The healing power of setting foot in a counselor's office...it's a thing.
A client and I were recently wondering, is there a name for this? I don't recall learning about it in school, or reading research about it. I don't recall a textbook definition of one word that sums it up.
"Just by coming here today, I feel a relief."
Then, it happened again. Another client says to me after several weeks of appointments and lots of emotional work, that the most powerful part of counseling was the decision to come and keep coming back. Then a few weeks later, again, I hear the sentiment in an initial session with a new client. "Just by coming here today, I feel a relief." In these statements, I hear that to have sought out help, made the call or sent the email, set up the appointment, and stepped foot in the door...these actions alone make a difference.
I like metaphors. They are helpful in giving us new perspectives on old material. So for instance, we may have an idea of what counseling is about. We may have an idea that it's for people who are broken. Or that it's for people in crisis. Or that it's for people who are severely mentally ill. Or that it's an absolute last resort when nothing else works. These associations are powerful. That's our old material at work.
But what if we create new material here? What if we think about counseling as a sunrise, a dawning of a new day? Let's imagine the last time we couldn't sleep at night...how frustrating it is not getting the sleep we want, worrying about what will happen the next day if we don't sleep. Then we imagine ourselves putting our insomnia to work for us. Maybe we walk to the kitchen and make a cup of tea and sit with ourselves and reflect. Maybe we take a hot bath to calm our nerves. Maybe we massage our hands or temples to create ease. All of these steps are actions that make a difference in our insomnia. We greet a new morning, perhaps not with a great night's sleep, but with a sense that we cared for ourselves through the process.
Likewise, the steps toward seeking out counseling are actions of self-care. They are messages to ourselves that we are worth it, that a new day can dawn, and that we can connect to another human being even in the midst of pain. Pain has a purpose in this way. It can bring us closer to others, to what we seek, and to our true nature.
Carl Rogers believed, and research has shown, that the power of the therapeutic relationship is what creates change through counseling. The connection to another human being is the substance of change and hope. The permission one grants themselves in arranging the words of their story and sharing them with another person with the intent to make change...this is the mechanism by which counseling works. This is the way that new perspectives, new beginnings, and new sunrises are born.
So my responsibility as a counselor is to continually invite these moments to occur in the lives of others. And to meet each person and each story with unconditional positive regard, empathy, and honesty. The dawning of a new day is a brilliant display to witness.
There are so many experiences of work that are negative, and many that are positive. Sometimes we are so caught up in the tasks at hand, we don't notice how we feel about them at all. Here's a chance to step back away from the work you do and see it more clearly.
First, consider what is work? (As a quick aside, did you know the counseling field developed from the work of career counselors in the early 20th century? Because of this, all of us who get an advanced degree in counseling must take an entire course on Career Counseling. In this course, we are asked to define work. It turns out to be a worthwhile question!) So work is... the hours of the day in which you are at your place of employment. Right? Or when you work at home? Like reading emails after hours? Or working in a home office? Or worrying about your day at the office tomorrow while you're trying to relax at home? Is that work? What about stay at home moms or caregivers for older family members? They aren't paid but they are working, aren't they? They do all their work at home, but it's still work right? What about doing chores on the weekends when you're "off" work. Don't chores still feel like work? What about volunteering? You're not getting paid, but it's still work, yes? Wow, ok, maybe it's not that easy to define work.
After much reflection in Career Counseling 101, I came up with this conclusion...Work is any way in which we use our energy to accomplish a goal that will benefit both ourselves and others. Work is getting out of bed, making a meal, taking care of your children or your pets, doing your chores, going to your job, doing the tasks of your job, paying your bills, working out (notice how we use the word "work" here but for most of us, it isn't a job!) What do you think? The point is that sometimes our thinking about work is misleading, like it's a certain set of places or activities that are discretely different than the rest of life, when actually, it is in many ways inseparable.
It may help to identify some of the elements of satisfaction or dissatisfaction at work.
Then mark them on a scale like pictured here. Make a bunch of these lines and put a tally mark there on the line for each of the different elements we identified. You may be highly satisfied with some aspects of work and dissatisfied with others. Some of these elements may be more important than others, so take that into consideration, then you can rate your overall satisfaction with your work based on the elements that are most important to you.
Now that you've isolated the aspects of your work that are good and not so good, take some time to ask yourself, how much of your evaluation of your work has to do with past work experiences? Think about your very first job in which you had absolutely no reference at all for how work is "supposed" to be? What was your evaluation of it? Likely, each of your work experiences has built upon one another to create a set of expectations in each of the above areas. It's useful to know which of your work experiences are the most powerful in how you evaluate your current situation. You may really miss a good boss you used to have, and now your current boss just can't live up to your expectation. You may have had a great salary at a previous job, and be carrying unresolved grief about losing it to your next job that doesn't pay as well. You may have had a past boss that was a real problem for you, so you might stay in an unfulfilling job with a great boss because you fear getting another horrible one. It's worth doing these tally marks with past jobs, to help you get some clarity on your perspective about your current job.
