May 12

94. That Time I Forgot To Follow The Process

Tales from a therapist in training and former anxious person

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One of the concepts I talk about quite often is the need to remain process focused in recovery rather than outcome or solution focused. When I tell you that you almost have to abandon your focus on feeling better before you can feel better, odds are you have a hard time grasping that idea. That’s OK. You’re just being human. Humans are driven to feel good, avoid discomfort, resolve conflict, and release tension.

Let me tell you a little story about what happened this week when I forgot the importance of following good processes and got caught up in trying to directly achieve a solution. Stick with me on this. There’s a point to the story, I promise.

My Masters program started drilling ethical good practices into my head from day one. This is a good thing. One of the assignments I’ve been working on is a hypothetical case study that would present a therapist with a possible ethical or legal dilemma. My task was to work through this sticky situation and come out the other side. Hmmm. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

When confronted with an ethical dilemma, it’s damn near impossible for a human being to file away their own core values, beliefs, and judgments about what is right or best in terms of of resolving the dilemma. Emotion is involved. Self-image and identity is involved. I KNEW the answer to this problem because I KNOW what’s right and just and what must be done! At least that’s what my emotional brain, my sense of self, and maybe even my ego were telling me. This ethical dilemma was creating conflict on an emotional level and I wanted to resolve that conflict based on who I am. But here’s the rub. In a professional setting I don’t get to resolve ethical conflicts based solely on what I like, believe, or want. That’s dangerous in that it puts ME in the center of the situation, and I’m not the one that belongs there.

To combat this, therapists and counselors develop detailed ethical codes and processes for using and implementing these codes in real life. This is designed to prevent the exact thing I just described. It helps to keep things as fair and objective as possible. There is a process to follow for a reason!

Hmmm. What else has a process to follow?

Nonetheless, I ignored the process and wrestled with this for some time. I wanted a SOLUTION because I needed to exercise my ego, emotions, and core beliefs. I had to resolve that tension, right? The problem is that when I approached this assignment that way, forgetting the process and insisting that my emotions and need for resolution should call the shots, things only got worse. The problem got muddier. I was searching everywhere for information, guidelines, tips, and tricks for how to bring it all to a neat resolution, but that was making the tension worse and making it even harder for me to complete the task. This is also sounding familiar, isn’t it?

My lightbulb moment came last night when I walked away from the problem in total frustration, feeling super grumpy and somewhat disillusioned with this whole “be a therapist” thing. While chatting with a friend and making a late dinner I reached the conclusion that I’d go follow the steps of the process just to get the damn thing done. I didn’t want to do it that way, but I was tired of wrestling with the problem so that’s how I decided to proceed just to put the whole assignment behind me.

Boom. When I stopped searching for an immediate solution based on emotion and the need to release tension, I started making progress. My writing became clear, I was able to lay out a solid course of action, and within about 45 minutes I had everything done and dusted. This morning before I sat down to write this edition of The Anxious Morning I submitted my paper. Guess what? I DO feel good about how it worked out. My final solution is not in total agreement with what I want from an emotional standpoint but the PROCESS still resolved that tension and got me the outcome I needed, which as it turns out is more important than the outcome I wanted.

Oh, and one more thing. This experience taught me some HUGE lessons that will serve me well going forward both in my grad program and as a therapist in the real world so as it turns out the process of working through hard things teaches us stuff if we let it.

Imagine that?

I told you there was a point to the story.

Have you listened to this week’s episode of The Anxious Truth podcast? Check it out out on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or my website and YouTube channel.