I’m back from a summer hiatus, the purpose of which was to refresh and recharge as well as think about what kind of “wisdom” I’d like to contribute this year. Although there are so many topics to write about, I want to make sure I don’t repeat myself (although that might not be so bad) and can make a small contribution to the lives of my readers.
In defense of repetition, there is often a great deal of it in psychotherapy and counseling. Truth be told, each time anyone tells a story or relates an incident, it comes out slightly (or even markedly) different. Both the teller and the listener have a different experience in the retelling. The theory is also that each time someone describes an experience, particularly as it relates to trauma, the experience diminishes in power. It is as though putting the experience and the feelings out into the universe is healing in and of itself. There is also the very important aspect of having someone listen.
It seems, in going over my list of topics, that I have not written about living in gratitude, which is something I try to practice each and every day. I find it to be a wonderful antidote to depression, disconnection, self-hatred, cynicism, frustration, and so on (I probably could go on and on).
It is a state of mind, a practice, a tool that works for me and my patients. When I ask them, for instance, if there is anything they feel is going well in their lives, they are almost always able to come up with something (and often more than just one thing). I then ask them to sit with their list of positives and negatives in their lives. Often they are able to see that there is some balance (neither all dark nor all light). From there they are able to shift their thinking. They may feel more motivated to change what they are unhappy about if that is possible. They may even be able to feel grateful for the good things.
I used this approach with a patient a few days ago who reported serious anxiety upon awakening. When asked about her thoughts at that hour, she said she worried about surviving in the future, not getting her inheritance, not being able to take care of herself, never being happy in a relationship. I commented that her fears of the future were enough to make anyone fearful. From that point, I remarked that she seemed to be bypassing everything in her present life. I asked if there was anything that she felt good about in her current situation. Between the two of us, we were able to come up with several things, including a new job with benefits, living rent free for the moment, recent reconnection with old friends, a new exercise regimen that was going well, being able to meet all of her financial obligations (and a few other things).
I asked her if it was possible just for the moment to feel grateful for the positive things in her life, and if that was not possible, to actively work to quiet the negative voices about the future and substitute gratitude in her own voice for what was at hand in the present. I also suggested that she write it down.
She said she felt disconnected from gratitude in the moment but agreed to work on it.
The next morning I received an email from her thanking me for our session the night before. She reported that she felt much better after our talk and had begun to practice what I suggested.
I didn’t provide any sort of “miracle cure” for anxiety or depression. I only used what is often used in 12-step programs and cognitive behavioral therapy—substituting one set of feelings for another. It may seem easier than it is in practice, but that’s the key—practice.
Living in gratitude can in fact become habit forming.
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