The Biological Bipedal Life Form – Can we fix the therapist AND the client?
by Heidi Clinton
Often times when a client has gone to see a therapist, that human being becomes yet another faceless face in a sea of many other faces with whom the therapist counsels. Yes having professional boundaries are important, but often times we lose touch with the humanity behind our pursuits. By humanising the client who sits before us as a unique individual, we can begin to shed light on their individuality and the individualistic problems that ail them. By humanising our clients, we can additionally see they’re not just another faceless face, they’re our important clients with whom we need to care and treat or regard as a whole, vital human being.
We are not necessarily here to discuss ‘how to counsel’ a client, but in the context of being a stress management therapist, I feel it’s important to take steps anomalously that of our ‘text’ (workbooks, textbooks, articles that cite specifically ‘how to’ treat someone with stress). That everything our clients do – matters, that somehow they can be made to feel important, that they matter. That they know (and feel naturally that they) have somewhere to go, someone to talk to, and someone with whom they can seek some guidance and rely upon.
Part of stress management counselling to me, is about getting to know the client, not just helping the client to become more self aware and help them to potentially sail through their stresses more easily. Getting to know our clients plays an essential role as part of the healing and guidance process.
We wouldn’t crack open a book on integrative therapy and say, “Right! You have a common stress disorder, this book here says YOU WILL WALK 20 MINUTES A DAY, GET MORE SLEEP, DRINK HERBAL TEA, DEEP BREATHE FOR 10 MINUTES, you’re CURED!” No two people are alike; no two people will react to the same stressful situation.
Everyone has their own individual stress response to a situation.
We take a trip to the supermarket on a Friday evening after work. The Five o’clock shuffle, hustle and bustle of getting what we need and all we want is just to go home and unwind after a long day’s work. After which comes the horrendous lines at the check-out. We find Susie standing there nearly panting, over-heated and agitated; whilst Joe Shmoe is standing in the same line, day-dreaming about his future and all the good that he hopes will come from it. Whilst in the SAME line, we have Abigail, a woman who’s slightly agitated and wants to get out of the market, and on her merry way home – after a little bit of ‘antsy pants’ pacing in the line, she sees a magazine and starts to flip through it. Each person subjected to the same ‘stress,’ each person expressed and experienced their own stress response (I think if I were a check-out clerk at a supermarket, it’d be a very interesting ‘read’ to see all the different personalities that pass through those lines and to observe all the different reactions to those people waiting in the checkout lines!)
Now let’s take those three individuals to therapy! Specifically to help them through their stress and see if we can’t help them to attain a better or more balanced way to handle and perceive what ails them.
Starting with Joe, he seemingly has his stress levels under control. He comes to see you as a therapist, and you’re armed and ready with a slew of solutions you’ve learned from various books and other resources. The client begins to spout his problems about this and that, and then suddenly you find that compulsion to begin your contributions on how he can better manage life’s stresses. Confident what you said are the solutions to his problems, you wind the conversation to a close, say good-bye, and prepare yourself for the next client (Joe, leaves slightly agitated, whereas he was the more mellow, calm one of the bunch – you as the therapist placed a label on him and treated him as a faceless ‘unit’)
In walks through the door – Susie. The most ‘stressed out’ of the three aforementioned. Nothing in her mind could help her to calm or quell the reaction whilst waiting in the line at the check-out.
Sitting before you, Susie is semi-reluctant to share her problems with you. You say to yourself, ‘This isn’t by the book’! Why is she doing this? How am I supposed to ‘treat’ her with my knowledge (From these various books) if she doesn’t follow standard protocol???’
Susie senses this cold front from you as her therapist and remains reluctant to share any information. You begin to grow uneasy and unsettled, still fixated on the fact that she’s not following things ‘by the book.’ Insofar as YOU know, YOU’RE the therapist, and SHE’S the client. SHE’S there to be TREATED by YOU. And of course YOU as the therapist KNOW MORE than the client. Yes, yes, that’s right YOU KNOW MORE!!! Yet SHE isn’t following standard client behavioural patterns in a therapy session, as described by in ALL OF YOUR BOOKS!!!
Flustered, you completely derail the conversation toward stress management tactics, totally devoid of anything she DID reveal of herself, and begin spouting a slew of ‘standard methodology in treating stress management.’ Satisfied and finally drawing the session to a close, frantic beyond all recognition or explanation, fully threatened by this ‘person’ – you say good-bye, despite the fact that Susie was OBVIOUSLY completely put off by the session and close the door to prepare for your next client. (Often times we might hear that mirroring an individual can help them to feel more at ease, however, in this instance, it probably would have been more suitable if you as the therapist were to have found a way to initially help Susie to feel more calm and then to help her to feel as though she can trust you – how? Maybe sharing a little about yourself, or reassuring her that you’re not there to judge or criticise but to listen…This varies of course as per individual, but that’s what this is all about, learning to SEE and HEAR our individual clients…AS…individuals…)
IN WALKS ABIGAIL! Still flustered from having seen Susie (the previous client), your thoughts linger in the distant background questioning Susie’s behaviour.
MEANWHILE Abigail, who is readily available for discussion, is quietly discussing her problems with you, despite your lack of ‘presence’ IN the conversation. You find the entire session has passed you by because you became obsessed rather passively yet aggressively in trying to figure out WHY SUSIE wasn’t PLAYING BY THE BOOK!!! (Totally devoid of the client before you, completely ignoring this client’s needs, not to mention you FAILED to help Abigail in ANY way whatsoever toward alleviating her stress! Good grief, where’s your head?!?!?)
