“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”….Maimonides
When I think of fishing (which isn’t often), I think of two things. The first is the gorgeous scenery in the Oscar-winning, 1992 movie A River Runs Through It. For those who haven’t seen it, the story is about the two sons of a stern minister — one reserved, one rebellious — as they grow up in rural Montana. Fly fishing is a major theme in the movie. Part of the landscape’s beauty may be due to the fact that one of the brothers is portrayed by a young Brad Pitt!
The second is self-sufficiency. When we are able to feed ourselves, whether by growing, fishing, hunting or foraging; there is a confidence that comes from knowing that we are able to provide food for ourselves and loved ones. Self-sufficiency is a value. It is also be a component in therapy and mental health.
The Art and Science of Therapy
Therapy is a cross between art and science. The tools that a therapist uses arise from specific theories that have been tested by research to show that they are helpful to clients. Ideally, a therapist has studied a few different modalities of therapy and is able to have various tools in their tool belt that they can use.
The art comes in how to apply the tools. Good therapy is molded to fit each individual client. Individuals in pain are not like cars with faulty brakes–the same intervention doesn’t work for all!
Skill-building in Therapy
It has been my experience that clients don’t want to see a therapist for ever….and ethically, my role is to help them to feel better and move on with their lives. One way that this goal is accomplished is through skill-building.
Skills come in all shapes and sizes…
A couple comes to therapy looking for relationship support. As they describe what has brought them in to therapy, it becomes clear that communication is challenging, so we work on communication tools. We work on spotting patterns that block positive discussions. We look at ways to get around this barriers as well as how to talk to each other to avoid their creation in the first place.
For individuals seeing a therapist for anxiety and depression, skill-building is a major part of therapy. Clients will learn techniques to help lessen their anxiety as well as ways to monitor thoughts that may be contributing to their anxiety or panic attacks. Similar tools can be used to manage anger.
For anxiety and depression, one of the skills that I teach the most often is a breathing exercise. The free 20-minute download talks you through the exercise, as if you were in the office with me…though the wave sounds are only in the audio version! You can find the exercise here (at the bottom of the Welcome Page).
The Joy of Homework
Even more important than learning a new skill or coping strategy, is putting in the time to practice it. This is the reason that I often suggest homework to clients. Sessions usually last for 50 minutes, so the more work clients can do outside of our meetings, the more successful therapy will be. Based on the theory of Experiential Learning, homework provides an opportunity to apply skills in different areas of life and in different ways–cementing the new ability into a client’s tool kit. They have learned to fish!
If you’re curious about this connection, you can find out more by reading this previous blog post.
Back to Fishing…
When clients are able to leave therapy with the skills and tools that they need to help to keep themselves mentally healthy and/or better cope with life’s challenges, I believe that this is one indication of successful therapy. To repeat the quote by Maimonides,
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
And now…speaking about fish, who said they can’t be adorable, interactive and cute! Enjoy!