Saturday, June 30, 2012

Make changes more easily by harnessing the chain of behavior

Most of us have been there - you make a few resolutions at the new year, and they fall by the wayside. A couple of months later, you try again, recalling those failed resolutions and deciding to just go it on your own, regardless of what the calendar says.

Now the year is half over. Despite your heroic attempts at approaching the problem, rather than avoiding, the changes just haven't taken effect. You lose your focus. You don't really have a solid plan in the first place.

With that being said, however, there are certainly times when a resolution makes a lot of sense. For example, that four-dollar latte is costing you about a thousand dollars per year. Why not try to cut it from your routine?

Here's where you've got some decisions to make. Back in the good old days, you'd summon up your willpower, that magical quality that was apparently bestowed upon some of us at birth while the rest of us spent our days striving to figure out how to find it. The legend had it that willpower would take you through these sorts of things - you'd just power through, forgo those lattes, and be done with it.

The problem, of course, is that willpower isn't really a thing at all. Some people have a personality that makes it easier to do some things, and others have personalities that serve them in areas unattainable by the willpower crowd. If you're one of the many who didn't receive that willpower gene, it's time to resort to good old behavioral science. In this case, you'll be calling upon the Chain of Behavior to help you stop sipping those spendy coffee drinks.

The Chain of Behavior works like this - think about all of the steps it takes to get that latte into your mouth. You have to pay for it, sure... but before that, you have to walk into the coffee shop. And before that, you have to get to the street the coffee shop is on. To do that, you have to leave wherever you are before you go to the coffee shop. And, to get where you are before you go to the coffee shop, you have to drive, or walk, or take the bus from your house. And, don't forget payment - to pay for that latte, you have to have your wallet or purse with you, and money in your purse, and... well, you get the idea.

So, that's the chain. If you break it, you don't buy the latte. You can break it at many points, but the further up the chain you go, the better the chance of success. Not walking into the coffee shop is great. Not being on that street is better. Not having your money with you is even better! See how it works? Figure out the chain of events that get you to the last link. Then break the chain as far up as you can.

This also works with things you are trying to add to your life, not just trying to quit. There's a chain that gets you in the gym that starts with having the time, and the gear, to work out. Putting your clothes in your gym bag is a link. Putting your gym back into your car is a link. You get the idea.

So, to those of you who are still working on those resolutions, best of luck. Hopefully figuring out the links to your particular chains will help you succeed. And for those of you who are just plugging along, day by day, everything you do is a chain as well. Take a look at the links, make adjustments where you can, and keep trying your best. And, whatever you do, don't forget to give yourself some praise and reward when you wrestle one of those chains into submission. You can do it!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Ask the Doc: When a therapist breaks your trust

Q. Someone dear to me was a client of a counselor/therapist who radically broke her trust, and she's never been able to trust any counselor/therapist since. How do you learn to trust a therapist/counselor after your trust has been betrayed by one? (I asked for additional information, and was told that the therapist shared personal information about the client without permission, in order to enable the person outside the relationship to "help with the therapy).

First, before I go anywhere else with this answer, I want to express my dismay about what happened to your friend. As with any profession, there are people who don't follow the rules. I've had clients tell me about a prior therapist who fell asleep in session, or walked out to take personal phone calls. These rogue professionals are thankfully rare, but they do exist. The therapy relationship is entirely built on trust, and your friend's experience has created an injury that will be hard to overcome.

While no one can "fix" this situation, here are some things for your friend to think about while considering whether to give therapy another try. The options range from reporting the therapist to simply working on rebuilding an attitude of trust, and all are about choices that your friend can make.

One choice your friend can make is to report the therapist for a confidentiality violation. If the therapist is licensed, the state licensing board will handle the complaint. This is obviously not a choice to be made lightly, as your friend would need to continue to be involved in this traumatic situation. I always inform my clients of their rights when they feel they've been harmed by their previous therapist, and I always understand when pursuing a complaint sounds too difficult to them. I'm there to support them in whatever they choose to do. This is what you can do for your friend, as well. Let them know about their choices, and support them unconditionally.

Another choice to be made is when (and whether) to reengage in therapy. If therapy begins again, the choices are about how much to disclose, and when to disclose it. The difficulty here is that this kind of dilemma is perfect therapy fodder, and your friend is likely very resistant to therapy. Some make the choice to "get back on the horse," while others need to let time heal the wounds.

Your friend will likely need to spend some time considering her feelings, really thinking about what will be needed to rebuild a trusting relationship. When the time comes to disclose things in therapy, the process will be made easier by having thought beforehand about where the boundaries are, and what the true feelings are. A good therapist will be open to working on this process - your friend can tell the therapist that a core issue is trusting the therapist, and the work can begin there. A good, careful therapist will be willing to take as much time as needed, while at the same time knowing when to gently push a little.

As therapists, we understand that our clients have often navigated a bumpy road before ending up in our office. We get that we might have to start from scratch, maybe more than once. I hope your friend can forgive herself if she feels gun-shy, and I hope she can realize that it will be difficult to start a new therapeutic relationship. It's okay if she starts and stops before she finds someone she can trust. The therapy work is about her, not about the therapist, and it's perfectly natural for her to pick her way carefully down the path.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Try this today...

Set an alarm for two hours from now. Use your phone, a kitchen timer, whatever works. When the alarm goes off, do this:

- Take five deep breaths. Visualize the stress of the last two hours leaving your body, and fresh energy for the next two hours entering your body.

- Look in a mirror. Say "I love you. You're doing the best that you can."

- Take 30 seconds to say something nice to someone, either in person or via text or email.

- Set your alarm for two more hours. Repeat.

Try it. Just for today.