By Licia Ginne, LMFT
Imagine that you are in an airplane and you do not know how to swim. Normally, when a person purchases a plane ticket, the agent does not say, “Excuse me, do you know how to swim?” It is not even an issue. However, imagine that the plane crashes into the water, you are the only survivor, and the only way to have to stay afloat is by holding onto a life preserver. Due to the change in circumstances, not being able to swim suddenly becomes a counseling, therapy, being savedvery important issue. You realize that if someone does not come to rescue you fairly quickly, you will either drown or die of hypothermia. You scan the skies, hoping and praying someone will come by that can help you.
All of a sudden, you notice a helicopter flying overhead. You wave your hands, and the people from the helicopter indicate that they have seen you. You breathe a sign of relief and eagerly await their arrival. The people come down from the helicopter and come to you and say, “ We’re here to rescue you!” You say, “I’m so happy you are here. I was afraid I was going to die.” The people then say, “ The way we are going to rescue you is by taking away your life preserver.” You look at them with a puzzled expression and say, “No, wait a minute, you don’t understand! I don’t know how to swim!” The reply is “Well, we’re sorry but the only way we know how to rescue people is by taking away their life preserver,” which means you have a very difficult decision to make. So you say, “Please wait a minute while I think about what I want to do.” You are floating there in the freezing water, thinking, “This feels like a lose-lose situation to me. If I give up my life preserver, I don’t know if these people will really help me or if they will leave me to drown. If I don’t give up my life preserver, I don’t know if someone else will come by before I die of the cold.” The people from the helicopter become impatient and say, “Look, we’re tired of waiting for you to make up your mind, so we’re just going to take this life preserver away from you,” and they grab onto it. You instinctively say, “No you’re not!” and pull back, and a power struggle ensues. Surprised by your response, the people from the helicopter then say, “Okay, okay. There is one other possibility. If you look behind you, there is a lifeboat that you can take to safety.” Given that most people are not trusting enough of strangers, even those who appear to be helpful strangers, to give up their life preserver right away, you think this through carefully, then reply, “That sounds like a good idea, but I’m going to take this life preserver with me. If the lifeboat sinks, I want to be sure I can still survive.
Change is frightening for all of us and for those who have come from families where trust was compromised it is even harder. Often we find ourselves wanting to change and wanting to trust but every fiber of our being just can’t, this often happens in therapy. You want to believe in the therapist and the process but doubting thoughts are there; I pay this person they are just saying what they think they should. Do they really have my best interest in mind? These are all good topics for your therapy session.