Who is Dr Clive Williams

I’m a psychologist with a focus (some would say obsession) with how change really happens.

The Psychologist

Psychology is the study of change, whether that change is in an organisation, a school, a family or a person. For over 140 years, psychologists have studied hows change occurs, whether that’s how people think or relate, learn or improve.

My own fascination with change began with exploring how to live my life. The life I had was the one I thought I should have. It was the life other people too thought I should be living. Yet it wasn’t providing much joy, excitement or achievement.

So I began examining what is it that makes a worthwhile life? I started with exploring ‘happiness’ but came to the realisation that happiness is only one aspect of a worthwhile life. Much more important is having a sense of purpose, achievement and of course, the experience of being connected to others. It turns out that these aspects of a worthwhile life nearly always involve a sense of challenge, confusion, failure, loss, joy, relief and at times, happiness.

Any life is lived on two entwined but distinct levels: the things that we are required to do in the real world, whilst managing the thoughts, feelings and symptoms of our own private, internal life. Life in the real world may involve the minutiae of brushing our teeth to giving a presentation at work or setting boundaries with a child. Our internal private life involves dealing with the diverse range emotions that accompany all these real world, everyday events.

We may not have any difficult emotion whilst brushing our teeth but we most probably have lots of emotions giving a work presentation or setting boundaries for a challenging child.

These two levels of living require connected but distinct skills. We may have been taught how to create the media presentation for our colleagues on the laptop but did anyone teach us how to identify and manage the diverse array of emotions we experience on any day?

What did you learn about emotions? Keep them to yourself? Ignore them? They’re only a burden if you share them with others?

Navigating change, whether you are seeking change or had it forced upon you, always involves a lot of unpleasant emotions; e.g., anxiety, sadness, confusion. We teach children many of the real world, external skills needed to live a life but do we teach how to navigate the diverse range of emotions associated with daily living?

For the past 40 years, I’ve worked in my own personal ‘laboratory’ sitting with individuals, couples and families who are struggling in some way. When they come with their problems, I ask one key question. Do they have the real world AND internal private psychological skills to navigate this change and resolve their problem?

One of the dilemmas of being a psychologist is the overwhelming variety of approaches to dealing with change. Last time I looked there was around 500 different theories and models proposed for helping people change.

As a young therapist I was pointed to the more popular theories at the time. Over time, different theories have come and gone depending on new findings in relation to evidenced based approaches. In the clinic however, I was learning something equally important. I was beginning to recognise that regardless of individual circumstance, age or gender, or culture, there were recurring patterns in everyone’s life.

Not only were there similarities in the presenting problems and the manner in which people coped, but there were certain stages that occurred as clients experienced significant life change: the initial grief and fear following the change, the onset of self doubt, the arrival of new unforeseen problems, and the realisation that a million small and big obstacles lay in their path to problem resolution.

What also became obvious was that following the significant life change and the resultant problem, their existing life skills were no longer enough. Coping skills that had always worked before were no longer effective. In this state of confusion, new polar opposite skills would be required. For those whose life had been certain, they needed to master uncertainty. For those who had been silent, they needed to find a voice. For those who had kept people at bay, they needed to connect.

I began to recognise that whatever the change, whatever the problem, there was a similar roadmap for navigating the changes and moving closer to problem resolution. I began to see that this roadmap required the incorporation of the two distinct yet intertwined aspects of life mentioned above: our external real world challenges and our own internal, private, psychological life.

Like any map, the roadmap helps us to locate where we are, where we would like to go and how we might get there. In the chaos of significant life change, whether the change is wanted or not, being able to locate yourself is often the first antidote to feeling lost.

The roadmap views change as a series of stages, some which reoccur, through which repeated problem solving leads to problem resolution. The problems involved with significant life changes feel foreign. They are often new territory for the person experiencing them and the roadmap spells out the new polar opposite skills required.

The roadmap also identifies the internal emotional chaos which accompanies significant life change and the psychological skills required to manage them. For example, managing anxiety is key in navigating change as well as managing exhaustion. The most common theme for people managing change is that for many of us, one of our key coping strategies for managing anxiety has simply been to avoid anything that makes us feel anxious. Real change is an anxious process and this time avoidance won’t be an option.