Finally, consider how you define success. Is it happiness? Wealth? Independence? Doing work that matters to you? Doing work that makes you "come alive"? Almost everyone's definition of success is tied up with their early childhood experiences at home and school. Those times when your parents or teachers were proud of you or disappointed with you. Those times when you grew into your own sense of success, independent of, or contrary to, what others thought. It's worth asking yourself this question, "Would the person who I respect most in my life think I am successful in this work?" If the answer if yes, you are likely to also consider yourself successful. If it's no, you may be longing for something fundamentally different in your work life.
The key to defining success may the awareness that it's not a destination but a journey. And that successful moments happen all day every day, even when we don't notice them. Take a step back and see if you notice them.
Also, let's not fool ourselves into believing that we need to "come alive" each and every day, all day long in our work in order to deem it "successful." The fact is that work is mundane by its very nature and there will be times, even in the best job, that we are bored and dissatisfied. That said, we are likely "coming alive" in our work at times without noticing it, and we can most likely simply do a better job of noticing.
Here are some good resources for work-related issues:
In order from most restrictive to least:
1. Medically Managed Inpatient
2. Inpatient or Residential (IP)
3. Partial Hospitalization (PHP)
4. Intensive Outpatient (IOP)
5. Outpatient (this is what Flourish provides)
6. Prevention and Early Intervention
Health care professionals can help you make the best decision for what level of care is most appropriate. The first step is reaching out and letting us know what you're going through. We are here to help.
Tasks. How many do you do in a day? Countless, right? How do you feel about doing them? Perhaps tired and discouraged, feeling that your tasks don't really have a greater purpose? Or maybe you feel energized and encouraged by some of the things you do in a day? The English dictionary definition of a task is "a definite piece of work assigned to, falling to, or expected of a person; a duty."
Chances are you don't have these words below on your to-do list. I know I don't.
These are five life tasks I derived from Alfred Adler's work, with a little twist: love, work, community, self, and spirituality. These life tasks are connected to another of Adler's major ideas, that humans are goal-seeking and purpose-driven by nature. We naturally engage in tasks that lead us toward desired goals. Goals in the Adlerian sense, aren't necessarily easily defined, static things like "I'll finish college in 2 years," or "I'll save money now and buy a house in 5 years." These kinds of goals, which I'll call outward goals, certainly do drive behavior in our life tasks. However, some goals are more inward, psychological and covert in nature. Some examples of inward goals could be maintaining emotional safety in relationships, maintaining comfort in a career, distancing from problematic relationships, or avoiding emotional pain. The specific way that we work toward all goals is what makes us individuals. One person might maintain emotional safety in relationships by coordinating regular family get-togethers. Another person may distance themselves from relationships by moving out of state or keeping themselves so busy they have no time to visit. Another yet may use drugs or alcohol, gambling, or other addictions to numb emotional pain. Some may come to therapy to work through it, or talk to friends, make art, exercise, etc. As you can see there are infinite ways we can carry out these life tasks as individuals.
What is fascinating about our brains is that sometimes we don't even have conscious awareness of these inward, psychological goals themselves, but our pre-wired survival instincts move us to act on them without forethought. The person who moves out of state to avoid problematic relationships, for instance, may not be aware of the ultimate, underlying cause of their move. Therapy, especially with a mindfulness component, helps nurture awareness of connections between thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and past experiences. I encourage clients understand what their psychological goals are, and then describe the life tasks to see how much energy they are expending on each.
The first three tasks that Adler developed were love, work, and friendship. I've used the word community here instead of friendship, because I've found that deep friendships fall more neatly into the love task, while there is a distinctly different task associated with being part of a community. The last two tasks, spirituality and self, were developed by later Adlerian scholars. These five tasks drive our everyday activities, but sometimes they get out of balance. When we don't take regular action toward each of the life tasks, we are likely to feel that something crucial is missing.
So let's break them down further to see what they mean.
Love. This life task refers to our capacity to create and maintain deep and intimate relationships. An intense need to feel understood by others drives the desire to maintain these high maintenance, rewarding, yet difficult, types of relationships. Love, in my estimation, refers to intimate partners, close family, and close friends. Examples of outward goals within this task are getting married, having children, having date nights, attending family reunions, and making lunch dates with friends. Some examples of more inward, psychological goals would be maintaining a specific role within a family like provider, joke-teller, or rescuer, that creates a sense of purpose and value within a social system. Another example may be cleaning the house tirelessly because that's how you express love to your family.
