Strength Focused in a Culture Focusing on Weaknesses

In America, highlighting weaknesses in people is a billion dollar industry. If a problem can be created, a solution can be purchased.

The focus on weakness gets perpetuated by the belief that working on weaknesses as a step toward success. This methodology is effective in sports for instance. I tend to be a slow long distance runner, so recently I have been adding intense interval running to my workout schedule. After just a few months I can feel an improvement on my long weekend trail runs.

In mental health however, constantly looking for the problem or sometimes waiting for an “official problem” can keep us from finding the way out. Furthermore, relationships are a key indicator and asset as a human. If one’s relationships are affected by the way one is thinking or perceiving, it can indicate that one’s mental emotional health needs attention.

In this context, often focusing on what is going well for a person, what has worked in the past, and what they desire in the future is an effective way to identify solutions and stop the feedback loop of looking at problems. It can be easy to get focused on the preferred past (what we would have liked to have happen) or past hurt/sadness/anxiety, which just builds the barrier toward identifying the desired future higher.

I used to be shocked by how difficult it was for some to state their wants, needs, and preferences. In other words, how hard it can be to just say what a person does want. After nine years as a practicing psychotherapist, I get it now. The deck is stacked against the practice of focusing on strengths, finding what is good, what has worked well in the past, and cultural norms bring people back to what is wrong.

A starting place for being more strengths based is a simple gratitude practice. Perhaps starting a journal or adding to your planner 3 things in the morning and 3 things in the evening you are grateful for or that went well. From there, finding more about what is going well will get easier and easier.

Curious how this might apply to your situation? Schedule a free 20 minute consultation 541-639-2986

The Resistance

Over the summer I have been pursuing all sorts of creative endeavors. Painting, music, videography, anything and everything that piques my interest. To me having a creative outlet is a key ingredient to self-care. And as a therapist, I am always seeking to add to my self-care repertoire.

These creative endeavors lead me to the book The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  I have not been able to put this book down! The concept is that art is a part of our souls and often a higher calling but it is commonly met with different forms of resistance. From alcohol to love to procrastination, Pressfield describes in detail the many faces of resistance.

In reading these descriptions of resistance, I couldn’t help but think of therapy. Therapy is often an artistic endeavor where my professional expertise meets the wide variety of human experience and together we create a new paradigm for the future. When I reflect on it that way, I can’t help but ponder how the resistance may show up for my clients.

  • Dreading sessions perhaps?
  • Too afraid to pick up the phone to even schedule a session?
  • Perhaps beating yourself up for even feeling as though you need a therapist?
  • Ignoring the issue hoping it magically disappears?
  • Trying once again to solve it all yourself?
  • Too stuck to even find a therapist?

Resistance is a powerful force that often prevents us from moving forward. But as Pressfield articulates, “the greater the resistance, the more important the work.”

Questions to ask your Therapist

Important Reminder: You are in charge of your mental and emotional health. No one should tell you what your experience is and mental health concerns are not a reason to feel disempowered and/or helpless. Your therapist/doctor/counselor/psychologist/psychiatrist should be able to clearly articulate risks and benefits of the treatment they are suggesting. It is my opinion, after 7 years of training and practice in this field that medication should always be approach as an absolute last resort and never a first response to mental health concerns. In addition, a diagnosis (such as bi-polar or depression) is not a treatment plan. 

When looking for a therapist, it is important to know a few important but simple questions to ask to ensure you get the best therapist for your situation.

  1. Where & when did you attend school? If the school doesn’t sound relatively familiar, look it up. Make sure that live supervision and an internship were part of the program, especially if you are working with an intern. If the clinician is fully licensed, you know they have had three years of supervision in Oregon.
  2. How long have you been practicing and what is your license in? It doesn’t matter whether the therapist has been in practice for 9 months or 29 years, neither guarantees a good therapeutic fit. What you are looking for in this question is for a confident response. If you get a shaking, “only a few months” or a cocky, “too long!” it’s a red flag. You want a clinician who is hungry to learn but confident in their skills. It’s a delicate balance!
  3. How do you believe change occurs? Some clinicians believe change occurs when brain chemicals are altered, others believe it happens over a period of time when you gain more coping skills, others believe change happens in the moment in therapy. It is important to know how your therapist believes change happens. For example, I believe that change occurs when the habits/patterns change whether it is emotional, behavioral, or interactional (between two people) patterns. Therefore it would not be a good fit for me to work with a therapist who believed that my emotional state would improve by changing chemicals in my brain.
  4. What is the average amount of sessions you work with clients? The answer to this comes down to preference and what you believe change looks like. I typically work with clients for 12 session. I believe clients should pay me only for the sessions they need and as they begin to experience change and healing we should start spacing out sessions. Clients can always come back if they need more support and I never want to foster dependence or send a message that a client needs me. Other therapists have a more long term approach, I can’t speak to that because I wasn’t trained in it, so it comes down to what you believe.
  5. What is your treatment plan?  Of course you may have to attend a couple sessions to get the answer to this question, but a good therapist can always articulate how they are seeing the problem and how they seek to help you with it.