Fast Failure

When I worked as a designer, trying things out was a natural part of the process. Making models and sketches were ways of testing ideas by making them visible, tangible. Once real, we could put them in front of people for feedback. What worked? What didn’t? Revisions were based on that feedback. “Back to the drawing board” was the norm. Then another cycle of feedback, and another, honing in on our final solution.

As you can see, failure was the norm. For each thing that worked in a given round of design, were all those that didn’t. Failure wasn’t a big deal. It was a natural part of figuring things out. Honing in. Refining. Improving. In the business world “fail fast” has become a mantra for companies trying to foster a culture of innovation. It helps ease the inhibiting fear that can come with the prospect of failure.

Often my clients express a sense of failure in the many thoughts, feelings, and attitudes they bring. The therapist in me...

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Visual Dialog

creative doing drawing Nov 26, 2017

I’m mostly a “talk therapist,” something I’m a little embarrassed about given my background in art and design, and my training in Somatic Experiencing, where the body is the focus. I think I’ve always been drawn to words. My parents fostered a love of reading when I was a child, since reading was the key to knowledge and advancement. Early on, I taught myself through the written word. My favorite books were “how to” books that taught me skills. I loved going to the library and looking at back-issues of Popular Mechanics, reading cookbooks, and studying needlework through Victorian handbooks.

So even though words predominate in my therapy sessions, I do shift focus now and then, a shift that benefits my clients and me. Sometimes the shift is toward sensations in the body, the felt experience of a moment. Other times, the shift is toward imagery.

One activity I’ve done with clients individually and in groups involves taking turns...

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Therapists & Their Offices

creative doing Nov 19, 2017

I recently attended a small meeting of therapists interested in creativity. We met in the office of one of us, a studio-like setting rich with media, materials, light, and a wonderful view. It was perfect for the kind of work she does, and the clients interested in working with her. At one point, our conversation meandered to the topic of our therapy offices: what we choose to display, how we decorate our spaces, and how clients sometimes respond to what they find. We also talked about what our spaces convey about us.

Some therapists personalize their spaces extensively, either deliberately (or unintentionally) communicating who they are, creating spaces in which they feel comfortable and at home. Others strive for a studied neutrality that doesn’t impose too much of themselves, decoratively or otherwise, in keeping with the neutral stance many find effective and necessary as therapists.

When our offices declare too loudly who we are as therapists and...

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Balancing Effort & Ease

Every attempt at behavioral change demands doing things differently. In my work with clients in recovery from drug and alcohol use, great effort is made at “staying clean.” This typically involves avoiding people, places, and things associated with substance use, developing “trigger management skills,” and making lifestyle changes. It’s hard work. And when it becomes too hard, relapse happens. Or if not full-blown relapse, a “slip,” before the client resumes their recovery efforts.

Whenever this happens in any behavioral change effort, especially when abstinence of any kind is the desired goal (think dieting), fatigue arises. The effort becomes tiring, too much work. The client eventually gives in, seeking relief from an effort that’s become overwhelming.

Too much concerted effort just doesn’t work in the long run. It is too much work. It is tiring. It is a drag. It does feel like punishment. It feels depriving because it is.

...

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Imagine

creative doing obstacles Nov 06, 2017

I've had my fair share of failures, and I've witnessed many that were not my own. Looking closely, I recognize something they all have in common: a failure of the imagination, an inability to envision another possibility. So we get what we get:  more of the same, stuckness, boredom, or a dream unrealized.

When we’re able to envision - to see richly with the mind’s eye - possibility opens. Imagining allows us to expand the scope of what we consider - to see past our usual limits. It makes room for more. And when we give ourselves permission to take our imaginings seriously, they have a way of leading us, energizing us to take action. We’re able to see the steps we need to take and take them instead of thinking about them. A rich imagination inspires action.

If you’ve gotten lost in your daydreams and fantasies, you undoubtedly disagree. Maybe your imaginings have produced a state of intoxicated avoidance. You’d rather be in your head than in the...

