As I walked my dog in the neighborhood, I was struck by the rebirth of foliage that was either starting to reveal its budding flowers or was already showing off its brilliant yellow and pink blossoms. Spring truly is a time for new beginnings: a marked contrast to the black and gray bareness of nature in winter. As a clinician, the reawakening of spring strikes me as an important metaphor for therapy. After a cold winter, nature’s resilience and determination to bloom yet again, reminds me to continually hold hope, and to bring hope and gratitude to every session.
For many clients, their lives feel like a perpetual and relentless winter. I recently began working with a new older male client who started the session by saying, “I just want you to know, I’ve been in and out of therapy for much of my life and I don’t have any hope that this will work.” Although I understood that he was speaking from the part of him that truly felt hopeless, I invited him to consider that it was also a “hopeful part”- the part that called me for an appointment and went to the trouble of showing up for the session. And it was the same hopeful part that wanted to make a follow-up session! It was also important to let him know that I had hope, as I do for all my clients, and he could lean on or borrow mine until he could reconnect with his own.
Encourage clients to be inspired by spring.
Over the years, I’ve learned that some clients find it safer and less disappointing to not connect with a sense of hope. After all, if they let themselves think optimistically and it doesn’t work out, that might feel worse than not expecting progress and change to occur. So, hopelessness serves a “protective” function that should be explored and understood. Clients who protect themselves by operating from a low bar of expectations need and deserve compassion and support as they bravely risk allowing themselves to consider a brighter vision for their lives.
For clients who genuinely struggle with reasons to hold hope and gratitude, we can encourage them to be inspired by spring. Invite them to first reconnect with nature by noticing the blooming flowers and budding trees. Suggest that they either take pictures of the prettiest ones on their cellphones or keep a daily list of what they feel grateful for in nature. Once they re-access these feelings by linking them to something outside of themselves, they may find it easier to identify hope and gratitude in their personal lives as well. Nature is out best reminder that rebirth and renewal is always possible!