Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Food for Thought - (Part 1)

I'm the kind of person that likes to break things down into smaller, more manageable pieces, in order to make sense of them. Which is probably why I enjoy cooking so much.  I get to combine simple, basic, raw ingredients into one cohesive, complex, yet perfectly balanced finger-licking dish (in theory, at least).  Yet, for some, cooking can be overwhelming.  They take one look at the list of ingredients and immediately give up, thinking: too many steps, too many ingredients, too much work.   I get excited by the challenge.

The same can be said of the work I do with my clients (minus the dirty dishes).  For the most part, we all have complex histories, which, like a recipe, can seem overwhelming and leave us feeling disorganized.   Therefore, finding ways to get to the root of a problem and effecting change can turn out to be a difficult task.  Almost as hard as making mayonnaise from scratch. 

So, how do I put my cooking skills to work in my therapy office?  I work with six basic ingredients, or rather, six basic needs (based on the work of CloĆ© Madanes).  A recipe even the most inexperienced cooks can master.

The first basic need is Certainty.  We all want to be certain that we're safe, healthy, comfortable in our relationship, etc.  Certainty addresses our basic human need to feel secure - having a roof over our heads or knowing we have food on our table.  

It's important to point out, though, that someone who's on unemployment and lives in a one bedroom apartment can feel just as satisfied as someone who needs to make a million dollars a year to feel secure.  So, before you start judging "crazy" uncle George for living in a mountain cabin, with his three goats and existing on cheese alone, first ask yourself..."Is he happy?"   We all need some level of certainty in our lives, but what constitutes certainty for one person may be very different for another.

So, how does our need for certainty become a problem?  When it negatively affects other parts of our life.  For example, a workaholic who is never home, is always tired and finds no time for his or her family,  perhaps has gone too far in the quest for security.  As a result, the excessive need  for certainty has now reaped more severe consequences.  In this case it might be marital problems or the use of drugs to keep up with the demands.  Remember, you can only whip cream so long before it turns into butter. 

The second need is Uncertainty.  I know, it's confusing.  How can we throw Certainty and Uncertainty into the same pot?  It's like  oil and water; they don't mix.  Well, in this case, they do.  Though rather than mix, they complement each other.  

Uncertainty refers to the need we have for variety and challenges in our life.  We all need some level of suspense and surprise to feel invigorated, right?   Life would be very boring if not.  Like wondering if my souffle will cave in when I take it out of the oven...the tension is unbearable...yet thrilling.

For the most part, we choose healthy ways to meet the need for uncertainty.   Engaging in sports or investing in stocks, for example.  Here in Los Angeles, it's often performing and the excitement of  being on a stage that fulfills that need.

As with Certainty,  we encounter problems when the thrill-seeking affects us negatively.  We may find ourselves engaging in compulsive sexual behavior, gambling, stealing, speeding, etc.  You get the picture, right? 

In a nutshell (almond, pecan, macadamia, whichever), by identifying which of these six basic needs a problem is rooted in, you're one step closer to finding a solution. 

"But wait!" you say.  "Those were only two needs and you said there were six!"  You're right.  But you'll have to wait until my next post.  Who knew that reading my blog on a weekly basis would fulfill your need for "certainty"?  You see, now you have one less thing to worry about.

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