- The Real Reason Why I Wrote My Book
I have been asked by a few associates why I decided to write my book “Potential Not Pathology: Helping Your Clients Transform Using Ericksonian Psychotherapy“. There are really two main reasons:
1) I have been (and continue to be) immensely influenced by the therapeutic mastery of the late Milton H. Erickson, M.D. His work has so much depth to it that it was only by writing about it that I began to understand some of it (emphasis on the word ‘some’).
2) A personal journey that changed the way I look at psychotherapy.
The personal journey was one which included great pain and fear but it was what moved me to totally throw off the shackles of a strict medical model pathology based view of therapy. A couple of years ago I had a very close relative of mine who suffered a brief psychotic break. At the time we did not know if was brief or not. Either way I just I knew we had to get him help quickly. The sad thing was I was stumped when it came to where to seek help for him.
The real reason I was so apprehensive was down deep I knew that if my relative were to walk into most shrinks’ office, he quickly would have been diagnosed with a disorder that would remain in his medical file for years. He also would have been pushed toward a psychiatrist who would prescribe medication that could possibly be worse than the episode he was having. I didn’t feel that what my relative was experiencing was something that required such harsh reactions but I had seen how this particular scenario happens far too often. I had terrible images in my mind of him being unnecessarily hospitalized where inappropriate medications would be forced on him which would make his behavior even worse which would only reaffirm his diagnosis as an “unstable patient”. I visualized the anguish our family would feel if we were told that he might never get better. I thought about the possibility of his personal health records labeled with negative terms that would follow him long after his illness had departed. I was feeling incredibly trapped in a classic double-bind as I was afraid for him to see a professional and I was afraid for him not to see a professional.
We finally found a wonderful non-traditional professional in a town three hours away who did not diagnose and clearly understood that my relative’s behavior was a temporary reaction to a major psychological event. Within a short period of time he returned to his old self and had worked through a good bit of his issue without excessive medication or hospital stays. Words cannot express how relieved I was to know he was better. My relief changed to a different kind of frustration when I realized that I had been afraid of sending my relative to my own profession. The truth is I got mad. Really mad.
I had come to see the truth that much of what passes for counseling these days is based on problem focused models of pathology. I was angry at my profession which I had previously believed was a source of healing and change but now appeared to be more about insurance forms and diagnosing illness. This experience really motivated me to change my perspective on how to help clients and moved me to share that perspective with as many other practitioners as I could.
The result was my book. Sometimes it is the difficult times which show a person his or her true purpose. I think this was the case for me. I do hope my book (and this blog) helps even just a few mental health professionals in viewing their work in a different way. A way that is based not on the pathology clients bring with them, but rather on the potential that each one has inside them to transcend their issues and grow as human beings.
To quote John Lennon, I may be a dreamer but I’m not the only one.
- Just Questions….
What if you threw away all concerns about theoretical orientations in your work as a therapist?
What if you had absolutely no orientation other than your own inner voice?
To many therapists these questions sound like dangerous territory but I think these are the kind of questions we need to ask ourselves.
Who are you if you did not have a theory to define yourself as a therapist?
What would that direct experience of an alive, spontaneous therapy session then be like for you?
What if you decided to not “do” therapy at all in your sessions but rather “be” therapy?
What amazing things could occur if you unchained your mind from preconceptions of what a therapy session should look like?
These are just questions. nothing more
“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.”
- Problems as a Process
Sometimes we can alter our experience of a problem by changing the behavioral components of the problem. By making our problem a process we can find creative ways to adjust the way we “do” the problem which can lead to changes in how we “feel” about the problem. This short audio explains more:
- Beyond Words
Sometimes as therapists we experience a time when our clients just don’t seem to get what we are trying to say. They may intellectually understand it but down at the deep level of their unconscious they don’t seem to be able to make the connection. How often have you heard a client tell you they understand what it is you are attempting to get them to comprehend only to find them back in your office the next week telling you that nothing has really changed? I’m guessing it is probably far too often.
