral Health, Dr. Klegon was at the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health for twenty years, the last thirteen as Area Medical Director for Southeastern Massachusetts. He has held faculty positions at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and at Harvard Medical School, where he taught and supervised psychiatry residents.
From his many years of practice, Dr. Klegon deeply believes in the inner worth of each person, and that people are usually stronger than they themselves might think. He recognizes the continuous opportunities for inner transformation and growth, and works to help each individual achieve his or her highest potential.
The following brief article, written by Dr. Klegon, reflects his approach to personal growth.
Acceptance and Change
David Klegon, MD
Many people are familiar with the beginning of The Serenity Prayer, which reads:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
This prayer became popular and widely known when it was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1950s, and later by other 12-Step programs. It continues to guide and inspire people dealing not only with alcoholism or drug addiction but also those who struggle with other mental health issues. Whether a person is coping with depression, anxiety, trauma, or any other suffering in their life, it takes true wisdom to know the difference between what needs to be accepted and what can in fact be changed.
In thinking about acceptance and change we can look at things external to us, and at our own internal states. Painful external circumstances and events are an inevitable part of every person’s life. Some things that cause unhappiness can be changed. A person can work to change a bad job situation or a school setting where their child is being bullied. Some things cannot be changed; the death of a loved one, or a history of past abuse.
This brings us to the internal environment, our own mind states. There is a difference between pain and suffering. For millennia it has been known in Eastern thought that what causes us unhappiness is not the painful thing in itself, but our inner reaction to it. This is what produces our suffering, and we can work to change this.
We begin by acknowledging our pain and suffering. The writer James Baldwin said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Once we openly face our suffering we can start working to change it. There are many ways to do this. For some, talking with family or friends may be enough. For others, it may be through their religious practice or artistic and creative work. For others, and these are not mutually exclusive, by seeking professional help.
Working in therapy or counseling (these terms are used interchangeably) can often enable a person to gain fresh perspectives and new skills to work through difficult issues. When symptoms of, for example, depression or anxiety are interfering in a significant way, one may decide on using medication prescribed by a psychiatrist. At such times this can in fact often help the person utilize their work with the therapist or counselor most effectively.
When a person is suffering, a common response to the suffering is to view oneself in a negative light. We suffer and then we compound the suffering by feeling there is something wrong with us for suffering. We want to distance ourselves from that part of ourselves that suffers. And yet this separation from ourselves makes it all the harder to bring about the change we are looking for. What to do? We come back to acceptance and change. The distinguished psychotherapist Carl Rogers said it most clearly, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” With some things we must have the wisdom to know whether to accept with serenity or change with courage. For inner growth and a transformation of our suffering, it need not be acceptance or change, but rather acceptance and change.