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As a therapist, you know all too well that talking doesn’t always cut it. Neither do thinking, intending, wishing and praying. In fact, none of these alone creates change in your clients’ lives.
The thing that makes for real change in people’s lives is behavior. And all the cognitive processes that go into making choices–trial and error, habit, novelty, and curiosity, to name a few–are where the real learning, growing and changing actually happen.
Of course, behavior must come from the right place. It has to make sense in the context of the person, the situation, and the goals and struggles that a certain behavior is meant to address.
And we all have had those times when it hits us: This person is stuck. They are uncomfortable just talking about this, or, even worse, they could talk about this forever.
Or, that helpless feeling of not knowing how to help someone over a particular hump in their healing process.
As an O.T., I get restless when there isn’t follow-up in the form of behavioral suggestions. Because I know that unless the client’s body is involved, pretty much everything we discuss will remain theoretical. After all, doing things cements ideas into the body, which helps form a new reality in life. Talking about change, a necessary first step, is good. Trying it out is better.
To get technical, it’s important that clients have the experience of making and overcoming mistakes so that they really learn how to do something in the way that’s right for them, in their real lives. That moves it out of the theoretical and into the place where benefits–and adjustments–can happen. And implementing behaviors is what that forces them (and us) to deal with everything that stands in the way of the desired change.
For example, we may suggest they get out and take a walk every day. It isn’t until they actually start doing it that they confront the physical barriers and special circumstances that exist that they will have to problem-solve through in order to incorporate taking a walk for real. The right shoes, the right time of day, whether to go alone or with someone, where to go, how long to walk, etc., etc.
To paraphrase Freud: When is taking a walk more than taking a walk? Answer: When you actually do it.
Card decks with wellness strategies, coping strategies, or self care suggestions that your clients actually try can open up a new world for you and your client to explore, further opening the door to new healing and learning opportunities.
Here are 10 easy ways to use card decks in your work (or for yourself).
Close your session by picking a card at random. This ends the session on a wellness note, can help client shift focus from distress to solutions, and can help wrap up the session with a nice ending boundary.
Pick a set of cards to focus on as part of a daily practice. Some possibilities: Develop a set of 5-10 cards to focus on for self care, meditation, coping skills, or reframing for the next period time. Personalize to whatever the client is working on. Problem-solve setting realistic expectations and anticipating barriers, setting client up for success.
Use as a coping strategy generator, where any positive action will help the client over a rough moment. Especially helpful for clients who are working on distress tolerance, or who are struggling with day-to-day coping. Pick 1-5 cards that the client feels are easy to do and sure to help, then develop a plan for client to implement them during the week.
Use as discussion prompts in group or individual sessions. Can help shift the conversation away from problems to generating solutions and sharing resources with each other. Be prepared to have them rejected in favor of more personalized ones clients themselves invent.
Use as a give-away for a tabling event. Stamp your contact info or stick a return address label on the reverse as a quick contact card, and give them away when you’re tabling or networking.
Display them in the waiting room or session room. Hang on a bulletin board or put in small frames on table tops. Sometimes nicer than platitudes.
Pick a card at random to meditate on. Use as a focus in meditation, letting imagination take you to other ideas, imagined scenarios, barriers–all fodder for therapy work.
Use it as a discussion jogger for people who struggle with solution-focused thinking. When it feels as if the person is really mired and can’t get out of their own way or is struggling with self-acceptance, pull a card and allow all the objections to come pouring out.
Use them as educational tools. Excellent for teaching brain health, positive psychology, self-exploration, habit-building, role and values exploration. In answer to the question, “How is eating an apple going to help my depression?” Or, “How will sorting my socks help with my lousy boyfriend?”
Attach to a permission slip when someone struggles with implementing behavioral change. If a client picks a card and their reaction is, “I couldn’t possibly take time to _____,” get out the permission slip and attach the card.