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Relating through Props & Play

From time to time, I use props in my therapy sessions. They’re great for introducing a sense of play, and for mediating the interaction between me and my client(s). I’ve used the Hoberman Sphere pictured above to demonstrate cognitive concepts to my group therapy clients, opening and closing the sphere to demonstrate flexibility and constriction. Each time, my clients are absolutely alert and attentive. After the demonstration, we pass the sphere around, with each member flexing it to demonstrate their current state.

The barriers that arise during talk therapy can often be overcome by using props, since they support kinesthetic engagement. (Of course, some clients are as resistant to props as they are to speaking.) Sometimes I use a shawl (any length of cloth or rope or even a flexible band would do), holding one end while my client holds the other. We pull, sometimes gently, sometimes firmly, each trying to match the give and take of the other. It’s a dance, but a...

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Choosing a Career, or Dreaming One?

I lived many professional lives before becoming a therapist. While I was always grateful for those opportunities, I never felt quite “in my element” within those professional communities. Whether design, tech, or academe, I felt like an outsider. So it’s been a blessing to find myself feeling right at home as a therapist.

Oddly, it was never something I considered outright. I wasn’t one of those I’ve-always-wanted-to-help-people kind of people. I was always too engrossed in my own struggles to have much leftover for others. At least that’s what I thought.

So imagine my surprise when one day, a little over 10 years ago, the thought of becoming a therapist crossed my mind. No one could have been more surprised than me. It arose out of nowhere, startling, like a dream. But instead of rejecting it outright as a preposterous idea, I let the dreaminess of it live in me.

Sometimes I took conscious steps to explore the possibility:  I looked...

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Feeling Your Way Through

creative feeling somatics Oct 19, 2017

If you’re a “talk therapist” like me, you’re used to knowing a client mainly through their story: what they talk about. This typically includes a developmental history, significant life events, and key relationships, all within the context of symptoms from which the client wants relief. But this isn’t the only way to proceed.

I trained in Somatic Experiencing, an approach developed by Dr. Peter Levine to address trauma. Somatic Experiencing sets aside the story to work instead on felt sensation in the body. By setting aside the narrative, clients are able to work their way through trauma by feeling their way through it - noticing sensations that arise, developing the capacity to contain them, and allowing them to resolve.

While Somatic Experiencing is primarily associated with trauma treatment, I use SE skills to work with clients addressing anxiety and other states of “over-activation,” including irritability, anger, and chronic pain. You...

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Getting Unstuck in Therapy

Every therapist gets stuck now and then when working with a client, unable to move things forward. While often this gets called "client resistance," doing so ignores the fact that the therapist is participating in the "stuckness" too. Quite actively. (Or passively, as the case may be.) While there are many ways to get unstuck, I regularly remind myself of things that help.

  • Are my verbal responses to the client predictable and repetitive? If so, do I attribute this to (i.e. blame) the client instead of recognizing my complicity? Am I able to change my responses in a way that disrupts the cycle of predictability? I find that when I am able to do so, the work shifts.
  • If I'm primarily a "talk therapist," do I find opportunities for somatic engagement? Feeling, sensing? Changing sensory channels relieves us from the confines of speech and language. This can be freeing for client and therapist alike. Sometimes I use props to accomplish this - objects that can be handled between us. ...
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Don't Call It Drawing

creative doing drawing Sep 25, 2017

I can't draw. Almost everyone says it. Me, too. Though I say it a little less than I did. As a teen, I loved arts and crafts, but I shied away from the "arts" part. Drawing seemed scary. I didn't know how to make the image on the paper look like what I saw. And when what emerged on the page looked like failure, it scared me even more.

I'm not sure what happened between then and now. I still can't draw, but it doesn't matter so much. When I do draw (not often), I'm more comfortable with what happens on the page. I'm more at ease letting it be whatever it is, usually a scribble or outline or gesture. I'm okay with letting a line ramble, with letting go of mastery and expectation.

I certainly admire great drawings by great artists, and I recognize the magnitude of those achievements. I know that what I do isn't the same. I can tell the difference. Maybe it's not drawing.

Maybe that's why I feel more comfortable now:  because I can recognize the difference and feel okay...

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