Work. This is the task that allows us to create and produce things or services tangibly in the world around us. It drives us to use our talents, skills, and crafts to survive and thrive in the world. We can think of work in terms of any activity that is productive in nature, whether paid or not. Take a weekend gardener for instance. Though it may be a hobby, much work goes into maintaining a garden, and it gives the worker a sense of accomplishment. That's the essence of this life task...accomplishment. You can see how these tasks overlap when we take the above house-cleaner as an example. Cleaning is work and love in this case, driven by the psychological goal of caring for the family.
Community. This is the task that connects us to the larger world outside our homes and to the fabric of the society in which we live. Voting in local or national elections is a task in this category. Volunteering or donating money to a charity is another example. The tasks tend to feed psychological goals of being a good citizen, fulfilling leadership roles, and fulfilling social roles without the emotional closeness of love tasks. These tasks also serve a basic and primal human instinct to maintain contact with others and avoid isolation.
Spirituality. This task is all about meaning-making, not at all necessarily in conjunction with religion. There are many people who don't subscribe to any religion, but all of us search for meaning in our lives. This task is often associated with existential dilemmas about the certainty of death and the finite amount of time we have on earth. This task is associated with how we make meaning of tragedy, and cultivate resilience in the face of hardship. Outward tasks in this category may be attending church regularly, maintaining rituals in the home like lighting candles, or having moments of silence to honor others. Inward goals here almost always have to do with living an ethical and moral life.
Self. This task is all about creating and caring for your personal being. Outward tasks here include personal hygiene, food choices, exercise, maintaining adequate shelter, and protecting oneself from danger. Inward goals of this task are about creating an identity, and defining ourselves to the outside world. Much of the self-talk that happens in our inner psychological world is an expression of this task. For example, a person who routinely weighs themselves is working toward of goal of a certain body type, and may have alot of internal dialogue about whether they are succeeding toward this goal. Think of all the ways you finish these statements in your mind, "I should be ...", "I shouldn't have...", "I never will...", and "I always am..." It will give you a clear idea of how you carry out the task of self.
How do you carry out these tasks in your everyday life? In your overall goals? In how you make meaning of your experiences? Til next time...go and be and flourish.
I've recently been thinking a lot about how positive change occurs and what it takes to reach goals. How is it we shape the life we want to live? I watched the movie Brave last night with my kids and Merida teaches about the importance of knowing ourselves well enough to choose our own paths in life, while still respecting tradition and societal norms around us. It's easy to fall into patterns based on others' expectations or behaviors. For instance... to choose a college because that's where your parents or friends want you to go, or to choose a profession because of the financial reward rather than a true passion. Similarly, we fall into habitual coping patterns based on what we see around us, including the way our parents or significant others cope with things. If our parents screamed and fought, we may find ourselves doing the same thing as adults, even if we don't want to. If our friends use alcohol and drugs to numb life's challenges, we may fall into the same behavior, even though we know the danger.
So once these negative coping mechanisms are in place, and lead to more suffering, how does change occur? First, we learn to practice self-compassion.
Recognizing when change needs to occur, in order to live our very best life, is a multi-stage process. This awareness itself can be hard to come by. We often adamantly defend our negative ways of coping, or our lack of movement toward long-term goals, with statements like:
"This is the only way I know how to do things..."
"Even though I'm dissatisfied with my job, I'm comfortable there..."
"Using drugs is the only way to deal with this stress, nothing else works..."
"Everyone else is wrong, they just don't understand me..."
Then, once we get to the awareness that something about us needs to change, we may experience a wave of negative self-talk. There may be guilt and shame about how we've behaved in the past. We may believe our own deficit in character is responsible for our problems, therefore we will always be sub-par, inadequate, and hopelessly flawed.
I encourage every client I see to maintain self-compassion and self-acceptance through the counseling process. Even though change may be ideal, the practice of being kind to ourselves in our current state and as we are today will lead to a more fulfilling and pleasant life.
Second, it's often tempting to push ourselves too hard. Some pushing is necessary, otherwise we are stuck. But too much pushing is not helpful either. I call this the three P's of the growth process.
We can Push ourselves gently to take sometimes difficult but advantageous steps forward. This is the beneficial nudging that moves us to a new and better place in life. But we sometimes will become more insistent on change and become Pushy with ourselves. (We all know the feeling of being on the receiving end of "pushy" behavior from someone else. Is it possible to recognize this behavior in ourselves toward ourselves?) Finally, striving toward change in its most brutal form becomes Punishing, actually causing more harm than good. We may demand change at any cost, and be unable to accept the time it takes to create new habits or thought patterns. Negative self-talk increases. We may starve ourselves or binge eat. We may increase use of drugs or alcohol. We may exercise compulsively.
The goal is to maintain balance between desire for change and acceptance of our present state. Do you think that's possible? I'd love to hear comments! As always, go and be, and Flourish.
Kambria Kennedy-Dominguez, Counselor and yoga teacher specializing in mental health, substance abuse and wellness.