“I want to create a clear roadmap for you for next steps, and how we can go about creating change in our therapeutic work together.”
“You don’t need a bunch of tools to practice. You just need one or two that you practice over and over and over again.”
Two Mistakes Often Made in Therapy
If you were a client of mine, you would more than likely hear something like these two statements at the outset of our work together. And I would probably be repeating them week in and week out as we worked together in our sessions.
I say these things because for a long time I have come to believe that there are some things that we therapists are guilty of (I know there are probably more than just “some” things) but let me start by addressing why I find myself repeating these two phrases time and time again.
I repeat these things often because I know that I have been guilty of this a lot, especially in my early years of practice, but as I become a more seasoned therapist I hope I have made vast improvements in these two areas.
First, is that when clients come to us for therapy, we often don’t provide a clear roadmap for change. Instead, clients often feel like they get sucked down into a vague black hole. Now, I have never had a client tell me this, but I imagine that this is what it must often feel like, and I have expressed this sentiment many times to my clients (usually their heads are nodding in agreement at this observation). Let’s be honest, therapy can often be very disorienting and without concise plan, it’s easy to go session to session and feel like there is no purpose to the session in the bigger context of therapy. As one who practices a lot of experiential type therapy with my clients, I know that sessions don’t always have a clear roadmap, and sometimes you work with what the clients bring in to session that day. But I believe when one has a framework laid out, it’s easier to be flexible within that framework, rather than trying to add structure later on.
Second, is that when clients come to therapy, we often have been guilty of trying to throw too many tools and skills and practices their way. Often we think, the more the better. Or sometimes we desperately want to see change in our clients and one or two tools don’t seem to be working, so we add a third and a fourth and a fifth tool to the already growing toolbox. And often at some point I think there can be so many tools that the clients become paralyzed (and so do the therapists sometimes), not knowing which tool to access in any given situation. I have found that clients really only need one to two tools, but need to practice a lot in order to begin to gain some mastery over them.
Why Restoration Therapy is the Answer for Anxiety and Depression
Because of the propensity for therapy to often lack a clear road map, and rely on an overabundance of tools, I struggled for years trying to navigate my way through my therapy work. That was until I came across Restoration Therapy, initially just as the Pain and Peace Cycle and the 4 Steps, as I was co-leading marriage intensives at The Hideaway Experience. It was in this simple model that I found a really clear direction for my therapeutic work, one that would make sense to clients. And in this model I also found a tool that I think is the one to two tools that if practiced over and over again, will lead to significant change.
Part of my attraction to Restoration Therapy is that not only am I able to be clear about the direction of therapy, but I can be clear in my explanation to those that I work with. Because whether I am working with the topics of anxiety and depression, or the focus is on a marital issue, or some form of trauma, Restoration Therapy is a model that is more than adequate enough to meet the challenges that come into the door of therapy.
RT’s Clear Road Map for Treating Anxiety and Depression
Identify the Pain and Peace Cycle
The beginning of the roadmap in RT is to help people construct their Pain Cycle, which consists of identifying their underlying feelings, and then the coping behaviors.
I want to pause and say something about the nuances of RT. First, it is not a script that one follows, but it is a roadmap which allows for lots of flexibility within the structure. I find this to be incredibly appealing because it gives me freedom, but anchors me to a model. Second, RT is robust enough to tackle any issue, so I have confidence in dealing with any issue, especially the ones I specialize in (anxiety, marriage, depression, etc.).
After the Pain Cycle is constructed, and the necessary insight gained, I then help people construct their Peace Cycle, which consists of identifying their truth, and the actions that emanate from that place of truth.
To make the Pain Cycle and Peace Cycle more clear (i.e. enhance the understanding of the roadmap), I draw up these cycles in colored markers onto a large sticky note. At the end of session, I take a picture of this large sticky note to digitally upload to my online files, and then I roll the sticky note up and hand it to the individual or couple to take home.
Write Out the 4 Steps
After the Pain and Peace Cycle have been identified and drawn up so that the therapist and couple (or individual) can visualize the their interactions, then steps are added to the process. I often will take 1-2 sessions to identify an individual or couple’s Pain Cycle, drafting it up permanently on the sticky note (rather than the white board I work with initially). And then I will take 1-2 sessions (often more for the Peace Cycle as finding one’s truth is often difficult for people) to identify a individual or couple’s Peace Cycle, drafting it up permanently on the sticky note. So ideally, the individual or couple will have two large sticky notes that they can take home with them to hang up. I recommend hanging them up in their bedroom closet, out of the way of company and guests, unless they are wanting people to see their relational interactions, or the underlying feelings they are struggling with in terms of their anxiety and depression.
