Conducting therapy takes a great deal out of us. We carry our personalities and traits into our sessions where we know it or not. Regardless of theoretical orientation, our personalities factor into the way we conduct therapy. This phenomenon recognizes the importance of ensuring that we pay careful attention to achieving and maintaining self-care. I find that by the end of a work week, I am fully in need of relaxation and rejuvenation. Now, I am sure it is true for you, as it is for me, in that, our schedules do not always grant us the allotted times for self-maintenance. I operate off my planner that I take everywhere with me, and even with doing this, I still find that I think I have more time than I actually do have in a day. Hence, creating an effective and productive schedule requires a great deal of discipline. Discipline to allow a couple of minutes to take a couple of breaths in between clients, in between balancing work activities and home requirements, and so on. Every week, at the start of a new week, I remind myself that this is all a journey. Each week, I will have failed at one or a few things, and really succeeded at one or a few things. At the end of the week, I try to consider what I have done really well at home and at work, and what I have not done so well in both areas. I also remind myself that for the areas that I have not done as well in, there is an opportunity in the coming week to adjust my schedule to do better in those areas. I have been working really hard to practice being grateful to keep my mind clear of clutters of worrying and complaints. For example, at this point, I have only met a few therapists that work at a single facility. And as a LAC, I felt overwhelmed in the beginning when I had such a hard time finding a full-time position and was then forced to re-evaluate my options. But in my grateful mind-set, I considered the fact that I have a full-time job that has been more than graciously flexible with helping me finish my degree. I work really early hours that allows me to do therapy – a passion and love of mine – in the evenings, and I am able to get up early on the weekends when it is quiet and pursue my other love, writing. In all of this, I am still focused on taking care of my marriage and my little girls. Now, of course there are days when I feel overwhelmed and stressed, but I have learnt very early, the idea that the mindset that we have greatly affects how we approach our days, our weeks, our lives. Therefore, I work to take an appreciative and grateful approach in recognizing that I am more than blessed to be doing a career that I love, having a flexible job, and a wonderful family. And notice, I said work, because it takes a lot of work. So, going back full circle to the understanding that self-care is massively important.
In my therapeutic work, I come across many clients with struggles that relate to feeling overwhelmed with balancing work and home, struggles with careers where they are feeling unfulfilled but are unsure of what to do about it, clients who are struggling to find their place in life, and clients who struggle with their search for the perfectness of life. I believe that all of these clients share one thing in common; that is, their mind-set. A mind-set is an attitude or disposition held by someone. These clients are all experiencing a struggle or dilemma but are unsure of where to go or what to do. For these clients, they want to break out of their comfort zone and explore their needs or find their balance, or make life changes. The problem with this is that changes are hard; they are difficult, and on any given day, no one wants to do the work that is required to make changes. To make changes that are needed in our lives, we must become the people that are capable of doing the work that is required to make the changes we want or need. This is where many people fall short, I have learnt. I have often used the analogy of a bridge to demonstrate this point. Imagine you are at point A and you want to get to point B which is across the river. Your dilemma is to find a solution to get across that chasm. The same principle applies when we try to make changes. We have to become the people who have solutions to get across that chasm and then work to implement those solutions; this is the work. We have to be willing to do the work to get the results or changes we wanted.
But oftentimes we make an attempt at this change we have thought about, and then it does not work out, and then we feel like a failure, so we give up at this point. This concept applies to everyone, you and I included. To make any change in our life, especially important ones, we must recognize this important step. I think this step is always skipped. We have the thoughts and we want to turn them into actions, but we then expect to be great at something that we have never tried. How is that possible? I’ll use myself as an example, and pardon if this sounds arrogant. However, I believe that I have a talent for writing; I derive joy and peace when writing. But, I also recognize that talent is not enough. I need to do the work to make my writing better. I have to learn from more experienced writers, do research, expand my vocabulary, even attend writing workshops if I really want to take my writing further, and so forth. So then, I say again, clients can set goals in therapy and work at it, but we have to expect to be different to make the changes we want and thought about a reality. This was the idea from which my second blog was created. I try to engage my clients in exploring the changes they want to make, and then considering what will have to change for them to facilitate these new realities in their lives. What sacrifices might they have to make to welcome these new changes in to their worlds? Are they willing to reconsider the concept of failure? Reconsidering our views of failure is important because much of society teaches us that when we make mistakes, we should feel shame and guilt. Yet, failing at something simply means you need to learn some new skills or techniques to work at a problem. But we have been taught the opposite of this so when we want to try something new that breaks us out of our comfort zone and we immediately fail, we are rewarded with shame and guilt and the reminder that we were told that failure is your fault, and then this is reinforced by the thoughts that tell you, you couldn’t do it and you weren’t good enough to even try. My clients have shared these thoughts and beliefs that constantly hold them hostage to an environment that is non-supportive, painful, unforgiving, and even of their own efforts
Achieving a New Mind-Set
How does one change our thoughts? We have to be willing to move from a fixed mind-set to a growth mind-set. We have to be willing to recognize that the thoughts that we have carry with them energy. If we attempt to work on something and we fail at it, we have to then tell ourselves that it is okay because we are trying something new and so we do not yet have the full skills required to complete the tasks. So what’s the next step? To learn the skills. Carol Dweck taught us that when we adhere to a fixed mindset – when we believe that where we are is all that we can be because our intelligence is fixed – we discredit ourselves with the possibilities that lay in front of us. Thoughts affects behaviors. And so we engage in our own self-fulfilling prophesy because we then live what we think (yes, I knew I couldn’t do it, what was the point of even trying?). Emotion focused therapy teaches us that words have to have an emotional connection for us in order for us to assimilate these experiences into our worlds. Moving towards a growth mind-set teaches us that if we fail, that is okay, we can try again. We can work at learning the skills that are necessary to cross that chasm to get to where we want to be, regardless of that goal or desire or want, it is achievable. And so we shift our locus of control from external forces to our own internal forces where we are no longer victims of circumstances but can actually have a say in where our future is leading. When we feel more at home with ourselves and our lives and we feel more in control, then I think it is easier to be our true selves. We no longer have to hide in shame or fear from the things we may desire but are too scared to chase after. I often ask clients what are some quotes or rules they live by and oftentimes, I find that they have no idea. This seems like they are just moving through life with no direction. If we are doing this, then how do we know where we are going? In closing, I am going to share a quote that I have recently come across. I absolutely love the message of this quote and I try to encourage my clients towards this goals. But it is important to recognize that this is probably the most difficult job that we have been tasked with on this planet.
To appreciate your value, embrace your authentic self.
~~~~Tiffany Southerland Podcast
Charmaine Perry is a counselor who works mostly with adults and couples in central New Jersey. Her passion is mental health and writing and finding ways to incorporate these two fields to advocate for mental health services for African and Caribbean Americans.