In the past I have admitted I make many warfare analogies in sessions with clients. If you are a client, you know this to be true. I am a product of my environment, what can I say.
As we all are.
I have lately been coming up with sports analogies for some reason. I am not a big sports guy at all (sorry Portland Timbers), and so I then apologize for using sports analogies. I probably don’t need to apologize for that in session, but I do.
Recently though, something else happened. I made a driving analogy, completely spontaneously, and I think it is probably one of the best I have come up with.
Analogy or maybe allegory. I can’t believe I can’t make up my mind which it is. The internet is not helping this former English Major with what literary device I am using. If you care at all, you tell me.
So let’s get down to it.
I am very aware that in therapy a precipice can emerge when a client gets to a place where they want to know what to do next. It may be a very specific kind of question or a very existential kind of question.
And the response from the counselor can be anything but specific. What do you think you should do next, is a gem many of you might have heard. I agree with you, that one leaves a lot to be desired.
This, I think, is the intersection between the two perspectives of therapeutic work: content and process. The question—what should I do next—is very much content. What is the next step up this difficult mountain of self-actualization? When a question like that gets asked in therapy, I would bet money most of us professionals would respond with something about process.
What I actually said to my client at an intersection like this was something along the lines of: If you didn’t have this point of view that you needed to know what to do next, what would you be doing or feeling instead?
What do you think? Do you see what I am trying to do there?
At the end of the session I came back to this statement, and I said: look, I can understand that a lot of what I have said to you today may sound like I am asking you to take your hands off the steering wheel. I am not asking that. I am suggesting you let up on the gas—just a little bit.
Better? Better than sports analogies any way.
If the steering wheel is our intellect, our thoughts, beliefs, behaviors and cognitions, then the gas pedal is representative of our emotions, our drives, our impulses—of which many of these are to avoid pain or to avoid experiencing fear.
We want to let up on the gas so that you can see the scenery—your environment—more clearly. That’s the awareness part. Things are a blur when you are driving past them at 90 miles an hour. Things and people in our life are a blur when we are full of intense emotions. Anger, fear, rage, sadness, they all distort what we see in our environment.
Everyone shows up to therapy with a tendency to either focus entirely on the steering wheel or on the gas pedal. We may be this way because it is what we have learned in life we are good at. It may often times be the easiest of the two aspects of therapy for us. Men who are glued to that fucking steering wheel don’t want to let go, believe me. But they are amazed when you remind them they have the gas pedal too. And on the other side of the spectrum, you have people potentially terrified of putting their hands on the steering wheel at all because their life has taught them that the safest thing to do is to slam on the brakes and just not move anywhere.
Steering wheel and gas pedal. Thoughts and feelings. We as humans have control, use, and difficulties with both. They are totally different but very connected to each other things. And we have to learn to appreciate how they do different things for us. That’s it.
So, back to the original idea of a client who gets to a place where they want to know what to do next.
What do they do next? The question is a steering wheel kind of question, isn’t it? The answer is a gas pedal kind of answer. If you want to know what to do next, maybe its because you need to slow the hell down. And appreciate the view—and then maybe what you need to do next will be clear to you. Or speed up perhaps. Where the hell do you think you are going anyway? It’s your mind. It’s your trip. The point is to enjoy both. You can’t do that if you don’t know how to slow down, or you never even try to get the car out of the driveway…
Lastly, the question: What do I do next? Is in its own way a question about, How do I change? Change is multidimensional. There is what you do and how you do it. The steering wheel and the gas pedal. Also, change is the interaction of how you do it effecting what you do. How fast or how slow you drive effects the kinds of steering decisions you are going to be faced with.
I hope this is helpful. I just hope it is better than my lame sports analogy (can’t bring myself to share those).
For next time: I think it is high time for The Therapy is Dandy Guidebook to having a Narcissist for a Parent to return for a special update. That’s right, the Donald Trump edition is way past due. I have been sitting on this one for about 9 months now, and I better share it soon and maybe do a few of them. There is just too much not to talk about. It’s going to be very painful…