Recognizing Life Skills
When people decide to seek therapy it usually means they feel like they have exhausted all of the available routes for overcoming their problems. It’s too bad that the paradigm is largely about curing dysfunction rather than fostering growth, but that’s the state of the mental health industry today.
What this can lead to is feelings of incompetence, worthlessness, failure, embarrassment, and a host of other negative emotions. People discount their own strategies for coping with and overcoming problems as well as the life skills they have picked up over the years since these apparently have not borne any fruit, as evidenced by the fact that they are sitting in the counselor’s office, unable to deal with issues on their own anymore.
One approach a counselor can take is psychosocial training in order to help instill more effective coping strategies, and often this is a necessary component, but for me it’s far more useful to help clients tease out the life skills that are already there so they can build upon them. This creates a feeling of efficacy, and rightfully so.
People can get so caught up in the negatives that they lose sight of how successful they have been under the circumstances, navigating conditions that would have made many others break. Highlighting this reality can foster a sense of pride and accomplishment where before failure loomed large.
Some tend to exaggerate their own skill and prowess, inflating the role they played in successful outcomes. Others tend to ignore their own skill and prowess and attribute things going badly to their shortcomings. They are unaware of how much worse things might have been if not for the life skills they employed.
I read something by the narrative therapist Michael White I like where he said the difference between a successful life and an unsuccessful life is that the first has a 97% failure rate and the second has a 98% failure rate. I love this idea because it normalizes the experience of people who are struggling and helps them see they really don’t have that far to go to get better outcomes. A great way to get that 98% down to 97% is to help clients develop skills that are already there but may be hidden from view due to their problems having taken on such large dimensions.