I was working with a client recently who had a wealth of great tools for helping in various tricky situations. However, he was still struggling with a few key issues, areas where he could just not break the habits.
A common reason why individuals, families, and couples seek counselling is to “fix” a problem. Think of it this way, imagine if you only had one tool in your toolbox. Would that tool be effective? Depends on the problem, right? It also depends on the tool. Having more tools in your toolbox is a great way to be better equipped for whatever challenges you may face.
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”. -Abraham Maslow
Perhaps the “problem” is a hyperactive child or an aggressive teen. Perhaps the “problem” is a broken relationship — an emotionally unavailable, argumentative partner or family member.
The first sessions of therapy are critical to help understand and evaluate the “problem” and determine the “tools” that will be helpful. This can take the shape of worksheets, mindfulness exercises and good old-fashioned questioning of currently held perceptions and beliefs. There is work to be done!
If you only have a hammer, you are likely missing other useful tools that would be helpful in various situations. If your go-to tool is a hammer, it has likely gotten a lot of use! It may not be the most effective tool at times, but it has served a purpose.
Therapy is a great place to learn how to add more “tools” to your toolbox. As a therapist, I won’t solve the problem for you but will help guide, teach, and encourage you with new and useful tools as you expand your perspective.
I like to look at re-framing the original presenting concern which can be powerful because not all problems are “nails” and habits are hard to break (but not impossible!). When we gain insight and understanding into a situation, we are able to generate solutions and alternative ways of responding.
By way of example, not every hyperactive child will have attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Trauma, anxiety, or environmental factors may be present. Perhaps a combination of all or several of these, or possibly none. Not every child who is aggressive will develop a behavioural disorder. Perhaps grief or loss is present. Is parental conflict, cyberbullying, or community violence a factor? Again — perhaps a combination of all or several of these, or possibly none. I never give up on finding the real presenting issue, then together we can find the tool that best suits you and your family.
Individuals and families are complex! We have unique identities and experiences which shape our lives. This is a key reason why parents are present in my sessions with children and when it comes to teens, when have regular catch-ups as needed - no one is in the dark. As a family there is work to be done, the child must feel the support to empower themselves. There is not a one-size--fits-all approach to therapy; therefore, as a therapist I offer a variety of tools and approaches. This is shaped by various theoretical approaches with the goal for you to effectively learn and utilise these tools outside of the session.