Do You Believe People Can Change?

Do you believe people can change? My whole career has been built on the principle that, yes, they can! It’s not easy but it happens all the time.

It is important to believe that it’s possible though or you will be stuck with the same patterns of behaviour for ever. Which is fine, if it’s working for you but not so fine if you are feeling fed up and disgruntled with the hand life has dealt you.

Life Story

When I worked with youngsters who had experienced trauma and loss in their short lives, we frequently made a life story book, looking at the significant events of their lives. Usually these kids had had no control over what happened to them and many of them had had experiences you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. The life story work had many purposes, but one was to help them understand that they could take back some control of their lives in the future and not see themselves as helpless victims of their past.

Don’t Get Stuck

I often work with people who have had a difficult life by any standards. Some are stuck, feeling that they can’t throw this off; their early experiences of life are continuing to haunt and inform everything they do. Conversely, I have been privileged to work with some amazing people who have had equally devastating experiences but have made a decision not to let this ruin the rest of their lives, and to use it in a positive fashion. They have let the negative experiences make them stronger.


I am struck by this survivor mentality most forcibly when I read accounts of holocaust survivors. People who endured unimaginable tragedy yet went on to have amazing lives, made films, made music, wrote great literature. One such inspirational woman was Alice Herz-Sommer whose story I read in The Guardian newspaper in 2006. She was 103 at the time!

Alice had endured the ghettos in Prague, lost her husband in Auschwitz along with many members of her family yet when interviewed she showed no trace of bitterness. She had gone on to become a gifted concert pianist and at 103 was still playing for several hours a day.

She said:

I never spoke a word about it….I didn’t want my son to grow up with hatred in his heart…….my son had very good friends in Germany.

I had a twin sister – same mother, same father, same upbringing. She was extremely gifted but a terrible pessimist, but I was the contrary. This is the reason I am so old, even now, I am sure. I am looking for the nice things in life. I know about the bad things, but I only look for the good things.

Life is beautiful, extremely beautiful. And when you are old you appreciate it more. When you are older you think, you remember, you care and you appreciate. You are thankful for everything. For everything.”

She was the absolute embodiment of my favourite quote of all time, from a first century BC Stoic philosopher, Epictetus. In essence he said:


Therein lies the underlying message of every self help book ever written!

You can read an  article on Alice in full by clicking here


Posted on April 14th, 2009 by

5 Responses to “Do You Believe People Can Change?”

  1. Julie Molner says:

    I just read about your site on and now visited. Great material and I fully agree, YES, people can change. It is simply a matter of truly wanting to change. Sometmes we “think” we want change but in reality we have some investment in the status quo that keeps us stuck there!

  2. Jane says:

    Many thanks, Julie. I agree. Often people we would like to think of as our greatest supporters have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and sometimes we fear, deep within us, what we might unleash if we truly follow our heart’s desires. But when we do, what rewards!!

  3. Jim Connolly says:

    Great post Jane!


  4. Yana Berlin says:

    Jane, this is a great post and very inspirational one.

  5. There were no ghettos in Prague in WWII times 😉 Alice endured the ghetto in Theresienstadt / Terezín.

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