What is the first step? Why is it important? I find that when speaking to people who are experiencing depression, anxiety or a challenging period of time, that the first step is the most important in activating change.
A client I spoke to was having the counselling session with me from his bed. He had not been out of bed in two days, he had not eaten much, hardly slept and not washed in four days. He was lacking motivation and had an overwhelming despondent feeling. He asked himself and me ‘what is the point?’ He could not see a solution to his difficulty. By the end of our phone session he had gotten out of bed and was going to run himself a bath. What changed? I encouraged him and motivated him enough so that he could take the first step.
His first step was to get out of bed. Visualising what he had to do helped him. We discussed him getting up, then having a bath, then eating, then putting on clean clothes, and then finally going out of his house for some fresh air. He could do it once he imaged himself to be able to. Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander (2000) call it a “universe of possibility”, and I think for my client once he visualised the possibility of getting out of bed and going through the steps we illustrated, only then he could take his first step. This vital first step allowed him to move forward; it should not be underestimated how powerful that is.
I spoke to a different client who had joint pain. She missed her dance classes that she took many years ago. I challenged her assumption of worrying about what others thought of her, and she smiled and was able to get to her first step. For this client, it would be calling up a local dance class enquiring about a beginner’s level class. I believe that she was able to take her first step due to feeling how much I believed in her. It reminds me of this quote by Dr Paul Hauck (2001), “Though you are imperfect, you are far more gifted than you are faulty.” It is about realizing our limits as well as celebrating our strengths.
One final client I want to mention was a workaholic. She was multi-tasking many different jobs which was stressful. When we spoke, she reminded me of the image of a hamster on a wheel not being able to get off. After sharing this with her, she laughed and said, ‘that is exactly how it feels for me’. What was her first step? Well, it was about allowing herself to pause, take in some breaths and recognize that she wants to take a minute for herself. The acceptance that she cannot do it all was an important first step for her. As Douglas Richards (1984) quotes, “everyone has their gray days, and no one is spared from the realization that life isn’t easy.” From the point that my workaholic client could see that, she could make her first step. Over the ensuing sessions, she told me proudly how she claimed some time and space for herself. She realized that she was the one who needed to make the first step and however much we explored it together, she was the one who needed to do it. And she did! We laughed together, as we acknowledged that despite the fact she stopped and took a breath, the world continued!
Aviva Keren Barnett (PgD, M.A ) is a UKCP registered existential psychotherapist and counselor. Aviva holds a Master of Arts in Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling. Aviva, a very passionate therapist, works with individuals on a private basis.