The first few sessions after you accept you are going to werq at therapy rather than wait for the magic pixie dust, there are still remnants of being cynical, but you’ve decided to give it a try. You yearn for the instant solution but you wake up with the realization that results depend on you, and you alone. Empowering, but scary; it is only you that can make the difference. So now you’ve agreed with yourself to push your comfort zone a bit, and agree to one of your therapist’s cockomany ideas.
It can be a bit of a leap of faith, to try out something that you’ve never done before. Much like skiing where, in order to move forward, you have to do something counterintuitive. You realize that you can always go back to your old ways, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. You’re excited, nervous and mentally role play how it will work, but remain skeptical, albeit excited because some part of you believes that this might just work.
Surprisingly, it might actually be a bit easier than you imagined it would be. Even when it’s not, you find you are still standing. You get into the swing of it, become aware of your feelings; and begin to understand what your therapist was on about.
As a therapist, I never ask my clients to do homework that I haven’t tried out myself. I was working with a client who struggled with social anxiety and was reminded of a story about Albert Ellis. Dr. Ellis suffered with horrible anxiety when talking to women. One day, he decided to speak to every woman who sat on a particular bench in a park. Only one woman said yes, and then stood him up, but by the end of the day, he found that he had no problem speaking to members of the opposite sex.
It’s not unusual to struggle with social anxiety. We are not given a roadmap as to how to begin a conversation with a stranger. Some people are better at it than others. I thought this exercise would be perfect for my client that suffered with social anxiety, but I had to do it first. I would strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, without any of the inhibitions. Someone who had not engaged me on any level.
My target; Starbucks, Chelsea, Tuesday, 4:00 pm. After getting my dry-skimmed no foam chai mocha choca latte, I spied my prey, engrossed in a book and oblivious to the outside world. I could feel my pores opening and the sweat starting to seep out of them. 3-2-1, I’m going to do it.. and then I found myself standing in front of a complete stranger, no turning back now. “Excuse me, I don’t mean to bother you, but I was wondering whether you would like to have a coffee with me?” A look of shock stared back at me, and a mumble which included the words “I’m sorry, I’m waiting for my friend”. STRIKE OUT!
I waited for the ground to open and swallow me whole, but it didn’t. I looked around and thought everyone would be laughing at me, but they weren’t. Surely my legs would buckle underneath me, weighted down by the embarrassment. But, surprisingly, I was still standing tall. It was an unusual feeling of rejection, mixed with pride, that I had actually done it. Looking back on it now, it was a win-win situation for me; either I would have ended up having a coffee with someone who I found attractive, or I learnt that walking up to a stranger and striking up a conversation isn’t as scary and awful as I thought it would be. The world didn’t stop spinning.
This, dear reader, is werqing in therapy, pushing yourself to experience new ways of thinking and behaving. Sessions become like a mini weekly debrief, where you report the successes, struggles and failures of your homework’s, and how that felt in comparison to what you thought it would feel. You’re getting more confident, you can get out of this, small victories, little insights into what it can be like not to be constrained by negative emotions. Manageable practical solution-focused steps, a prescribed path.
You realized you better werq, and here you are werqing it, realizing with each small victory that you are stronger than you thought you were. Those small steps are the key to bringing you closer to that “Eureka moment”. But how do you know when you’ve got there, what does it feel like? All will be revealed in the next installment…