No, I Can't Just Give You Coping Mechanisms, Here is Why. . .


It's not that I can't help you cope. I mean, of course I can, that is the whole point of therapy. What I'm trying to get at here is I can't do it in the way you may think that I can and there are really good reasons for that. I want to explain what they are.

First of all, a nod to what you are expecting, what the click-bait, quick fix, internet idea of helping is. This is the idea of helping that thinks it can reduce therapy to an app and real change to interaction with AI. That sounds harsh. Maybe it is a little. Sigh, okay. I will be more specific about what I mean and give it some weight, because it does deserve a little. There are things about, for instance, Anxiety, that are physiological, mechanical and logistical. As I talk about briefly on my site, Anxiety is the body's response to threat. Sometimes (often? all the time?) our lives are such that our threat response is always on or otherwise overwhelmed. Therefore, it's a good idea to do the things that turn down the threat response. The following things help with that:

  • Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation or visualization
  • Exercise
  • Eating well
  • Sleeping well
  • Positive thinking
  • Medication (if you want extra help)

In fact, if you could just do all the things in that list, I guarantee* you that you would feel better in a week. For some people, that is doable. However, I haven't met many people who just go, "Oh, okay. I'll think more positively about myself and my capacities." or "Oh, okay. I haven't been able to sleep for a month but I'll just start doing that." Why not? Because it's more complicated than that isn't it. You already know all these things. The internet has already told you all these things. If they were just doable, then you would do them and you wouldn't need a therapist. 

I always give my clients this advice when they see me about anxiety and I can usually convey it in the first session. Usually, either in that first session or the next one, they tell me that they just can't do one or all of these things and they want to know how they can get themselves to do the things they need to do. They want "coping strategies" for how bad they feel. I then inform them that my "tool-box" is empty of coping strategies (having emptied them into their hands in the first session) and now we can get to work.

So what are the next steps? First of all, we need to be able to trust each other and I'm working on building that with you every second of our interaction. We need to trust each other because there are really good reasons that you don't do well with exercise routines or being nice to yourself in your own head. In order to discover more of what that is about, I need to know your story and what meaning you make of it, even the meanings you don't know you are making. That requires a level of vulnerability that you may not be used to and in that vulnerability, are the seeds of rebuilding. Your body is overwhelmed with stress that is manifest in anxiety and your coping isn't operating like it should, like you DESERVE. What happened? Is it the recent death of a friend? Is it the baby that has upended your life and relationship? Is it the toxic relationship with your parents? Is it what that person did to you when you were 10 or 3? All of these things contribute to what is happening now. It's a rare person that can just walk away from the past like it never happened. 

It's rare person who doesn't have a past. 

Here's the other thing and it's actually the fuel of my intense judgmentalness when I see therapy offered on the internet through SMS or chat from a person you've never seen, or in three sessions or less. If, as I am proposing, you eventually have to get into the muck of your past to understand how it impacts your present, to start to reignite all that emotional development that was stymied while you were busy coping with yuck at younger ages, I think it's safe to say you want a human that knows what to do with it all when you tell it. You want someone who can hold how painful it all is, that can help you make meaning of it, that doesn't wonder why you aren't better yet, after all I sent you home with that sheet last week and the advice was on there. You want someone who is patient and compassionate and attuned. Maybe that person is sometimes wise but their wisdom is rooted in the idea that they know how to hold your story with you, seeing the best you, reflecting it back.

Therapy is foundationally more than a skill exchange. It is a relationship. If you are interested in finding out more, send me an email or give me a call.


PS- Because maybe you want to know, my coping skill list for Depression is similar:

  • Create a list of daily routine, only as much as you can handle, if it's just brushing your teeth twice great, if it's going out for coffee with a friend or your dog, great etc.
  • Exercise (you don't have to sweat, just walk)
  • Eat, eat something, have a Boost/Ensure if you can't tolerate anything else
  • Avoid alcohol or other depressant drugs
  • Sleep at night, not the daytime
  • Say nice things to yourself
  • Reach out to people you trust
  • Medication (if it's your thing)

*I can’t actually guarantee anything for real. It’s contrary to professional practice standards. But you get my meaning.