Languishing: How to Help Clients Through the Murky Middle

GoodTherapy | Languishing: How to Help Clients Through the Murky Middle

Ever feel like you’re just going through the motions, that each day blends into the next, and that it’s hard to find the energy needed to do pretty much anything? 

If so, you might be dealing with a condition called languishing — which falls smack dab in the middle of depression and flourishing on the mental health spectrum.  

After a year of lockdowns, social distancing, and never-ending Zoom calls, it comes as no surprise that all sorts of people don’t feel like the best versions of themselves in 2021. They’re not thriving by any means, but they’re also not feeling so miserable that they can’t get out of bed. 

This sizable group of people is likely languishing. Keep reading to learn more about what the condition is, why it happens, and how you can treat clients who are languishing effectively so they begin to flourish. 

Languishing: What It Is  and Why It Happens 

According to a recent New York Times piece, languishing is a “sense of stagnation and emptiness” that makes you feel like you’re “looking at your life through a foggy windshield.”  

When you’re languishing, you’re not able to operate at your full potential — to the point you’re three times as likely to cut down your hours at work. 

The term languishing was coined by sociologist Corey Keyes, who observed many people who weren’t depressed but also weren’t flourishing and realized there had to be a middle ground. Per Keyes’s research, those who are languishing don’t realize they are languishing — which is a big deal, since these are the individuals who are most likely to develop depression or anxiety disorders within a decade. 

No two people are exactly the same, but most experience languishing as a response to feelings of uncertainty or confusion about the future.  

The condition became increasingly common during the pandemic, as folks had to drastically change their lives for an extended period of time with no endpoint in sight. Young people were particularly affected by languishing in response to the pandemic, as schools closed down and social lives were decimated overnight, leading to feelings of isolation and anxiety about the future. 

When someone isn’t motivated, can’t think clearly, and has lost their passion, they may be languishing. As a therapist, it is critical that you do everything you can to help clients overcome the feeling of languishing because, when left untreated, the condition can snowball into something much worse. 

Now that you have a better idea of what languishing is and how it occurs, let’s turn our attention to the specific actions you can take to help clients overcome their dull feelings and get back on track on the path that leads to flourishing. 

How to Treat Languishing and Help Clients Flourish 

While languishing is never an easy feeling to deal with, the good news is that it’s possible for clients to overcome this condition with the right therapy and treatment options.  

With that in mind, let’s take a look at four ways you can help your clients conquer languishing and begin flourishing once again.

1. Give their feelings a name.

First things first: If your clients just feel a bit “off” and don’t know that they are actually suffering from a legitimate condition, it will be that much harder to take proactive steps to improve their mindset and well-being. That being the case, you need to identify their condition and commiserate with them so they know that languishing is a real condition and that you understand what it’s like to suffer from it. 

Though you’re a therapist, you’re human, too. Chances are, you — or at least a professional colleague — felt depressed at some point over the last year as the coronavirus upended all of our lives.  

Share this information with clients who are languishing so they understand you know what they’re going through — and you know what they can do to get to a better place.

2. Encourage clients to practice mindfulness.

Folks who are languishing tend to lose touch with their inner thoughts and feelings.  

Instead of letting life come to them, encourage your clients to take a proactive approach to their day to day by practicing mindfulness. 

Very simply, mindfulness is a mental framework where you force yourself to be present in the moment and aware of the situation at hand. To illustrate, you’re not just walking to the mailbox to get your mail. You’re heading up your well-worn driveway, listening to the birds chirping, admiring the scenery, and paying attention to your own breathing patterns while discovering what the mail carrier dropped off instead. 

By practicing mindfulness, clients can improve their mental clarity, develop a healthier state of mind and self-compassion, and get reenergized to take on the world.

3. Emphasize the importance of diet, exercise, and a good night’s sleep

When clients aren’t feeling their best, it might be because they’re not getting enough exercise, they’re not eating a well-balanced diet, and they’re not getting a good night’s sleep. 

As you begin deciding treatment options, make sure to raise these issues with your clients. Studies show that regular exercise, healthy eating, and optimal sleep can have profoundly positive effects on our overall health and well-being. 

If clients develop the right habits and stick to them, it’s only a matter of time before they start flourishing once more.

4. Encourage clients to switch things up and get involved in new activities.

Sometimes, a change in scenery or a new hobby can transform the way we think of the world.  

Perhaps one of your clients is languishing because they’ve been working at home for the past year and miss the social interactions of the office. In this instance, you might suggest that they consider working from a neighborhood coffee shop once a week to see whether that improves their mood. 

Similarly, you should also encourage clients to get involved in new activities. This could entail volunteering at local senior living facilities, picking up a new sport like squash or pickleball, or even learning how to write code or play a musical instrument. The possibilities are endless. 

Now You Know the Treatment Options for Languishing. What’s Next? 

The next time a client sits down across from you and describes feelings of stunted growth, low energy, and a general ambivalence toward life, you’ll know exactly what you need to do to help them get to a better place. 

To learn more about other effective treatment options for various conditions — and continue to develop the knowledge and skills you need to reach your full potential as a therapist — enroll in our continuing education courses today. 


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