As I was brushing my teeth this morning, I couldn’t quite pinpoint why I had a sweet stirring of excitement in my stomach. Just as I was clicking off the TV, and heading out the door, my eyes flashed to the DVD player and realized my movie rental should appear in my mailbox today! A few days ago, when I brushed the dust off the DVD envelope and took the one block hike to the mailbox, I hadn’t thought to check my much neglected movie queue. A little warm glow of anticipation filled me. Would it be the documentary I wanted to see six months ago? Or was it something less intellectual – the popular romcom of last month, which would give my “therapist” brain a day off? I opened the lid of my laptop and there on my email, in big bold letters, was the title of the next movie…my glow was extinguished in nanoseconds. This DVD rental service is my one tiny grasp at adding something…anything that caused delayed gratification in my life.
Ironically, I already watched this movie, on demand, two months ago.
Even my small attempt to create excitement through delayed gratification, wasn’t enough to overcome my desire to be instantaneously satisfied. Like a wish granted from a genie…or the internet…all of our needs can be fulfilled quickly. “Hard work” is entering the winning bid on eBay for an item that will arrive at your doorstep in 24 hours, and the idea of “waiting it out” means you stood in a small congregation at the end of the coffee bar for more than 5 minutes.
So where does therapy fit into this instantaneous society?
How, as therapists, can we combat that desire in ourselves and our clients for instant results? Oh, and not just instant results, but healing that occurs without much effort?
Therapy is not an instant download and isn’t available for leisurely viewing – for the client or therapist. We know it may take many months or years for a client to experience significant results, but have we done our due diligence in preparing our clients for this journey?
This tip for preparation stems from a session I had several years ago with my client Mike* (*name, occupation, and sport were modified to protect the client’s identity). He is a tall athletic salesman, who had a hard time sitting through a session without his fingers itching to grab his phone and answer text messages. (Yes, that in itself is grist for mill.)
On this occasion he took no time at all to sit down hard, dramatically cross his legs, cross his arms over his chest, lean back on the couch, and with a penetrating stare declare, “This is taking too long! When is it going to get better?” Now imagine what your response would be to this fidgety, sometimes demanding, and almost always defensive client. Depending on how exasperated I was, I could have said, “That depends on you.”
Instead in a moment of greatness, I calmly replied, “That is a really good question and before I find my answer, let me explore something with you…” I knew Mike trained for endurance bike races (100 miles or more), so I asked him to describe how he got into racing and how he trained. Curtly he answered, “I always liked competition, and I was good at riding a bike.” I persisted and asked him to describe for me what a training session looked and felt like for him.
With more prodding, he described the hours he was stretched over his bike, how he gripped the handle bars in precise ways to prevent shoulder strain, and shifted his weight and head to reach the optimal level of aerodynamics. Soon, his posture relaxed and he opened! With each word he used to describe how his muscles would protest on his long hill climbs and the rush of the wind over his face as he descended at alarming speed around hairpin turns, two things happened – he allowed me to form a bond with him over his passion, and he realized training for these tremendous distances wasn’t so different than training to overcome life’s obstacles.
A good therapist may answer “that depends on you”. But a great therapist (or one in a great moment), finds a client’s passion (through metaphor) to connect to the ups, downs, and plateaus of the therapeutic process.
Lauren Somers holds a LPCC in the State of California, a Doctorate in Counseling Psychology, certification in EFT (energy psychology), and over 19 years of experience in delivering counseling to adolescents and adults in individual and group settings. She hosts a private practice in the beautiful San Francisco Bay Area where she endeavors to understand her client’s story and weaves the traditional therapeutic modalities with a bit of shamanic healing, energy psychology, and mindfulness to bring about growth and healing.