It may be due to the client’s lack of experience of what it is you are attempting them to understand. At times change occurs at a level of experience and feeling that is beyond words. Symbols can often evoke a new understanding where linguistic interactions fail. Having your clients complete a task or have an experience in which no dialogue is given could result in shifts in how they view their present situations. Since you are giving no direct input to them, it is their unconscious mind which fills in the gaps and creates the right meaning for them.
A few weeks back I was working with a very nice lady who has a history of being manipulated by her adult children, ex-husband and anyone else she knows. She would do most anything anyone asks of her, even to the detriment of her life and would not stand up for herself. She came to therapy because she desperately wanted things to be different in her life. Even though she knew what her limiting beliefs are, she still continued her patterns of placating everyone.
In her second session with me I knew that I could not depend on her conscious understanding of the situation to make any real change. As she again begin to describe the injustices of all those around her who continued to manipulate her, I immediately left the room leaving her in mid- sentence. Outside the door in the hallway there was a floor mat which I picked up and brought into the room with me. I closed the door behind me and threw the mat on top of her lap. I sat down and just stared at her with no explanation as to why I had done what I had done. She looked at me with a shocked expression.
After a moment she began to cry. The mat slid off her lap onto the floor. She looked at it for a full minute as she cried and then pointed to it and said to me, “I don’t want to be that”. I nodded in approval. From that point on she began to talk with me about changing how she allows other people to treat her. She also started to do things differently in her interactions with others. She needed something beyond words to help her make the connection.
Do we as therapists rely on words too often in trying to help our clients? What would happen if one conducted an entire therapy session without using words?
- Common Horse Sense
Over the past several weeks I have had the immense pleasure of working with Dr. Linda Leech who specializes in equine assisted psychotherapy. Her company, Healing Hooves and Caring Hands in Leesville, South Carolina, does a great deal of work with children and families who are dealing with everything from ADHD, Autism Spectrum disorders, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder and parenting issues. Dr. Leech uses horses to indirectly assist her clients in discovering their own inner resources to effectively deal and triumph over their particular issues.
One thing I have taken away from watching and participating in these sessions is how little, if any, interpretation occurs. This kind of therapy is experiential and little insight is needed from the therapist. Observing the remarkable results of these sessions continues to solidify in my mind how we as therapists spend way too much time focusing on etiology and not enough on guiding our clients to find their own resources to heal.
Here is one beautiful example of a session I witnessed:
A family came to seek therapy due to the 5 year old child’s oppositional defiance and anxiety issues. The child’s mother had divorced the child’s father and she and her child were now living with a new boyfriend who was uncertain as to how to be a paternal influence. The child rebelled against the boyfriend and was giving the mother a great deal of grief for not following the rules and wreaking havoc in the household. The mother seemed reluctant to take charge of the situation and the boyfriend was unsure of how to proceed in this relationship.
This family was brought outside and placed in an enclosed area with three donkeys. They were instructed to find a way to keep each donkey away from each other. This proved to be a challenge as the donkeys really wanted to stay together and were very stubborn about breaking up their group. The donkeys would all run away from the family as a unit and were difficult to take charge of in this situation. The mother and boyfriend began their task by asking the child to help them move the donkeys but they wanted the child to make the decisions about how best to begin their activity. The child was very confused and could not come up with an idea on how to complete the task. The mother was getting exasperated as she had no clue either. The boyfriend stayed quiet.
All of a sudden Dr. Leech introduced another donkey to the group and now the family had to work with four donkeys instead of only three. At this point the family was getting hot and tired under the beaming sun and had to do something. The boyfriend finally took charge and directed the mother and child as to the best way to separate all the donkeys. It was a struggle but they were able to get the donkeys to separate.
When the family came back to therapy a couple of weeks later, they stated things had improved at home. The boyfriend was taking a more active role within the household and the mother was no longer catering to the child’s emotional outbursts. The child was acting out much less. When questioned about how this change happened, the family was not really sure other than the boyfriend stated that he somehow realized he needed to do more at home. All of these changes did not require one bit of conscious insight or interpretation during the therapy session.
By actively creating a scenario in which the family had to adjust their regularly patterned behavior, the family found their own way to new behaviors without the need for in depth exploration of etiology. Maybe in the end good therapy is just common horse sense?