Turning Mountains into Molehills
12th January, 20120 Comments
Ever been in a situation where you feel so overwhelmed that you can’t see a way forward? Many people who come into counselling are in that place, and are hoping to get some clarity and find that they can turn their mountains into molehills.
Problems often tend to take on a life of their own and grow “like Topsy”. The more we focus on them and try to understand them, the bigger they get. Even in therapy, focusing on problems, trying to find their roots and understand their influences, can give them more life, and more importance than they deserve. The problem with problems is that they take over! They begin to define who we are.
It is important for therapists not to lose sight of the person who is bringing the problem to counselling. That person does have the strengths and abilities to overcome their problem – they just can’t recognise those strengths at present. They need the counsellor to actively look for and identify every resource they have.
A solution focussed approach in counselling will recognise every step the person has taken to try to deal with the problem. One step is to make the appointment and seek help! Other steps may have been to try to deal with the problem in ways that haven’t worked, but that also is an attempt to manage the problem and should be recognised and affirmed.
Other ways to look for strengths are to identify how other problems have been successfully handled in the past and understand what resources and skills were used at that time. These problem-solving abilities may not be working when trying to deal with the current difficulty, but the acknowledgement of the fact that problems have been dealt with successfully in the past can be very empowering.
Identifying times when the problem is less of a problem (looking for exceptions to the problem) can also help to recognise ways someone is coping. A woman suffering from high anxiety may say that she forgets all about her fears when she is at her painting class. She can then discover what she is doing differently that makes the problem go away (concentrating and losing herself in another activity), and can then go on to identify other situations where she is able to concentrate on something interesting that also brings some reduction to her problem.
One of the most important strengths that a person brings to counselling is the ability to envisage the existence of a future without the problem. Descriptions of a preferred future, where someone has regained control of his life without the problem, can have a dramatic influence on the present. For example, when someone who was suffering from depression was asked, “ What would you do if you overcame your depression?”, he answered, “I would get a job in I.T.” When he thought about his answer, he realised that he used to enjoy helping other people solve their I.T. problems when he was at college, as it was a skill that came naturally to him. He got in touch with his “lost” skills (in I.T.), and recognised how he liked social interaction, and this knowledge brought some excitement and energy to his present condition, which meant his depression decreased. This person did not eventually go on to get a job in I.T.; instead he became a driver for transporting the elderly. What was important about the question was not whether the end result was the same as he stated, but that the vision for the future impacted the present and helped him overcome his ‘problem’. He began to identify the part of himself that he had ‘lost’ to depression, which had taken over his life in so many ways.
It is exciting to recognise that a person who is being overwhelmed by problems, whose mountains seem insurmountable, has tremendous strengths and resources just waiting to be discovered by a therapist with a solution focussed approach. Those mountains can become molehills quite easily, when a person is enabled to discover the expert mountain-reducer that lives within him.
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