Whether you are aware of it or not, life is a series of different chapters, from chapter one being an infant to the last chapter of facing death. In between there are numerous other chapters, some instigated by us, some forced upon us by events beyond our control. The roadmap identifies the process in moving from one life chapter to the next, from an ending to the next beginning. Just having a roadmap during these transitions in our lives can help lower the anxiety of what is happening and point us in the direction of what is required to establish this next life chapter.

Regardless of which life chapter is ending, regardless of whether the change is welcomed or not, the roadmap will help in locating where you are, what lies ahead and what is required to progress the creation of your next life chapter.

Watch Now

Dr Clive Williams speaks about his mudmap for change

In the early 1990s I became aware of the idea of the monomyth: Joseph Campbell’s idea that throughout time, cultures across the globe had been telling the same storyline in a million different ways.

At first astonished that this could even be true, on confirming its truth, I became focused on the question of why this story? What is it about this one particular storyline that appears to be an essential part of all human cultures? What is the storyline really about? What is its purpose?

As I read widely, watched movies and attended plays extensively, I continued to puzzle this question. It was a book by Christopher Vogler, a successful movie script editor that provided the answer. Vogler was using Campbell’s idea of the monomyth which Campbell called the Hero’s Journey, as his work as a script editor for major film studios in Hollywood. Vogler had identified that the various stages of the monomyth, from the beginning of the story to the end, were essentially the story of problem solving. Audience members are introduced at the beginning of the film to a character who is about to undergo an incredible change. The story is simply the series of events which the character must engage in to resolve the problems brought about by the incredible change. Vogler however knowing that writers needed to provide audiences with an emotional connection to the main character, also outlined what he called the ‘character arc’ of the main character from ‘limited awareness of the problem’ at the beginning of the film to ‘final mastery of the problem’ by it’s ending. When I first saw Vogler’s articulation of this, I thought is this the purpose of the storyline being retold in countless ways? The story is really about the various stages of how we engage in change?

I began by putting my idea to the test. Could the stages and requirements of the Hero’s Journey help me to navigate and problem solve my own life? Could the stages and requirements of the Hero’s Journey help me to help my clients to navigate and problem solve their lives?

For the past 30 years, I have explored the application of the Hero’s Journey as a roadmap for change, applying it to clients’ diverse issues and unique circumstances: those with a life-changing diagnosis; those experiencing a redundancy or job loss, first time parents experiencing the joy and stress of their firstborn, those with a life changing injury or the death of a dear one. These are just a few of the many varied but unique presentations where a client experiences significant life change, sometimes wanted, often enforced. With such clients, almost instantly, there is a reduction in anxiety as the roadmap begins to provide some clarity where there was only confusion, direction when they were overwhelmingly lost.

This roadmap in conjunction with a range of evidenced-based strategies, provides a path through the real world problems to be faced whilst helping to manage the range of internal emotions triggered. The stages and requirements of the Hero’s Journey as a mudmap for living are articulated in my book A Mudmap for Living. Here you’ll find many case examples of people like yourself dealing with significant life change, using the stages of the Hero’s Journey to navigate their way to restoring balance to their lives.

Dr Clive Williams has presented his ideas at the Hero Roundtables in Geelong Victoria (2015) and Michigan (2016) and Yarram Victoria (2018).  Clive has also presented at  Bond University Wellness Forum (2016) and both the first and second Heroism Science Conferences at Murdoch University Perth and Richmond University Virginia USA.  He has been an invited guest on podcasts the Hero Forge, Bloke Psychology, Mr Perfect, Accidental Fatherhood and Blokepedia.

Dr Clive Williams has a private practice located in Toowoomba Australia though he works with clients around Australia and internationally.

“If we want our lives to change, the biggest challenge is looking at how we contribute to the problem. Most of us will spend a lifetime telling the story that we are good guy, the innocent victim and everyone else is the problem and it’s them who should change. Well, you might be successful and do this for your entire life but more likely you’ll have distant relationships and few real friendships. You’ll cut people off or avoid them just so you can remain ‘right’. It’s the recipe for a lonely and argumentative life.”      ~ Clive Williams

To find out more about the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey and which stage you might be at, click here.

Dr Clive Williams
Navigating change and problem solving