Symptoms related to depression and anxiety are two of the most frequent reasons people seek therapy. While there are a myriad of triggers that can create a depressed or anxious state, anecdotally I have noticed that when clients feel backed into a corner and perceive a lack of options, their condition is only exacerbated. This often leaves them with such a feeling of hopelessness and despair, which only leads to feeling further disempowered and ultimately increasing any depressive or anxious feelings. It becomes a vicious cycle; the more hopeless and disempowered you feel, the more depressed and anxious you become.
As a therapist, two of my primary roles in therapy are to instill hope and empower the client. Goal-setting is often a big part of the therapeutic process, and a question I frequently ask a client is, “what is the game plan?’ Discovering that answer is often a process I assist clients with when they are feeling stuck. No matter how dire the situation may look, there are always options. Albeit they may not seem ideal or what the client had hoped for, nonetheless, we always have choices. For example, I had a client who was experiencing a toxic work environment. While she was paid well, the cost was to endure being verbally abused by a tyrannical boss in a completely unsupportive work place. When I attempted to work with this client to empower her and identify options, for instance updating her resume and applying to other positions, she completely shut down. She was experiencing that “backed into a corner without options” phenomena that I so frequently see in clients struggling with depression, anxiety or some other big life stressor. In her mind, there were absolutely no other options.. She was convinced that she would never make the same salary if she went elsewhere. She doubted her ability to get a new job so much so, she refused to even apply elsewhere.
While self-doubt and a perceived lack of options left this client feeling paralyzed in a hopeless situation, the decision was eventually made for her when her company laid her off. What initially felt like the end of the world for this client really transformed into a blessing in disguise, enabling her to be hired by a company with a much more positive and supportive work environment. One of the life lessons this client learned is that not only did life go on, life actually got better! This client is now able to draw on this trying time in her life as evidence that no matter how bleak a situation may seem, she still has choices.
When we start to make a game-plan during the difficult times, we create hope and begin to feel more empowered. If you’re feeling stuck and having difficulty identifying your options, a therapist can assist with that process to look at what is in your control and even do a cost-benefit analysis (a list of pros and cons) for each of those choices. By putting you back in the driver’s seat of your life, clients often feel more hopeful and ultimately less anxious and depressed.
By Dr. Jo Wolthusen