There’s an old joke that goes, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” and the punchline is, “practice, practice, practice.”
Oftentimes, in my work as a therapist for children, adolescents, and their families, the question comes up of “How do I remember to use this in the moment?” And the simple answer, as the above “joke” points out, is practice. Skills learned in therapy are just that, skills, and just like any other skill, you need to practice it to be able to use it.
Imagine going to piano lessons once a week to learn how to play the piano but never playing the piano the other six days of the week. It’s just not going to work. I mean there are 168 hours in a week and if you only spend one hour of those 168 learning how to play, I am not sure what voodoo you think your piano instructor will be able to do to you but, it’s just not going to work.
Same thing with therapy. If you only practice or think about the things talked about in therapy during the therapy hour, I am not sure it is going to work. And “work” is the operative word here, therapy can be “work”, it can be hard “work” and you have to work it for it to “work.” Now, I am sure the issues that bring someone to therapy do not only come up once a week, they may happen several times a week, several times a day. The question, and the basis of many therapies, is what do you do when they inevitably do happen. .
Take anxiety for example. Therapy does not take away anxiety, therapy helps you manage and deal with anxiety. Being mentally healthy is not the absence of anxiety. Far from it, anxiety is a normal part of life and if you are going to engage in life in any sort of meaningful way, you will have feelings of anxiety. Anxiety can even be helpful at times and some people have stronger feelings of anxiety than others. But again, the key here is what do you do when anxiety inevitably happens. For some, it’s the use of a coping skill, but how do you remember or connect the skill with your feelings of anxiety?
The same way you prepare for anything else, again practice. Perhaps you have mental role plays with yourself where you imagine the trigger of your anxiety and then you intentionally use the learned skill, and you do this several times a day. Or perhaps, when you are brushing your teeth in the morning, you review your triggers and coping mechanisms. Waiting for coffee to brew? Review your triggers and coping mechanisms. Riding in the car on the way to school? Review your triggers and coping mechanisms. Set alarms on your phone to go off several times a day with the title “Review coping mechanisms”. Build these reviews into your already established routines throughout the day to practice to keep these skills in mind, to be “mindful”, and before you know it, the skills may just begin to appear in your mind when your triggers appear.