The day’s over, it’s time to close the doors and go home. After a long day of counselling others for their problems with stress, you feel utterly confident, despite any challenges – the day is done and you’ve managed to help all your clients. (Did you? Did you REALLY help your clients, or were you just helping yourself by indulging your ego in pre-specified measures of protocol as they would be in all your ‘text books’? Did you REALLY help them? Hmmm…)
Are you progressive or repressive as a stress management counsellor?
The following week you open your door, it’s THAT CLIENT AGAIN!! SUSIE! She’s become the key focus in your mind, because this PERSON is no longer a CLIENT but a HUMAN BEING. Somehow your repressive and rigidly fixated methodology of treatment has evolved into a more progressive, open and ‘present-minded’ form of therapy because your priors failed you miserably even though you fail to admit this! You realise there is opportunity in growth beyond what we know as ‘concrete,’ and realise that there’s more to counselling than learning ‘by the book.’
We now evolve the terminology in reference to Susie (and clients in general), no longer as the ‘client’ but as the ‘human being.’ We do this to help demonstrate ‘this thing,’ this ‘client’ is a living, breathing, thinking, feeling PERSON who comes to see you each and every week. They might have some semblance to your ‘textbooks’ but in reality, in the REAL world? In understanding that this is a PERSON who sits before you, you understand that NO TWO PEOPLE are alike. Don’t get me wrong! Texts, articles, lectures and so on, they’re all wonderful! I’m personally addicted to learning and the on-going learning process! But as an ‘evolving progressive therapist’ it is my hope to never place a client into the preconceived ‘frame’ that of an example from my studies and research. Psychology texts often coin the cliché ‘it’s a classic symptom of XYZ Syndrome’ – Sorry but I find that utterly arrogant and narrow-minded and thoroughly annoying. I can appreciate the amount of years of hard work and study these professionals have endured, and actually admire and greatly respect their knowledge. But to me that’s not digging one’s hands into the ‘mud’ and getting dirty. Getting the therapists hands dirty, means relinquishing yourself and being there for the client. It means listening and being fully present and not elsewhere. Getting our hands dirty means we’re open to working on various methods catered specifically toward the client over a gradual process. All in which is geared TOWARD the client. We’re not there to have a ticker-tape-parade of arrogance for our clients. If that’s what a therapist is after, then I strongly recommend you research your options into a more self-gratifying, self-centred profession! Please realise this is my article directed toward helping the therapist, as a REMINDER to be there FOR The client. This article in of itself is not directed to the psychology professionals out there who most likely know more about the subject than I do. But to initially REMIND us all to be – very simply put – more aware.
Do you know your clients?
Alright, we can accept that. No two people are alike. That puts your mind at ease…somewhat. You still are deeply perplexed by the notion that Susie is different. Susie isn’t following standard book procedure insofar as ‘clients in session and managing stress procedures.’ You’ve learned from your courses! You’ve read LOADS of books, so THEREFORE you MUST know ALL there is to know about stress management and how to deal with your clients!!!
Okay, let me reiterate this question again – Do you REALLY now? Do you REALLY know that the ‘client’ before you is a unique, vital, breathing and whole human being?
So many therapists tend to disregard the very idea of breaching the boundaries of the therapeutic relationship with their clients. I’m not talking about having sexual relations; I’m not talking about giving inappropriate hugs, or discussing your personal life with your client. I’m talking about taking the time to step BEYOND…THE BOOKS. To look BEYOND all your course-work, and take a moment to see WHO this person is who sits before you.
In the book entitled ‘Relating to Clients’ by Su Fox, page159, she says, ‘Never assume that the other person’s perception of the world is the same as yours.’ Then in the same book we read on page 167, ‘It pays to give attention to the therapeutic relationship, because it pays a crucial part of the healing process.’
Again, I realise this article isn’t to be about ‘counselling’ per se, however, learning to adjust and adapt to each person who walks through your door and SEEING them as an individual in need, is equally as important as learning to LISTEN and I mean REALLY listen to the client.
The session ISN’T ABOUT YOU. It’s about the CLIENT, i.e. that biological faceless, bipedal life form who sits before you seeking your counsel.
What Were The Mistakes You Made Whilst In The Previous Sessions? Take a moment to really think and absorb what you’ve just read. What were the mistakes…that YOU made as these clients therapist, whilst in session? Maybe YOU as the reader can pick out a myriad of mistakes well beyond what I’ve listed here…But to name a few:
1) You failed to see each client as a unique and whole human being, each having their own individual thoughts, ideas, needs, problems and stress response.
2) You failed to make yourself fully available for each client, thus NOT giving each ‘individual’ the attention they VERY much deserved and needed by coming to see you.
3) You adhered to a ‘by the book’ fixation and became rigidly obsessed, utterly fixated and nearly desperate to find resolution; thus further distancing yourself from the very clients who have come to seek YOUR help making yourself COMPLETELY unavailable to actually HELP them.
Repairing the Counsellor
Now, how can we fix this dilemma? The damage has already been done. You can either adhere like super glue to your blessed knowledge and plethora of ‘books.’ OR You can take a look, and delve further into appreciating the therapeutic relationship with a client on a more open-minded and relaxed approach, and learn to make yourself more available TO the clients so that you can actually (and possibly!) HELP them. These ‘clients’ – or human beings, have come to see YOU as their therapist. They’re having difficulties in managing the stresses in their lives. They wouldn’t be IN YOUR OFFICE for help of SOME kind if they didn’t need it (Well, then again we have those who walk in the door who are hypochondriacs, or those who live for ‘being counselled’ because it’s the ‘in’ thing – but those are another topic all together!)
