Do you have a client who complains of always being in a rush? There are always too few hours in the day for them. They never have enough time. They dash from appointment to appointment, barely able to catch their breath. They are busy all the time. Understandably, they feel harassed and anxious, with never a moment to spare.
Each day is a similar ordeal. They don’t get time to relax. They are always on the go. They feel lost in the neverending whirlwind of activity.
In this article I’ll talk about how to help such clients by looking at three key concepts:
- The problem
- Beyond the problem
Many therapy approaches will seek to define the problem in some way. It is tempting to focus on the problem itself. It may even be a helpful stepping stone to understanding.
For instance, a therapist trained in Transactional Analysis may hear this client’s plight and think of the Hurry Up driver.
In TA, a driver is like a behavioural permission slip. “I’m not ok UNLESS I hurry up.”
This is seen as the client’s “script” playing out today.
Yet defining the problem only takes us so far. For us to gain a full understanding, we need to go beyond the problem.
Beyond the problem
When we go beyond the problem, we adopt a different focus. We become less interested in the problem itself, and more interested in why the client keeps the problem.
The point is not so much to directly overcome the anxiety and busyness, but to learn why the busyness is emotionally necessary.
The stance is to be less interested in what the client is holding, but why they feel it necessary to keep holding it.
“If I allow myself to rest and relax and move slowly throughout the day, what then?”
Clients want rid of their problems. So it is interesting that they also keep hold of them. Why? Because it makes sense that they do.
Our job is to discover why and how it makes sense.
There are many ways to look beyond the problem. Each is intended to help the client learn the importance of keeping it in existence.
To put it another way, the problem is also a solution to another bigger problem. It acts as a defence against something even more fearful.
Let’s look again at the Transactional Analysis view that the client has a Hurry Up driver. The real question is: Why are they still obeying it? Moreover, what is the feared consequence of defying it?
What would be the costs of becoming a person who goes at a nice, steady pace?
You can use The Single Sentence Technique as one of many ways to dig into this material.
As an example, a client, Henry, may discover that:
If I allow myself to go at a nice, steady pace
Then it would seem like I don’t care about the things I’m doing
So I rush around at a breakneck pace
Even though I long to relax and go easy on myself
Because anything would be better than others thinking I don’t care about them
We now see, for this particular client, the trade that is made. “I’d rather rush around than give the impression I don’t care about you all.”
We see that Henry believes: rushing frantically proves that I care.
We are now a layer deeper. Henry understands the underlying cause of his problem. The emotional truth of the problem has been made explicit.
We are now in a position to intentionally create change. When Henry no longer sees rushing to be a way to prove that he cares, he will find it easy to let go of the problem.
When we only knew of the problem (or a modality-based description of the problem), change using memory reconsolidation was not an option. We did not know the prediction behind the problem. Now we do.
For memory reconsolidation to occur, we need to generate mismatch experiences. These are experiences, real or imaginal, that disconfirm the core prediction that keeps the problem alive.
Until we know this core prediction, intentionally generating prediction errors is not possible.
There are several ways to create mismatch experiences – you can read a full article on the various ways to generate mismatches here.
Memory reconsolidation is the brain’s natural mechanism for updating learning. It does so by overwriting old predictions with the new information. It means that changes made this way do not relapse and are gone for good.
In this article, we have looked at the issue of clients who feel harassed and anxious with their own busyness.
We looked at the problem itself, and modality-based ways of assessing the problem.
We saw how it is important to go beyond the problem to discover the core prediction that keeps the problem alive.
We saw an example, Henry, and how his particular busyness made sense. Note that other clients will have their own emotional truths driving the problem.
Finally, we saw that by finding the core prediction, we are then in a position to generate prediction errors in order to remove it.
Repeating these mismatch experiences of prediction error ensures that the problem never returns. They fulfil the steps needed to trigger memory reconsolidation.
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