Toe in the Water


As a child living in the Pacific Northwest along the cold waters of Puget Sound, I learned to swim.  I had two primary sites for learning: Quartermaster Harbor on Vashon Island, and a big cement swimming pool filled with mountain spring well water at my Grandparents’ in Tacoma.  It wasn’t until I started teaching boating safety classes that I realized that nearly my entire childhood swimming experience was conducted in the early stages of hyperthermia – blue lips, chattering teeth, progressing to numbness in the feet and full body shivers. It was very difficult to ease into the water slowly.  Everyone seemed to endorse the plunge approach. Anyone testing the water with their toe or attempting to enter a pool using the ladder or steps was considered cowardly and unlikely to ever complete the task.

Some folks look at therapy or counseling in the same way (All or nothing), and that approach probably keeps many from ever being able to truly use the process in a way that helps them.  It is okay to stick your toe in, and decide whether to proceed a little more or withdraw. No one has to leap in or be in the deep end rather than the shallow.   The process of working on your own emotional wellness, of relieving your distress, needs to be at your pace, and in an emotional environment that is safe.  A therapist that takes on the role of the bully, and throws you in the deep-end to sink or swim is not honoring you.  You might survive, but you are unlikely to continue to use the techniques you employed, at least use them with pleasure and confidence.

Just as our emotional distress is highly unique and personal, so is our path to recovery. There is no single approach, technique, method, or set of exercises that is helpful to everyone. It is okay to try different therapies. There will be a therapist that can help, but it might not be the first one you meet. Try not to assess your potential for recovery based on a poor experience.

Today there are all kinds of ways to explore therapy approaches: audio books, videos, U-Tube, reading, attending public presentations, workshops, health fairs, and many more.  It is okay to shop. I believe (and there is research to support) that the key element in a successful counseling /therapy experience is the relationship between the therapist and the client. (Please substitute whatever word you feel comfortable with to describe the person seeking therapy – patient, client, consumer, seeker, student – the words used seem to vary based primarily on provider experience and training.) After years in social services, I referred to the people I worked with as clients, then after 10 years in a medical clinic, I found myself referring to them as patients. Mental Health Advocates seem to prefer consumer. I will probably shift among the various titles as I write.  The key point is that you – the seeker of service – are the one in control of the relationship, not the provider. You (or your insurance, employer, or taxes) are paying for a service. And within your provider’s boundaries, you are entitled to manage the level of intensity, the frequency, the content, and the direction of your care.

Identifying and challenging your fears, doubts, pain or sorrow is not easy. You won’t necessarily be comfortable all the time, but it is essential that you trust you will be safe, and that you can stop or slow down  when you feel overwhelmed.

There are also online options for testing the water.  Visit blogs or websites that have questions and answers with therapists.  This is not therapy, but you can get a feel for how different people approach identifying problems and solutions.  In some cases, there may even be an opportunity to transition into a therapy relationship with the person.  Remember, it is your treatment. You can approach it in the way that fits you. You will need to stretch your comfort zone at times for growth to occur, but you can also approach slowly and move in a little at a time.

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Remember, this forum is not intended to be therapy.  I have no way to view your body language, hear your tone of voice, or see if your words and your displayed emotions are matching.  These are essential to effective communication and great tools for the therapist (and for the consumer when reversed.) I will attempt to be as helpful as I can. I will refer you the best I can to needed services. Even though I will not be your therapist, I am a health care professional bound by law and ethics to act to protect persons from harm. I am required to report my concerns of  harm to self or others, and suspected abuse of children and vulnerable adults.  I am located and providing these services in Washington State.

Again, I am open to communicating directly with you through this forum.  If you have questions or concerns, please leave a comment. I will attempt to address them if I can.

2 Comments

Filed under counseling, emotional healing, healing, mental health, psychotherapy, therapy, Uncategorized

2 responses to “Toe in the Water

  1. ThankfulReader

    Wow! That’s a very helpful and insightful article. Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. Martha Stewart

    Nice blog. You obviously have passion for your profession, and the lists of ways to gather information is wonderful.
    Thank you.

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