We begin by taking a step back and reeling in ALL our thoughts, ALL of that lovely knowledge, ALL of those lovely pre-conceptions and smashing them to bits. Yes what we’ve learned is very important, it helps contribute to our overall awareness as a person (ourselves!) and as a therapist.
We need to obliterate those ‘ideas’ for a moment because they can lead us into troubled waters when facing a client who has an individual need for help. We’re not smashing the knowledge per se, but the IDEAS. We can potentially become MORE in need of our clients (for counselling) than our clients if this rigidity persists! Needing to retain our knowledge, insights and expertise – we also need to remain semi-flexible as a therapist. Our mind-set ultimately is the very ‘thing’ that needs to be challenged here. In needing to take a closer look at the client, we need to cultivate a small list that will help us be a better therapist for (and with) our clients:
1) Be prepared:
a. Do we have a notepad handy to jot down some notes if need be. It’s recommended on many levels to do this so we can differentiate our clients, so that we can keep track of their issues, things that have been said and done, key events in their lives and what’s been done about it or recommended in session(s). Prior to the client’s return for the next session, we can return to our notes and refresh our memories as to this particular client. In turn, the client knows – YOU CARE. You’ll have the ability to reiterate and converse on a more personal level TO THEM – AND the client will KNOW that you’ve listened, that they’ve ULTIMATELY….been heard.
b. Is the room in which you’re treating your client, clean, ready to greet your next client? Does your client have initial phobias – does that picture of the clown on your table cause one of your clients to flip out every time they walk through your door? Does that African mask you bought as your trophy purchase in Kenya last year, lend anger and upset to the client because they were assaulted there ten years ago? Do you have fresh plants or fake? Is the room barren and cold, or is it warm and friendly? Are you flooding the room with the fumes of a cigarette or cigar, or is there a bit of ventilation and fresh air? Was there a client previous, who may have had severe or foul body odours?
c. Are you dressed in your track suit and smell of sweat? Are you dressed for a grand ball and doused in heavy perfume or cologne? Or are you dressed suitably, comfortably and more in a ‘neutral’ presence? (i.e. ‘smart casual’ or ‘smart’ – maybe a nice CLEAN dress shirt or tunic, with clean pressed trousers or a skirt; with decent [not tatty!] socks or tights and tidy shoes; a little bit of perfume or cologne is alright! But not the ENTIRE bottle…We’re not out to make our clients violently ill!)
d. Do you have materials you can give to your client? (Business cards, maybe a pamphlet of contacts for resources, maybe a cheap notepad to provide FOR the client so they can jot down the ideas you two will strum up to help them beat their stress). In striving toward creating a comforting (and comfortable) environment, it can often put the client at ease if you have everything there that they might need. If they don’t need these accoutrements, then you’re all the more prepared for the next client who does!
2) Good listening skills and being available:
Whilst your client is talking about their problems, which are REALLY stressing them out, seeking your guidance on how to manage their stresses better, are you (a) redecorating your living room, (b) arguing with yourself about how you could have handled your previous client or (c) doing your best to be fully present and interactive with the person who sits before you? (I hope by God that you chose C, if not, I think there needs to be a reassessment here).
What is it? By Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, we reference the definition to be (2) The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts and experiences of another. Can you sit with your client and not have a one-upmanship contest? Can you sit there and give them not only your full attention, but the goodness of your heart, which can enable you to embrace this person in-mind, as a vital and whole human being who has their own problems, AND they’ve come to YOU to seek guidance and help? Can you relinquish the COMPULSION to try and contribute your OWN experiences and NOT sit there WITH the client and have a one upmanship contest??? “Oh you think THAT’s stressful, you should have been with me when I went to Disneyland on Labour Day!” (I shake my head with a low mouthing of …nooooo).
4) Focusing on the client:
We’ve talked about being there for the client, giving them your attention and empathy, we’ve talked about good listening and being prepared. But are we really focusing on the client? We need to remember WHY our clients have initially come to see us, and help them additionally by seeing them as whole human beings who needs our help and guidance.
There are so many other ideas to consider, when being more aware and present for our clients in the therapeutic relationship. I strongly recommend Su Fox’s book on ‘Relating to Clients.’ She not only addresses the most common and simplest, but takes you by the mind and hand into a myriad of other ideas I feel a therapist should VERY much consider and practice. We don’t have to agree with everything she (or any other author) says! But I feel it’s very good to sit down and have a read
To gain new insights, perspectives,
Refresh our goals
Remember WHY we’re doing this in the first place.
If we have any other intentions than to help our clients, I strongly urge you to reconsider your pursuits. (Though I admit, I hope to learn from my clients – they have a lot to give, a lot to say and I know as a human being or biological life form too, that I can learn a great deal from them! Maybe in certain circumstances I might even disclose that to a client for confidence purposes, but I firmly believe we all have such incredible opportunities in life to be teachers AND students).
Now, on a more specific level, WHY has this client come to see you? You’re there as not only a ‘counsellor’ per se, but more specifically a stress management counsellor.
In coursework, you will have learned about the panorama of stress and what it can do to a person, not only psychologically but physically, physiologically and spiritually.
Now that we’ve come to an understanding that each of our clients are individuals, we need to further address the individual stress response.