On the Pain Cycle chart there will be written out two steps. Step 1: “Say what you feel”. Step 2: “Say what you normally do (or how you normally cope)”.
On the Peace Cycle chart there will be written out two steps. Step 3: “Say your truth”. Step 4: “Say what you will do differently (what new action will you take)”.
Now the couple has two charts at home, with 4 steps in place. So far, a pretty clear roadmap for treating anxiety and depression.
Practice the 4 Steps
So now comes the time for practice. We have literally spent several sessions (often more) constructing a Pain and Peace Cycle to better understand the underlying feelings that trigger a person’s anxiety and depression, and what regulating truth helps them work through their anxiety and depression. This is all about gaining insight. But insight can only take a person so far on their journey towards change. At some point the insight has to be practiced.
Now that an individual or couple has their charts visually constructed, and the 4 steps in place, I ask them to practice their 4 steps over and over and over again. I tell them repeatedly that they don’t need a bunch of tools to help them work through their anxiety and depression, but that they only need 1-2 tools that they practice over and over again. And I believe that the most important tool they can begin to gain mastery with is the that of Restoration Therapy and it’s key components (i.e. Pain and Peace Cycle and 4 Steps).
There are several ways for people to practice the 4 steps, so let me suggest a few ways that I encourage people to do so:
- I ask people to just practice being mindful and aware of their patterns (“to simply notice” in the words of my therapist). And that as they notice their feelings getting triggered, to simply pause and walk through the 4 steps. They can do this in their head, but it’s more impactful to say out loud to oneself, or to another person that they are in relationship with or having a conversation with.
- I ask people to just practice their 4 steps throughout the day, even if things are going well. I equate this to a fire drill, which is about being prepared and taking the necessary practice steps in case a fire were ever to break out. In similar fashion, I am asking them to be prepared and take the necessary steps when certain feelings are getting triggered.
- In terms of couples working through the steps I help them create conversations where they can practice walking through the 4 steps each day. And I also ask them to work on saying them out loud to each other whenever they are in one another’s presence and are getting triggered. I also ask them to be aware of their steps throughout the day when they are not around their partner, but walking through them continually so that when they see their partner later that day, they are aware of their Pain and Peace Cycle and how it plays out.
Though I find these to be helpful suggestions I think it’s important to let people know that they don’t have to be perfect about this practice, and that over time they will gain fluency in this new language and skill set they are practicing.
Moving Into a Flow State with Anxiety and Depression
In the beginning, practice of any kind can seem quite laborious to individuals and couples, especially when the practice itself can put couples into conflict with one another, and with individuals it can often mean putting them into contact with the anxiety and depression they have been working really hard to avoid. But like any great athlete or performer, over time the practice of a skill set makes the carrying out of the task seem more easy (though it may not be easy, the practice makes it seems easier). Angela Duckworth in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance talks quite a bit about the role of deliberate practice in the mastering of a skill. And that the more deliberate practice there is, the opportunity awaits for the person practicing that skill to move more into a flow state. She writes the following:
“Deliberate practice is a behavior, and flow is an experience.”
I believe this holds true for the work of those practicing Restoration Therapy. When individuals or couples engage in the deliberate practice of their Pain and Peace Cycle through the use of the 4 steps, they are more likely to reach moments of a flow state, where the steps just seem to fade away, and they are interacting in a way that feels natural.
This is such an important aspect when helping people work with their anxiety and depression, because anxiety and depression often rob people of being in the present moment. But when they deliberately practice their anxiety and depression with the use of the 4 steps, they are able to enter into flow states as well, which allow them to stay present, therefore, reframing their anxiety and depression in a new light that allows them to not be controlled by it, but instead to use it for good in their own lives.
If you are looking for a simple model to use with your clients. One that lays out a concise roadmap, but allows for flexibility and freedom. Two, you are wanting to find that one tool that can be practiced over and over again. Then RT is the model for you. And if you are sitting in the other position, looking for a model that helps you as a client, then RT is for you as well. By engaging this model, you will soon be on the road to transforming your anxiety and depression.
Rhett Smith is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice in Plano, TX. He specializes in helping people struggling with anxiety find new opportunities for growth, as well as spending a majority of his week with couples as they navigate relational issues. He is the author of The Anxious Christian: Can God Use Your Anxiety for Good? and What It Means to Be a Man: God’s Design for Us in a World Full of Extremes. Rhett lives in McKinney, TX with his wife Heather and their two children. You can discover more about Rhett’s work through his writing and podcast at rhettsmith.com