Being a psychotherapist, it’s an incredibly hard job. I mean, it’s incredibly rewarding, but it’s very, very difficult. We hear people’s pain, trauma, struggles, and it’s our job to help them have a different experience. And because of that challenge, because of that charge, because of that calling, we oftentimes misunderstand that it’s our job to like save people or solve people’s problems. But the truth is, it’s our job to help transformation happen. You know, when I make this point, I want you guys to understand what your role is in the therapy session, because that will help you function and do it better. And every time I think about this, I think about this one client I worked with, I’m going to call him Jason.
Jason struggled with a heroin addiction. And he came to my office really, really overwhelmed. He had been in lots of, lots of trouble with his heroin addiction. Been arrested several times. Difficult relationship with his children. He had a difficult relationship with his spouse and Jason came to see me to get help at the urging of his lawyer because he was in further trouble.
So I asked Jason, “What’s the outcome you hope to achieve?” Now, you guys would think that the outcome that Jason wants is to get sober, but that’s not what he said. What he said was, well, first actually what he said is, “I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m here. The probation officer told me I had to come.”
And then he eventually said he wanted to become a Baker. He said, “If everything goes, well, I’d become a Baker.” Now on one hand, you’re thinking, what on earth does baking have to do with sobriety? But I would tell you, it has everything to do with sobriety, Jason told me that his parents were Bakers and they wanted him to go into the bakery industry and heroin kind of derailed his life.
He really struggled being a great disappointment to his parents. And he really, really struggled with letting them down to the degree that he had. So now he’s telling me he wants to be a Baker and I’m going to ask him, “Suppose you woke up tomorrow, what’s the first thing you notice that lets you know you’re on the path to becoming a Baker?”
And he said, “I’d be thinking about something other than heroin when I woke up.” “What would you be thinking of instead of heroin?” He said, “I’d be thinking about cake and different recipes that I know in my head. And I’d feel myself getting excited to make these recipes. And I’d feel myself getting excited to experiment with different things. And I would do different things based on that excitement instead of heroin.”
“But what things would you do differently?” “I’d go to the store and I would buy flour and I’d buy sugar and I buy eggs and I’d buy milk and I’d buy things and I’d start just experimenting. I’d start revisiting old recipes and I cooked these old recipes and I’d served them to friends and family to tell me how they tasted and to tell me what they thought of it, and it give me some feedback and I would just build and grow. And then eventually I’d be courageous enough to make a cake for my Mom and Dad because I would want them to see that their son has done it. Went through a difficult path, but their son has done it.”
Now, one of the coolest things that has ever happened in my career is that man sent me a cake about two years after we met. We had two or three sessions, I guess, I can’t remember exactly how many. And a couple of years later he sent me a cake that he had made in his own bakery. In the subsequent two or three years, he had started his own bakery and was now having significant success locally. And he sent me a coconut cream cake to my office to thank me for helping him become the version of himself that could bake cake once again.
So my job as a professional is to help transformation take place, by helping him transform from someone who’s using heroin to someone who is baking cakes. And once he becomes the person who baking cakes, he is no longer are going to be interested in using heroin because those two things don’t live in the same world. You know, I even think about my own life in relationship to this construct when I was in high school, I genuinely believe that I was going to be a professional baseball player. At the very least, I knew I’m going to go to college and play baseball. So when my friends, and my friends didn’t always make amazingly good choices, they would ask me to do things like, “Elliott will you skip school? We’re going to skip school today.”
I remember my one friend, he found a bunch of wine coolers in his parents’ home and we were going to skip school and go drink the wine coolers. He comes to me and said, “Do you want to skip school? We’re going to go drink wine cool.” And I said, no, because the version of me, who’s working very hard to go to college and play baseball. Doesn’t engage in those activities because the two things don’t live in the same world, right? So when you hear me using the word version in my teaching, and when you hear me using the word transformation, it’s because I believe very strongly that is our job to help the client transform to the version of themselves that is more in line with the desired outcome and less in line with the problem.
And once that transformation takes place, it often eliminates the problem. Because you cannot have the problem within the transformation, right? That’s the way these things work. We get ourselves into trouble when we think it’s our job to fix the client or take away the problem where it’s our job to like solve something. But it’s not, it’s our job to help the client transform from a version of themselves that is engaged with the problem to the version of themselves that is engaged with what is most desired in their heart.
The truth is sobriety wasn’t what was most desired in Jason’s heart. What was most desired in Jasons heart was having the ability to make his parents proud again. And it just so happened he had to be sober to do that. So I want you to think about that. Help people do what is most desired in their heart, and that’s how you help people transform to the best version of themselves. And in fact, the best version of Jason makes the best coconut cream cake I’ve ever had in my life.
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