Brilliant mind, Brilliant scientist…
At this point, I really need to introduce you to my most favourite author thus so far in my ever-evolving studies on the subject of stress, Dr. Robert M. Sapolsky, a professor of neurology and biology at Stanford University and primary research associate with the Institute of Primate Research, National Museum of Kenya. This is a person who’s scientific and physiological explorations, research and studies on ‘stress’ alone, have land-marked him on the map as one of the KEY experts on STRESS. In his book ‘Why Zebras information on WHY and HOW we can get stressed. I think it’s vital as a therapist intending to treat and help others with stress management, to attempt to look at as many angles of stress as we possibly can. Dr. Sapolsky also very craftily (he’s a very crafty, witty and intelligent scientist!) he helps us to co-mingle our preconceptions toward stress and what to do about it through a very in-depth education of physiology. I highly recommend reading Dr. Sapolsky’s book if not for the sake of learning about ‘stress’ but more excitingly GLUCOCORTICOIDS in of themselves!! (Exciting?? Well bear in mind I am completely fascinated by the study of stress and its effects – glucocorticoids, by the way, are a hormone secreted into the blood stream when the body faces any amount of stress – once this hormone has been secreted into our system the body automatically responds – in this very particular case it would be some kind of stress response TO this hormonal invasion, as to WHAT happens exactly, is individualistic – as the person experiencing the stress and what their individual stress response will be varies, no two stress responses will be the same; see now isn’t that exciting????)
As a stress management therapist, we need to further examine that bipedal biological life force in front of us and know that it’s not just a ‘bad day’ but what’s going on underneath?
If we lift the skin up and see, there are a trillion some-odd functions occurring right before us! Perhaps if we could dabble a few colourful sparks going off – emanating from that being, we could see that they’re carrying electromagnetic charges that help differentiate themselves as an individual from the next biological life form, emanating electromagnetic charges (each one showing off their own unique colours or sparks as they walk through your door). If you’ll pardon the pun, this suddenly gives CHARGE (life! Vitality! Individuality!) to your clients.
It gives them ENERGY and a FORM. And oh! Oh! Oh! IT’S AMBULATORY in some way or another, whether this thing WALKED or ROLLED through your door in a wheel-chair, they are a vibrantly charged being who’s casting electromagnetic sparks in every direction.
Now! Going back to Dr. Sapolsky’s book ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,’ he says on page 13, “the stress-response can become more damaging than the stressor itself.”
STOP RIGHT THERE! The stress-response…can become more damaging than the stressor…itself. How many people have DIED because they couldn’t control their hyperventilation onset by a panic attack inflicted by the stresses in their lives? How many people have suffered heart attacks or encounter high blood pressure DUE to the very stress that plagues them? You can’t tell me that ‘stress’ is more damaging than our OWN reaction TO the stress!!
Now take a look at your client! How do THEY react to the stressors in their lives? How does the NEXT client and the next … respond to stress?
Stress invades and permeates our lives at every turn, no matter which way we try to look at it, STRESS LIVES, BREATHES AND EATS at our feet every-single-day. There’s NO escape!
You’re sitting there shaking your head, you disagree? There IS an escape? Let me ask you this! How are you sitting whilst reading this RIGHT now? Is your posture strained? Do you have a headache? Are you thinking in the background about the millions of other tasks awaiting your attention? Are you thinking about the kids, work, spouses, or your shopping list? Is your foot falling asleep? Are you with child or do you have a cold at present? Are you hungry or tired? Are you daydreaming about your lover or going out with friends?
If you sit improperly, i.e. poor posture – you’re straining/stressing your skeletal and muscular systems. If you stand for hours on end, you’re straining the same systems, additionally your cardiovascular and neurological systems (requiring breathing, physical exertion which can reflect back to your heart, blood pressure, body temperature, etc.; and neurological aspects! Don’t get me started! The neuro-synapses which are bubbling with activity whilst standing for long periods of time, let’s just say aneurisms don’t ‘just happen.’)
If you’ve had a GREAT day, you’ve accomplished a GREAT deal, feel blooming’ fantastic! And are relaxed, fully absorbed (with this LOVELY article) and are seated fully supported – you’re STILL STRESSED! (Ha! You’re tired aren’t you? Eventually your body will wear down from that ‘gorgeous day’ and will require sleep! Eventually you will also need to eat and go to the bathroom, so – there you go, you are stressed and had NO idea!)
[This is where I roll my eyes, it’s merely a means to point out, ALL TOO often, even the most common of tasks, daily events, interactions and so on, can cause our body’s a physiological stress response No, no no, you aren’t stressed simply because you had a good day, but there’s a great deal to think about in ALL that we do – there is a POTENTIAL to stress our body’s
physiologically, not JUST the psychological aspect.]
ALL Biological Life Forms Experience Stress
The aforementioned and an ocean full of other ‘issues’ present stress in our lives – from the inside out AND outside in, we – experience – stress.
Taking a brief look, an excerpt from an article presented via the University of Maryland Medical Centre (http://www.umm.edu/patiented/articles/what health consequences of stress 000031 3.htm) on the ‘Effects of Stress’ – can include but are not limited to:
- Psychological disorders
- Heart Disease
- Weakened Immune System
- Gastrointestinal Problems
- Eating Disorders
- Sexual and Reproductive Dysfunction
- Sleep Disturbances
- Substance Abuse
- Various Allergies, skin disorders, dental problems
I personally know that stress can also be the very culprit (or perhaps ‘excuse’) behind weight gain! My own personal stress response can be found located directly beneath the rib-cage along the lines of my diaphragm – when stress is present in my body, a very strong sensation as though an extremely tight tube is being tied around my lungs and ‘gut’ thus causing what can be labelled as a panic or anxiety attack causing near-to hyperventilation. This ‘pain’ or individual stress response is that of my own cultivation. It’s the way my psyche and biological form has decided ITS going to RESPOND to stress.
