Skills for Helping Clients Get “Unstuck” during Times of Uncertainty

Times of uncertainty often become powerful opportunities for growth.

And yet, fear of uncertainty can freeze people in their tracks – unable to make a decision or take a step.

So when clients get stuck, how can we help them move forward?

In the video below Joan Borysenko, PhD describes specific skills that can help people become “unstuck” during periods of transition.

Take a look – it’s about 5 minutes.

What has kept your clients stuck, and how have you helped them move forward? Please leave a comment below.

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32 Comments

  1. Carol Binta says:

    Thank you! I remind my clients that they have heard the saying “when one door closes another door opens” and then I tell them that nobody talks about the damn hallway! What do you do in the hallway between doors? We discuss ways they can be present in the hallway, decorate the walls, place flowers and plants to help uplift the experience, make a vision board etc. Celebrate those damn hallways!

  2. Larry Levin says:

    I find some of clients who have had terrible things happen to them, mostly from a dysfunctional family system, are stuck in anger, and afraid to try something new.

  3. I feel to simply give my clients the space and safety to feel all their feelings, then uncertainty is not a concept or feeling their feelings are what is next. In embracing and be with oneself and one’s feelings movement and reassurance happens and life continues to unfold. Also it is important to help my clients come out of the concepts of their life and head into the living breathing experience, changes and fluctuations and to help them know that what is happening is ok. So often life does not go as one would expect and my clients need help metabolizing and accepting that and I help them find comfort in their feelings and realize their feelings are the compass through.

  4. Mary Curro says:

    So often it is something that happened in childhood, or a negative feeling that lingers from a trauma, so doing Inner Child work helps more often than not…reparenting and doing it better than ever.
    Thank you for this; it was very helpful and stimulated some good ideas, both new and old.

  5. Linda Barnard says:

    Many things seem to get my clients stuck but often it is fear or lack of confidence in their ability to manage the emotions associated with the feared thing. Usually it is because they have given up on believing things can be any different. Then the excuses start for why they don’t move in any direction. I try to help them find a way out by findings creative ideas for trying a different path. Often it seem that my believe and confidence is enough to get them started.

  6. Ada Andrist says:

    Beautifully said. Liminal space is a place of growth. I will use that.

  7. A wonderful powerful articulation by Joan Borysenko of the power of mindfulness. Thankyou.

  8. This is very helpful – clients who don’t have chronic mental illness in addition to the meaning-forming process would have easier time with the steps, but even with complex morbidity, the steps provide important anchors.

  9. Mary Colburn says:

    Helping clients to grieve, and educating them on the growth that takes place during times of uncertainty will help them to find hope during this time. I also really liked the time between no longer and not yet. I also like the crossroads. This really helped to validate client’s place in their lives and help them to see that it is temporary, when they come back to the place of return.

  10. Nora says:

    Thank you. Going to a back yard storynight tonight to tell how i am now free of depression after 30 years of trying to kill myself! these steps are legitimately what I follow. I would add, for myself and everyone I know, to follow a sacred path, as in, something you do, like yoga, singing, whatever, that when you do it daily, it brings you to the present.

  11. Sherry Cormier says:

    A phrase I learned a long time ago comes to mind in these uncertain times:

    Trust the Process

  12. Marion houghton says:

    I guess it’s holding on to the past b/c it seems to be all we have. Perhaps we cling to the certainty of what we already know. Letting go is a leap of faith.

  13. Nycey says:

    Thank you for this insight. I have made notes on the talk Joan gave. I have a new client who is stuck, so I’m going to use these insights with him as he is ready. He is definitely stuck and needs to grieve the loss of his original expectations and learn to be OK with uncertainty as he works through his issues. he is definitely at a cross road at the moment. Thanks Joan & Ruth

  14. hilary jenkinson says:

    Ruth thank you for hosting Joan always makes stages clear.
    clear. The not is not yet. The allowing oneself to grieve and to n It hurry into the New, take time and be or feel supported my mentors. This is why your work is so important as it can be used for self as well as clients. You and your group are great mentors for us all. Thank you once again.

  15. sarah boggs says:

    I realize after the fact that I have been grieving for my lost object–my attachment–and then I am able to move forward-my dog, Zac, gives me the strength to do so–I realize that I have never allowed myself to let go of my old frame around my finances-and why I keep cycling–I don’t allow myself to let go and move into the void- and see what is there–scary–but I need to do it- I am hanging on to expectations that I am going to marry an attorney or a doctor, be rich, join a country club, not work, ,have lots of stock options and rich friends-live in a mansion like in Hillsboro, travel all over the place–instead I am living in a trailer park, have poor friends except Susan–fear traveling, live on my social security and see where my recovery from addiction interfered with making my expectations–what I do have is a husband that loves me without measure, friends that love me unconditionally, a strong spiritual connection, and hope–my parents for all their expectations and materialism had no love, hope, compassion or spiritual life–I wouldn’t trade what I have

  16. Thank you. This was helpful for me to reflect on where I have been — in a place of uncertainty. And it does feel good when you come out the other side.

  17. thank you for this…the time between no longer and not yet…..2 years ago i separated from the father of my kids and although we keep a good connection the loss has been profound.i moved with the kids from the family home into a rental situation. the feeling of vulnerability and fear has been many layered, i have reflected lately that i am still frozen, unable to find the way forward and has given rise to almost panic at times that touches into childhood trauma, so i use the image of standing, or even kneeling at the sacred crossroads and there is for sure a lot of potential for growth, surrender and resting into the unknown. a time to practice meditation, movement and agni hotra, one day at a time. thank you again. i found this really affirming of my own journey. blessings on us all….Kumari

  18. Ruth burton says:

    I have done grief work with clients and I think this has helped them the most to move on. Always sounds simple but getting them to feel their feelings and not judge is
    Big. Thank you Ruth for providing these kind of feee learning opportunities. They are really helpful!

