One of the things I love the most about being a therapist is that every client I meet, and every story I hear, is so unique and different. There may be similar themes of pain, resilience, trauma, and hope, but the twists and turns of how these themes have played out are all so different.
As I work with clients, my hope is to connect with the uniqueness of each person’s story. It’s in these moments that pictures will spontaneously come to mind that seem to be tailor-made to help both of us know how to define their particular experience.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’ve found that to be so true in the work I do.
A client and I could talk about a principle or idea until we’re blue in the face, but if we can connect a picture to these ideas we’re able to engage with their story on a more personal level Over the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of the pictures and drawings that have come out of my work with clients. Of course, none of these visuals contain confidential client information, but rather, they illustrate a larger human experience that I believe we’ll all be able to resonate with.
Here is the first one I would like to share. This picture illustrates our human experience in so many ways, as well as the integrative and holistic approach I strive to take in my work as a therapist.
Allow me to explain.
1. The Boat and the Waves
As you can see, the boat is you and I. How often in life do we feel like a boat being tossed around on a tumultuous ocean? The wind is whipping, we feel nauseous from the constant back and forth, the water is pouring into our little boat, and we can’t seem to find any steadiness under our feet amidst the roaring waves.
In the illustration you’ll see the words, “behaviors and symptoms”, written in the waves. These tumultuous waters are symbolic of the overwhelming anxiety, depression, and addictions we find ourselves battling. At this point, I explain to clients that the fishing rod labeled, “manage” remind us that there are practical measures we can take to effectively manage the frustrating symptoms and behaviors showing up on the surface of our lives.
2. The Anchor
While we are gaining awareness and identifying ways to manage the tumult on the surface, we are also, simultaneously connecting to the anchor to cut through the chaos of the waves. Just like an ocean, if we can get to a deeper place inside ourselves, the environment around us begins to change. It suddenly becomes clear and calm. In this place of clarity our defenses go down, and we begin to feel safe enough to explore the deeper questions and reasons that have evaded us up until this point.
Those “deeper reasons” are usually made up of limiting beliefs that we hold about ourselves, others, and God that perpetuate the tumult on the surface. Beliefs are powerful. They influence and inform how we think, feel, and behave. If our beliefs can change, our whole lives can change.
3. The Fear & Pain
As the client and I are attempting to cut through the chaos of the waves, there are some inevitable things that we’ll encounter along the way. Two hindrances that will try to threaten our progress are fear and pain. I tell clients all the time, “fear is functional”. They usually look at me like I’m crazy when I say this. I explain how fear promises to protect us from feeling something else that seems far worse than being afraid.
The unknown is terrifying, and we often don’t know what lives below the surface of our lives. Fear says, “don’t go down there, you don’t know what you’ll find.” The temptation to bow to fear and come back up for air is strong. It may take a client and I some time before we can work through the fear that is paralyzing their progress.
Pain. We are all pain aversive. One of the things fear is promising to protect us from is further pain. We’re afraid of the pain we would experience if we were to go down to these deeper places. If we can identify this fear, we’ll find the courage to tend to and heal the unaddressed places of pain in our lives.
Our work is two-fold. We figure out the practical ways to manage the chaos showing up on the surface of our lives, while also courageously connecting to the anchor to get to those deeper places of pain in our hearts. As we keep a pulse on both parts of this work, the wind starts to die down, and we’ll find our footing again.