I had a client say to me recently, “Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean that it’s easy.” This hit me as such a profound statement. I think it’s probably something we are all aware of on some level, but never actually verbalize. Some of you reading this might be thinking, “Wait a second, I learned about synonyms in elementary school and simple and easy definitely have the same meaning. So I got a little curious and looked up the definitions of each word.

Let’s start with simple. Dictionary.com provides 29 definitions for this seemingly simple word. For our purposes the two best definitions are “not complicated” and “easy to understand, deal with, use.” To me this implies something that has minimal steps and can be explained in about 3 words. Comparatively, easy had much fewer definitions, with a grand total of 17. Again, two stand out as the best for psychological purposes, 1)not hard or difficult, requiring no great labor or effort and 2)free from pain, discomfort, worry, or care. So, while we may have learned that simple and easy were synonyms in elementary school, when we really look at the meanings, simple seems to refer to the plan or the steps involved in a process while easy applies more to the effort required to carry out the plan.

OK, so now that we’ve had our grammar lesson for the day, what could this possibly have to do with psychology? It comes back to my client’s observation that while something may be simple, it most certainly will not be easy. This seems to be an innate understanding that anyone who has ever had therapy has. Anyone who has sat with their therapist discussing their depression will at some point express shame or guilt about not being able to follow through on the steps they know are necessary to feel better. And for the most part they are not difficult steps. The steps tend to be along the lines of get out of bed every morning, take a shower, eat breakfast, and participate in one activity that you enjoy. Simple? Yes. Ease? No. Being depressed is similar to having the worst flu you’ve ever experienced except no one seems to believe that you’re really sick. Can you imagine having the flu and getting the message from loved ones that you are weak because you became sick?

The same thing occurs for almost every psychological concern. Friends and loved ones become frustrated with the person who is depressed or anxious or addicted because they can’t seem to follow the simple steps to recovery. It is similar to people who blame battered women for staying in abusive relationships. While the steps are simply – pack your bags, grab your kids, and run like hell – they are far from easy. Wouldn’t it be more useful to help the person discover what keeps them from taking the steps, rather than to blame them for not making it look easy? Sometimes it is necessary to understand the system that keeps the simple steps from being easy. Nothing in life is easy; anyone who has walked out their door recognizes that. However, when it comes to psychological issues, the shame and guilt attached to messages that recovery should be easy keep people stuck.

So,the next time you’re tempted to tell your friend how easy it would be for her to just dump her scummy boyfriend or to tell you dad that if he would just leave the house he wouldn’t feel so depressed, think about the message you’re really sending. You’re probably confusing something that is simple with something that will never be easy. Maybe a better way to show your love, caring, and support would be to sit with your friend or your dad and listen, cry, or just hold her/his hand. What could be easier?