[The following people have submitted their information to me, their identities and other personal information shall remain anonymous, I fully intend to carry out my ‘blind study’ further once this article is complete.
One needs to remember I’m perpetually fascinated by the human stress response and feel that I as a therapist could counsel an individual for stress management and come across new methods, ideas and perspectives. I feel these people mentioned below are different, wonderful individuals who’ve very graciously permitted me to use their statements.]
I know of a woman in her early 60’s who’s individual physiological stress response is that she suffers severe hair loss and cooks these fabulous dishes to help cultivate a sense of control in her life amongst chaos, stress and disorder.
Another individual, male 43, who doesn’t necessarily get ‘stressed’ but can and does experience periodic dis-stress due to his job as a very busy delivery consultant. He might play a game on his computer, go for a bike ride or smoke a joint even to help quell any potential frayed nerves as the result of his demanding job (Though I’m not promoting substance abuse here, just citing an example).
Another, female, age 35, who works under the very heavy demands of a design office; her individual stress response can be found in her ears! Her head and primarily her ears become over-heated and her ears physically turn red -in turn becoming mentally over-whelmed and later on – perhaps best put ‘spiritually exhausted’ from her day.
Another, male, age 39, currently unemployed and extremely worried about finances and the future, his individual stress response might include but not necessarily be limited to physical pacing, experience spurts of misdirected hyperactivity and extreme worrying and doubt. He might also experience intolerances to food (stomach upset and indigestion) and/or headaches and even migraines. A manifestation of our ‘minds’ (upsets, stresses and worries) within our physical body!
In Dr. Sapolsky’s book ‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers‘ he introduces us to a massive amount of information in regard to the physiological groundings behind stress and the stress response. I’ll reiterate the above-mentioned quote “the stress-response can become more damaging than the stressor itself.”
In mentioning the individuals I did regarding their individual stress response, ironically enough, my very own stress response is perhaps the most potentially detrimental of all in that list! In dealing with BREATHING, my own stress response was causing FAR more damage to ME than the stressors themselves! Somehow, this stress response manifested as it did and very seriously needed to find a way to deflate the impending ‘doom’ (stressors) as I learned to spot the (physical) warning signals..
Under an enormous amount of pressure and stress (or what I like to call STRESSURE) the 35 year old woman in the very busy design office, learned to see that she DID have a physical stress response primarily in her ears and head. That she became over-heated when overwhelmed and ‘stressed out’ due to the vigorous demands and deadlines of her job. To deal with this she has learned to step back and reassess her time management and not get distracted by ‘extra calls’ on the phone, and to also look at her growing ‘stack’ of paper work as ‘doom’ but to take a breath, close her eyes for a second and then greet the stack ONE TASK at a time. This doesn’t ALWAYS work, but she admits she’s always learning, and is feeling much better about things.
With the 39 year old unemployed male, he’s learning to pause and reassess himself on a gradual basis. Finding that even though things may seem uncertain or bleak, he can attempt to focus upon all that which is good in his life and help to create a sense of calm. He can drink more fluids to hydrate his system (water, unsweetened juices) and/or take walks, ride his bike – to help alleviate the physical aspects and ‘attacks’ of his stressors. He has also initiated a ‘subtle support program’ (without really verbalising the need for reiteration of support from others in his life) by having family and/or friends reiterate that he can DO it, he can FIND a great job, don’t let ANYTHING stop you, and so on – that things WILL work out, because he’s MAKING them happen – gradually and very successfully. This is creating a ‘sublingual’ affirmation of support (I say sublingual, as we’re sort of all like a pill dispenser, popping a ‘pill’ of support to someone in need).
So are we then, as stress therapists, a sublingual placebo? Are we artificially providing counsel for our clients? Can we honestly say we’re there to try and help our clients find a way through their stresses?
If you were to walk into a therapy session FOR YOU, would you NOT hope to be given the fullest of attention and care? Would you not hope to be given a CHANCE to be heard? Would you deny the fact that you’d like to be treated with care and respect? What would happen if you were to walk in the door of your therapist’s office and they were filing their nails whilst on the phone making a ‘play date’ with their mates to go to the local pub? What if you had to fight through piles of magazines and paper work just to find a seat in your therapist’s office? What if your therapist stank of beer and cigarettes? (What sort of message do you want to send to your clients???)
Are you belittling your clients complaints against someone else’s or that of your own? Are you able to recognise that stress goes much further than having a ‘bad hair day and here take a pill, good day!’
Are you able to sit down and give yourself over to your clients? (Within reason of course, there are additional readings available on creating boundaries and ethics with clients which I will mention in closing).
Stress has been shoved aside, kicked around, tossed into the air and belittled, ignored and lost.
Counselling is for the weak! Stress? Deal with it yourself! ….my eye is twitching at the mere thought of such an individual.
So many people have the tendency to grimace in doubt, uncertainty and awkwardness when they hear ‘I’m a stress management consultant.’ They regard the profession as ungrounded and unnecessary. To these people the stress management consultant bears no importance not only in the work force as a ‘real job’ but in life in of itself. These people more or less tend to believe there’s no NEED for a person whose specialty and focus is in helping others to deal with stress, that EVERYONE should be able to handle their OWN stresses! If a person seeks the advice or guidance of a stress management consultant, this makes them WORTHLESS AND WEAK!! (yet if the tables were turned, I wonder in truth – how THOSE people are handling their own stress? How many of those ‘go-getters’ against their own stresses – have drinking .
