"DIY" - Being your own therapist or coach?
"Everyone needs a coach" - I've heard this said a lot during my life, sometimes referring to sports and physical trainers, business or professional coaches and therapists. I've always agreed with this sentiment in general, and I'm genuinely very lucky that I have a bunch of very kind and knowledgeable people who support me, guide me, and frankly often kick my ass, in my various pursuits. But this week, I really felt like I understood this idea.
I have recently been dealing with an ongoing injury and I hadn't bounced back with my usual approaches and support team. No problem with that of course, not everyone is an expert in everything after all. So I approached a new specialised trainer and therapist to help. After an initial consultation, he started asking me some very familiar questions - these were the kind of questions I would ask my clients who were in emotional distress, and not something I would usually expect in physical therapy or body work. How did this make me feel? Not great to be honest. Anything else? Yeah actually! Angry, frustrated, jealous, a bit of a failure actually. Ah...ok...I wasn't really expecting that to come out...weird. We then progressed on to talk about stress, sleep and recovery, pain theory, self-criticism, mindfulness, and diaphragmatic breathing amongst other things. These are all things I teach on the regular, I understand them, I know the theory, but when we looked at the situation together, I wasn't actually applying what I knew to this specific issue in myself. Initially I also felt a bit embarrassed that I hadn't figured this out for myself! But my trainer very kindly reminded me that none of us are very good at coaching ourselves. He referred me to a a few new sources of information to help me (we might call this 'psychoeducation' in therapy) and that's when I came across this beauty:
"Being your own therapist is a lot like cutting your own hair: It's possible, but its easier if someone else is doing it; Afterall, they can see things you cant."
I like to be as frank and open with my client's as possible. A lot of the stuff I teach and guide people towards is usually pretty straightforward. A lot of it you can find for free on YouTube. Is it possible to be your own coach or therapist? Sure. It's totally possible. Is this the easiest, and most effective and efficient way to do things? Probably not. It's hard to be objective with ourselves. It's hard to ask the questions we might need to ask when the answer might be painful. It's sometimes hard to see the wood for the trees. It's hard to put in the work necessary when no-one is watching. 'DIY-ing it' also lacks several critical aspects which we know from the evidence base are critical for successful outcomes in psychotherapy: No 'therapeutic alliance' between client and therapist (i.e. no trust or collaboration), and there's neither accountability or objective structure. Can you do something to build that accountability and structure - again yes, these aren't impossible barriers to overcome with some imagination and problem solving. But perhaps it's useful to honestly ask if we can do this with the same effectiveness and efficiency as someone with the benefit of multiple years of training in specialist fields and disciplines.
Don't get me wrong though, I deeply believe in our own ability to problem solve our own lives. I also understand that not everyone has access to 1-to-1 therapy and so I try and promote ways people can help themselves when this isn't possible. Some people have no choice but to go it alone - and that was one of the reasons for trying to set up The Resilience Project UK in the first place.
We have a saying in hypnotherapy that 'all hypnosis is self-hypnosis' - this means it is you, the client, that are the active participant here, you are the one doing the work, and making the changes needed. This applies to our time in session as well as, your practice outside of sessions. It's what we do in the time outside of our therapy sessions that matters. Or as the famous CBT therapist says "the way people get better is by making small changes in their thinking and behaviour every day".
My goal with every single client is to enable self-sufficiency as quickly as possible. I want my clients to be able to use the tools I use on new problems in the future as they arise. I want my clients to be resilient and develop psychological flexibility skills so that new problems don't arise as often. Ideally, I want them not to need me! But...if something particularly difficult, painful, challenging or unexpected arises, often people need a little bit of extra help, support, empathy, structure and accountability. In these cases I want client's to know they can reach out at any stage. And then in these cases some form of one-to-one or group coaching or therapy, with an objective therapist (or even an objective group), might be exactly what is needed for a quick and effective resolution.