To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them?
– Hamlet, Act III, Scene I
In my work with clients over the past two decades, I’ve learned a thing or three about how to help people “take arms” against whatever “sea of troubles” they might encounter, now and in the future. Over the past three years, I’ve attempted to put this knowledge into a form that doesn’t depend on my being with them to implement it.
I began with a book in which I distilled the best of what I’ve learned as a therapist into a compact, accessible form, The Art of Balance: Staying Sane in an Insane World. In it, I outlined the six stages I see people go through from when they enter therapy until they leave, satisfied with the work they’ve done. I personified the problems as a character I called UnBalancer, and the resources they access to regain their equilibrium as Balancer and ReBalancer. Then I fleshed out these six stages with the tools and techniques I’ve found most useful in my work with clients at each stage. More recently, I’ve embodied this same set of theory and practices in the online video course Mastering the Art of Balance and its shorter, free sibling, Art of Balance Basic Training.
I thought I’d written a self-help book and recorded a self-help course. Little did I know — until I presented my ideas at the Creativity & Madness conference, where I discussed them with other therapists — that I’d also created a new theory of counseling and the media to implement it.
Why are these things important?
Because without the steps, people tend to feel hopeless and helpless, lost in the woods, when actually they have the ability to progress along their paths. The steps show you where you are and point to where you can go next. And without the idea of “parts,” people tend to blame themselves for their difficulties. Seeing the problems as external to their true selves — UnBalancer — removes the element of self-blame that people often feel, and that inhibits their confidence and their ability to proceed in the face of difficulty. The problem becomes an outside force to be reckoned with, rather than a personal defect.
In this and the following post, I’ll expand on these differences between the Art of Balance system and other self-help resources you may have already encountered.
First, the steps.
The Six Steps
In the Art of Balance system, there are six steps for traversing the ground between awareness that you have a problem and returning to balance with increased resilience. They are: Detect, Assess, Plan, Restore, Integrate, and Monitor/Maintain. They apply to a vast range of problems, from handling a minor fender bender or a bad winter to dealing with a major loss or a global pandemic.
- Detect. The first step of recovery from imbalance is the Detect step. That’s when we can no longer deny that we’re out of balance. By then, we’ve been walking in circles for a long time, and finally we give up the pretense that everything’s still okay. This is when clients typically show up at my door (or, these days, on my screen).
- Assess. The second step is the Assess step. We ask ourselves questions like: “What’s happened to me?” “What got me here?” “How can I get back to normal?” This is the time when identify potential resources, start evaluating our options, and prepare to take steps to find our way back to balance.
- Plan. The third step is the Plan step. Here, we connect the dots between our problems and potential solutions. We ask, “Who can we call on and what can we try that might help me get back on my feet?” We identify people and activities that might help us, actions we can immediately take to improve our situation, and experiments we can conduct that could lead us back to equilibrium.
- Restore. The fourth step is the Restore step. This is typically where my therapy clients and I spend the most time and effort. In the Restore step, we implement our plans, refining them as new data emerges. We connect with the resources and people that can help us, we test strategies that can move us in the direction of a new normal, and eventually, as we persist and adapt, we achieve a balanced state.
- Integrate. The fifth step, Integrate, is crucial to becoming more adept at handling future problems. Once we’ve restored our balance, we incorporate into our routines the insights, resources, strategies, and activities that helped us get there. We keep doing what got us there, so we can stay healthy in the future.
- Monitor/Maintain. The sixth step, Monitor/Maintain, may be the most important of them all. In this step, we adopt a methodology for making sure we continue to do the actions that brought us back to balance. At this point, not only are these actions integrated into our lives, but we learn to quickly detect when we start to veer away from the things that have helped us and into potentially dangerous territory. Then, we can make immediate course corrections and get back on track before we’ve strayed too far.
I see these steps being played out in myself, in my friends and family, and in my clients, and also on a national and global scale.
In the comment area for this post, I’d very much like to hear whether these steps make sense to you, and if, looking back, they describe how you’ve dealt with life challenges.
More soon –
Copyright 2021, David J. Bookbinder