Let me add another quote by Dr. Sapolsky!! You KNOW you want to hear it! (‘Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers’ page 384) “By now, if you are not depressed by all the bad news in the preceding chapters, you probably have only been skimming. Stress can wreak havoc with your metabolism, raise your blood pressure, burst white blood cells, make you flatulent, ruin your sex life and if that’s not enough possibly damage your brain.”
And yet, there are still those who will argue the need for a stress management consultant. I raise an eyebrow.
Everything we do can potentially lead us to stress or a stressful situation. Stress can be the VERY ROOT of everything that spirals within and around us.
Let’s refer back to the individual stress response. We see a stressful situation, it triggers (let’s say) hyperventilation, we react to the stressor and begin hyperventilating. We can’t seem to get our breath and the possibility of passing out becomes eminent. During this phase of our individual stress response, physically we’re experiencing loss of oxygen, a rapid heart rate and possible increase in body temperature (and biologically so much more!) Thus causing FURTHER stress than the INITIAL (external/psychological) stressor ITSELF.
SPIRALLING forward, the breathing gets out of control, the tightness in the gut intensifies, you grasp your throat, your chest, your gut, you start to become dizzy and light headed. The stressor itself becomes more and more outstanding and rigid in-mind and at heart and the effects of this stressor starts to unravel your very physical stability.
STOPPING RIGHT THERE – the very ‘thought’ of that experience is enough to get our adrenaline going! It’s enough to make us WANT and perhaps NEED to take a moment, maybe shrug our shoulders to our ears, clench our eyes and release, breathe deeply, slowly through the nose in order to shed that ‘stressful thought.’ (you see, even a mere thought, can be for cause of an
individual stress response – whilst some may not have experienced any distress, others might have been sitting on the very edge of their seats tense with agitation!)
This is the point where upon I would like to introduce a variety of possibilities in resolving such tension. Because there are unlimited ‘types’ of living biological bipeds out there with unlimited psychosomatically, physiologically and potentially spiritually charged problems and stressors – we need to do our best to not only be there to try and help them as their therapist, but also to do our best to try and provide SOLUTIONS. We may never find the ‘cure-all’ or the ‘perfect solution’ – but therapy, in of itself (sans the stress management focus) is not only an on-going and gradual process, but therapy for a client is also to hopefully help the individual seeking help to think out loud, to be heard, to be in a non-judgemental and non-critical, safe environment in which they can turn to in the attempts to become more self aware and resolve their life’s challenges as best they can. In terms of stress management, we have to carry on that same line of thinking but toss in a few sprinkles of notions on how they could possibly manage the stressors in their lives and perhaps RECOGNISE the warning signs of their own stress response and what they might be able to do to manage.
Whilst some might sneer and rear away from a stress management counsellor, others might be very deeply yearning for intrinsic and ‘holistic’ balance and resolution (not to mention care and comfort amidst all that ails them).
Now, let’s step into another dimension that of a case study
(Listed the appropriate contact information, emergency contacts, medical doctor information, any known allergies, medications currently taking – i.e. none – I also have a small inexpensive but very reliable blood pressure, pulse and respiration monitor; hers was a bit on the high side, but by session’s end, things were very normal)
A good article on high blood pressure with examples of adequate versus high BP can be found on Netdoctor.co.uk- http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/diseases/facts/hypertension.htm
There are innumerable charts available, it might be a good thing to learn about blood pressure, pulse-rates, respiration and general first aide.
Reason for JK’s visit: Learning to cope with kids returning to school, dealing with the chaos’ that goes with that (before, during and after) and facing each day as it comes without cringing in disgust or agitation. Additionally would like to find time for herself and find a balance with all things going on.
JK seems to be very well organised and prefers ‘order’ – whereas her initial reason for visiting was directly related to her kids returning from school and how to cope with the stresses therein. I felt it was very important to develop a connective dialogue to demonstrate genuine interest and care, that everything she was experiencing in thought and feeling (whether on her own prior to the kids coming in from school, or actually having to deal with the ‘chaos’ upon their return) – that everything she was thinking and feeling was valid and important. That it was equally important to further explore these thoughts and feelings as openly as possible and provide her with reassurance that it was ‘OK’ to talk about these things with me.
We’ve uncovered a great deal in regard to the kids and her reaction. In that she leans heavily toward being more organised and in control, when her kids walk through the door (or she knows they’re coming) she tends to have excessive sweats, sweltering feelings in the head (heated, headachy, almost as if she will faint). She’s been dealing with this by excessive eating and then faces a huge amount of guilt and pursues some kind of extreme form of physical exercise.
To devise a POA – plan of attack toward JK’s own stress response
1) To acknowledge her ‘fear’ of her own children’s return from school and recognise that they signify ‘chaos’ in her world of ‘order’
2) That each of these thoughts and feelings are valid, to remind herself that she is valid (and so are her thoughts and feelings)
3) To attempt to and strive toward trying to see that children are ‘children’ (they are NOT adults! They’re children…) and we (as adults, their parents, guardians, etc.) are there to help them to learn, grow and guide; and in such there WON’T be ‘order’ because we’re human beings (as in we all make mistakes, learn from those mistakes hopefully and grow/move forward with what we’ve learned).
4) To further attempt to greet her children with unconditional positive regard (thank you Carl Rogers for such an incredible gift in thought and practice!). To strive toward finding at least THREE positive thoughts about her children DAILY and then share those positive thoughts WITH her children.
5) To additionally practice deep breathing techniques in combination with progressive muscle relaxation (Focusing on a particular group or area of muscles, tensing, holding and then releasing; maintaining focused, calm breathing; then moving onto the next muscle group).