  19. This is not new information, it still very valuable. Fritz Perls, back in the forties talked about “the fertile void” (one of the layers of neurosis) as a key experience in the client’s expanding awareness and growth. The task for the therapist at this time is to not jump in to save the client from this often uncomfortable uncertainty, but to be able to stay with him/her as they navigat through the uncertainty to greater awareness. Mindfulness seems to have s many elements of gestalt therapy.

  20. Cheryl Randall says:

    Not being able to release the past or forgive the self for past mistakes – or present ones. Buddhist meditation, mindfulness, has been helpful in many cases. Chi Gong practice has also been helpful.

  21. Thank you…insights galore in this video! The notion of (no longer/not yet) parallels some of William Bridges work in Transitions of Endings/Transitions/New Beginnings. Being within that transition period…and sometimes needing to be like tree roots in winter…going deep for nourishment….before we can emerge again spring-like holds so many truths for “getting unstuck.”
    I’m now working a lot with organizations and businesses who “are stuck”…behaviorally in workplace incivility, unprofessionalism, (which easily disintegrates into bullying, taunting and workplace violence), and which keeps them stuck in performance mediocrity. We know it doesn’t have to be that way. Helping them move forward (together in new agreements) is my life’s work.

  22. Sherry Criswell says:

    In helping individuals move forward in the moment when they first are seeking help, I usually determine their positive behaviors within their stories and highlight those, because often they have forgotten what makes them a good human being (for the most part). Or else, they are so depleted from overwhelming circumstances of bad decisions they can’t see past them. I almost always see strength in one form or another. It takes a strong person to continue struggling and punishing themselves in ways that are unknown to them. I believe that once a person receives that affirmation from another person they trust or known to be just, they can start to see the truth within themselves also. Much work is, of course, still needed, but it is a starting point. To see once again that you have a strength all your own, which is responsible for what controls your life, it the path to empowerment as an individual, and basically clarity to overcoming perceived obstacles.

  23. Diane says:

    I would add that observing without judgment is truly the key to absorbing the most that you can from that uncertain time. If clients continue to judge themselves or others, they begin to impose their old thought patterns on the “void” and thus tend to rebuild the same circumstances and habits as before, rather than grow and change.

  24. Ginger Ingalls says:

    A feeling of lightness from deeper breathing has unstuck a recent client, she said, after our Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy work.

  25. Eleanor says:

    I really like her language of no longer and not yet and helping clients understand that it is during uncertainty that the most growth occurs. I agree too that it is necessary to grieve the loss but also depending on the nature of the loss addressing feelings of guilt/ blame and or shame that can accompany and complicate these stages in a client’s experience.

  26. Genevieve says:

    Thank you, Joan, for your comments.

    It would appear to me that the most important things needed, during times of uncertainty, are nurturing love, belief and moral support; without them, it’s a very isolating journey.

    • Martha says:

      As a person that has been stuck for many years after concurrent
      losses, it is so very true that without love, belief and moral support,
      the self becomes smaller and the walls close in even more. I understand
      the limitations of talk therapy as it occurs within the confines of a small
      space as it is told to me within my experience. I have issues with environment and process and how to actually navigate life with limited resources. I think sustainability is more than a little challenging for lost souls if there is no ‘firm ground’, and in an ‘ideal world’ I play with
      the idea of two kinds of therapy, one being ‘talk therapy’ and where possible
      combined with ‘walk therapy’ in a larger safe space, and the other being
      a more ‘active’ type of therapy in the environment as seeing how a person moves may provide some perhaps helpful information. ie. I personally
      experience a great deal of anxiety when I’m standing up talking to my
      therapist or see him outside ‘the safety of his office’, though he
      actually perceives me as a fairly socially open and comfortable person
      in the confines of the small office where I meet for appointments.

    • fran says:

      I agree one needs nurturing love, belief and moral support. Do you think psychotherapists are trained to give those qualities? The next question during that liminal time is you did not have those sources of support before the loss where does one find them in that challenging time??

      • Christine says:

        Oh, and yes I do believe therapist have those skills… They help one see different perspectives and also validate their experience giving them the moral support and belief in themselves.. They can also help them discover ways to reingage with their world to find the love and support that is available out there and by helping them set goals and take risk they can begin to step forward into a new life… That has just been my personal experience.

      • Christine says:

        I will share from my own experience that I had step back out into the world and begin to search for them, trying out different support groups, i.e. 12 step programs, meditation class, yoga class, joining a like minded spiritual group which for me was Unity Church, joining a hiking club, taking an art class or just doing art to connect with myself.. Doing the things I use to love and reawakening the feeling of being alive again… Going for walks in nature and developing a relationship with the loving Spirit within. As I have reawakened to my own Spirit I have found healing within myself that has allowed me to reingage with people and love in the world. IHope that helps!

        • Wendy says:

          Doing the things you listed, along with allowing oneself to grieve, are, for me, keys to ongoing healing.

  27. Bruce Peters says:

    Thank you for this…… it fit nicely with a post I’m working on that build’s on Tom Friedman’s book
    “Thank You For Being Late”.

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