Experience is the greatest teacher they say… Whatever dysfunctions we have going on in our lives (and yes, we all have some) – we come by them honestly. None of us wakes up one morning and decides to be defensive, destructive, avoidant, etc. for no reason. We approach life based on the experiences we’ve had and the meanings we’ve made of them. When those meanings are no longer functional, that’s where therapy comes in. Together, we explore past experiences and how we interpreted them to identify the sticking points that cause negative results today. Then, we work together to re-examine those experiences and expand the meanings to understandings that lead to more positive ways of doing life. The healthy relationship formed in therapy provides a model for the rest of life and offers a safe base from which to go out and change our worlds for the better.
The work done in the therapy room is not effective without implementation into daily life. Healing requires doing. We must test out our new meanings, creating new experiences that will cement those meanings in our hearts and not just our brains. This is the terrifying part. It can be so comforting and enlightening to have ah-ha moments in therapy. “Whaaat?! That’s why I’ve always done that? Oh my gosh, this totally makes sense now!” Those insights are wonderful and make for much internal relief and de-stressing. But then….we have to act “as if”. If this new understanding is true, what do I do differently? This is where the terror comes in because it is a great act of vulnerability to go out into an unchanged world with our changed selves and trust that we will be successful.
Sometimes, this becomes a stumbling block for clients. It could be because we need to do more work on our own internal anxiety before we can take action. Often though, it is due to confusion about how to actually handle things differently. Isn’t it normal to need some practice with a new skill before we use it ‘for real’? This very basic truth about learning is why I believe therapy has to be active. Perhaps the most common technique is to role play anticipated situations/conversations. That is an incredibly valuable exercise as we get to form new words and even hold our bodies in different positions than we have before.
I am finding though, that there are plenty of additional ideas for experiential learning. Last week, I joined a team of colleagues at WinShape to participate in team building exercises with a facilitator who happened to be a therapist. As we funneled tennis balls through short plastic tubes, held mousetraps in our joined hands, and moved a bowling ball without touching it, I saw so many connections between these activities and the principles that clients are often struggling to implement in their lives: Creative problem solving, collaboration, trust, believing they can do hard things, believing it is possible to do things differently than before, etc. Our activities culminated with a climb to the top of what they refer to as the “Pamper pole”. I’ll let you imagine why it has garnered that name. Let me just say that I have not experienced that level of terror in a very long time! Conquering it was the best thing that could have happened though, at a time in my life when I’ve been questioning my ability to rise to the amazing mission unfolding before me. It gave me absolutely tangible proof that I can dominate and that has already provided energy to move forward with the hard things. There is nothing like actual success to fuel further success. The same techniques I used to get through the exercises at WinShape are the same techniques I will use to power through the obstacles I face in the rest of my life. That is how this works.
I am so excited to bring these kinds of activities back to my clients. Not just individual sessions, but family sessions, groups and especially corporate workshops. I have a passion for leadership development and building corporate culture, so this approach fits perfectly! I do promise however, not to utilize 30 foot telephone poles 🙂