6) When her kids return from school to go ahead and ‘create’ some sort of order by informing them of what they should be doing – and then ‘give up’ control by saying ‘I’m going for a walk.’ Thus disabling the children from bombarding ‘mom’ with ‘I need this! I want THAT, Can I have Thissssssssss’ ‘Mom can you take me here…there’ ‘mom!! What’s for dinner?!?!’ ‘Mom!!! Why
isn’t my uniform washed?!?!’ – by announcing WHAT she’s going to be doing, and then taking leave (Taking ACTION) immediately, she’s communicated to her children and taking action or ascertaining her need for control.
7) Whilst going for this walk to begin with a sauntering pace, to get going, then to gradually build up to a more steady, faster pace to initially ‘appeal’ to her compulsion to ‘over exert’ herself in times of ‘guilt’ – but to also appeal to her need to physically ‘vent’
8) That additionally whilst on this walk to focus on positives in her life, that if negatives should arise, to greet them by saying hello and telling herself that it’s okay. That with ‘each step’ she takes out on her walk, so will she handle all that faces her ‘one step at a time.’ (one problem at a time)
9) To work toward realistic goals instead of unrealistic; as well as work very closely – as I’ve suggested, that she begin working in her own writing journal. To (1) write in the journal daily – about anything and everything she so chooses or is inspired to write about at the time (to vent, to cry, day-dream, anything at all!) but (2) to work on a daily exercise toward those ‘positive regards’ toward her children and hopefully, additionally – toward her own life. I’ve further suggested that she occasionally try (maybe once a week) to do a breakdown of how she thinks or sees that her week has been going and what she thinks she might be able to do about it – this here, is where I’ve told her if she wants to share, or bring in her journal to talk about anything – this would be fine and fully encouraged – whether it’s ‘good’ (as in a milestone or accomplishment) or ‘bad’ (maybe she didn’t know how to deal with something, or didn’t know how to react, or failed to take a power walk after her kids came in from school one day and didn’t know how to deal with the guilt) By sharing this journal or these events, it might help her to feel not so alone or overwhelmed, as though there is someone out there who cares about what she is going through and can possibly help her to attain balance in her life.
10) To consider a weekly basic aromatherapy based massage with recommended synergies (whole blends of essential oils without any carrier oil) – to apply to her baths at night, or in her aroma-ring to put on her light in her living room; and come to me once a week to have a head, neck and shoulder aromatherapy-based massage (Again, this was to ‘consider’ though she seemed
very open and very enthusiastic about it).
11) To also reassess and possibly discuss with her doctor a review of her dietary intake and overall needs. She’s readily concerned with her weight and near-obsessive compulsion to over-exert herself when upset or stressed; I suggested here she may find benefits from adding into her daily ‘wake-up routine’ a glass of water with lemon juice, taking a well-rounded
multivitamin plus minerals; B-Complex, Cod liver oil and Vitamin C. I also suggested she try to keep a running log of when she’s eating (and log what she eats), and if possible to jot down how she felt or what she was thinking at the time (if anything). To try and integrate more ‘power foods’ (nutritionally deprived individuals will often exhibit fatigue, lethargy and depression and/or negative traits and behaviours, thus further contributing to their overall ‘stress response’ in a rather cyclical evolution).
JK is very interested in continuing her sessions through weekly visits and has started to pay me for my time with her. She understands that I’m not a ‘psychologist’ and that she’s been a volunteer to work on not only my counselling skills but also work on a variety of stress management treatments.
JK feels that the work we’ve been doing has already begun to show very positive results and feels she is really starting to deal with and cope with these ‘after school’ stressors in her life (as well as learning to apply stress management techniques in the abovementioned to other areas – she forgot to send a cheque in the post to someone, ‘freaked out’ about it but practiced breathing for a few minutes, wrote the cheque out and ‘passively’ walked (with a mental focus of ‘it’s going to be ok! I’m taking care of it RIGHT now! YAY ME!) on her way to the post box! (Then upon her return she very ‘easily’ phoned the individuals to whom she’d owed the money to – to simply ‘let them know’ – they were VERY appreciative, JK Didn’t ‘freak out’ and she managed to carry on with the rest of her day – further telling her daughters, how much she liked their outfits (1), how much she wanted to learn how to dance like them (2) and how much she’d love to have them cook ‘their’ favourite meal for her later…
JK realises that counselling can potentially be an on-going and gradual process, and ultimately it’s to help her – to help herself in becoming more aware.
In the future she hopes to try additional methods toward grasping hold of her stress and how she can manage things better day-to-day.
In conclusion if we were to try and take a look at ALL possibilities of stress and ALL potential ‘stress responses’ 1) We’d not only be here for a life time and a half, but 2) We’d probably have a self-induced coronary as a stress response in having to READ about OTHERS stress and their responses. And 3) it’d be impossible.
All we can do is our best. After all we’re just like our clients…those bipedal biological life forms, we’re human beings.
Some closing reminders
Be there for your client, don’t show up in tatty jeans and shoes, with your biological life form STINKING of beer and cigarettes. LISTEN to your clients and what they’re sharing with you (DON’T make shopping lists, DON’T compare yourself to the clients experiences in a ‘one-upmanship’ sense, DON’T sit there and think ALL your books will provide you with the answers on how to treat your clients!) BE AVAILABLE to your clients as best you can be – without overstepping the professional boundaries and ethical lines of course!
IF you’re going to adhere to book learning, at this point I would VERY Strongly urge you to read Su Foxes book ‘Relating to Clients’ – a very good read, highly informative and will add to all that you’re attempting to do as a stress management therapist! Wonderful isn’t it? Don’t let your preconceptions (plucked from ALL your textbooks) ruin your mind in regard toward your clients.
And please oh please, remember that nobody’s perfect, but we are perfectly – ourselves. Let’s be there to help others…to help themselves. ‘Life isn’t complicated, we make it that way’ Let’s help our clients to uncomplicated their lives!
I have experimented with whole foods, super foods and raw food in fact a range of new foods in the quest to improve my skin surface – it has improved overall but not to the extent that I had hoped. I attended several food festivals looking for some inspiration to help me write about my experiences, I found some very nice foods and some very nice people who share an interest in food and alternative ways to make people aware of what is available. I approached a table, which operated Kinesiology taster sessions. Not food but an opportunity to try something new. I sampled the session and discussed the reason for my curiosity in the subject. I found that it is not always a cure that you find when you are trying so hard but it is the way you choose to look at the problem in a new way with greater understanding and when you accept it for what it is knowing you have tried your best. I have spoken to many ladies about their weight management, skin conditions and various imperfections that they feel free to discuss but they all appear to enjoy life attempting to improve their health and perfect their body’s shape and size in the fitness community. This to me is very encouraging to be part of.
Books in Counselling
On Becoming A Counsellor: A basic guide for nonprofessional counsellors and other helpers
by Eugene Kennedy and Sara C. Charles, M.D.
First Steps in Counselling: A student’s companion for basic introductory courses (third edition)
by Pete Sanders
An Integrative Approach to Counselling: Bridging Chinese thought, evolutionary theory and stress management
by Robert G. Santee
Between Therapist and Client: The new relationship (revised edition)
by Michael Kahn
Games People Play: The psychology of human relationships by Eric Berne, M.D.
The Person-Centred Counselling Primer
by Pete Sanders
The Experiential Counselling Primer
by Nick Baker
The Focus-Oriented Counselling Primer
by Campbell Purton
The Integrative Counselling Primer
by Richard Worsley
Books for Child Psychology (And Stress)
by Kathy Sylva and Ingrid Lunt
Helping Troubled Children
by Michael Rutter
by Margaret Donaldson
Help! My Teenager’s An Alien!
by Sarah Newton
Stress, Risk and Resilliense in Children and Adolescents: Process, Mechanisms and Interventions
by Robert J. Haggarty (Editor), Lonnie R. Sherrod (Editor), Norman Garmezy
(Editor) and Michael Rutter (Editor)
Stress, Coping and Development in Children
by Norman Garmezy and Michael Rutter
Books for Stress Management
Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases and coping (Third Edition)
by Robert M. Sapolsky
The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook (Fourth Edition)
by Edmund J. Bourne, PH.D.
The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook (Fifth Edition)
by Martha Davis, Ph.D., Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, MSW, Mathew McKay, Ph.D.
Counselling for Stress Problems
by Stephen Palmer and Windy Dryden
Natural Relief for Anxiety: Complementary strategies for easing fear, panic and worry
by Edmund J. Bourne, PH.D., Arlen Brownstein, N.D. and Lorna Garano
Miscellaneous (but very exciting) Books
Self Defeating Behaviours
by Milton R. Cudney, Ph.D. and Robert E. Hardy, Ed.D.
Where to Start and What to Ask
by Susan Lukas
Frontiers of Health
by Dr. Christine Page, MBBS, MRCGP, DCH, DRCOG, MFHom
Relating to Clients: The therapeutic relationship for complementary therapists
by Su Fox
Eye of the Lotus: Psychology of the Chakras
by Richard Jelusich, Ph.D.
Marketing for Complementary Therapists
by Steven A. Harold
Setting Up & Running a Complementary Health Practice
by Patricia Bishop
As only ONE potential possibility toward ‘treating’ or helping an individual dealing with stress if anyone’s going to delve into this ‘realm’ might as well have some recommended reading (we won’t mention the fact that I’ve become an Aromatherapist. In my pursuits, I have acquired a rather large library on so many wonderful topics to help expand my mind and awareness – in regard to aromatherapy, it’s always best to seek those who are trained practitioners and not those who are just declaring ‘I’m an Aromatherapist!’ Just because they’ve read a few ‘aromatherapy books’ – these are my favourite and will recommend these the most. They’re enjoyable, informative and not to mention RELAXING – very nice reads!)
Aromatherapy An A-Z The most comprehensive guide to aromatherapy ever published
by Patricia Davis
The Complete Book of Essential Oils & Aromatherapy
by Valerie Ann Worwood
And last but certainly not least:
Aromatherapy: Stress Management, a guide for home use
By Christine Westwood
Wherever we go, whatever we do, we will be faced with a certain amount of stress.
Whatever we do, however we do it, we actually do exist and all these things directly impact ourselves and others.
We’re human beings, facing life, taking on challenges just like our clients. As a therapist, it’s our duty to be the ‘care provider’ and create the best possible environment for those clients as we are able. The more aware and open we remain and grow, the more we can offer to our clients. The book by Su Fox, ‘Relating to Clients’ is an outstanding read in helping therapists regarding the therapeutic relationship. The workbooks (Anxiety & Phobias, fears; relaxation and stress) are excellent resources for adding to our own libraries from which we can draw upon when creating a personalised stress management plan for our clients. The children’s books are included in my list, as children get stressed too! I’ve included counselling books to further expand our capabilities and level of awareness as a therapist
After all is said and done, I thank you for taking the time to read this article, and welcome further discussion, comments, questions or concerns. It is my hope to not only help my clients, but also my fellow colleagues, for we – too are those lovely, unique biological bipeds….