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Sometimes, the best thing to do is to NOT use a coping skill... Here's why.

Hear me out.

I spoke with one of my supervisees yesterday about clients who are “fused” with certain thoughts. (Fusion, being a term from ACT, meaning that the person is very hooked by those particular thoughts). Without getting into a whole thing, we can use certain skills through language and visualization to go from a) being very impacted by our thoughts to b) being minimally impacted by our thoughts. A great example is if you think of your stream of thoughts as the radio, and maybe a station is playing that you absolutely hate.

De-fusion skills help you go from listening intently to the radio and being super mega

bothered by it, to tuning it out and carrying on with whatever you DO want to focus on.

Then we unpacked the thoughts, and realized that for clients who are under constant threat, danger, manipulation, & oppression—it makes SENSE that they are fused with fearful thoughts. That means their threat/danger system is working appropriately.

Let's use a really simple example to make this even clearer:

Imagine you are about to cross a busy street, with cars flying by extremely fast. You become anxious, tense, and start having thoughts of "oh no, what if I get hit by a car when I cross?" This anxious thought is gonna be annoying, sure, but it's also a sign that your threat/danger cues are working properly! This anxiety will keep you in a sympathetic state (aka "fight or flight"), which allows you to be more alert and quicker to react—which is very useful in a threatening situation! In that case, would the best thing be to try and let go of those thoughts? Or wait until the actual threat has passed before trying to "cope" or "manage" them?

SO - what would happen if, in a moment when your angry- or anxious-thoughts make PERFECT SENSE, you try to disconnect (or "defuse") from them? Furthermore, what would happen if you were having those very appropriate thoughts, and then someone else (like your therapist) tried to get you to disconnect from them?

Sometimes the appropriate response isn’t to detach from thoughts/emotions, or try and rationalize with them, or to try and bring in regulation skills. Sometimes their dysregulation is the most appropriate reaction to have.

This is not a new thought or radical idea—just something I’m constantly having to re-learn as a therapist who supports others, and as a human who supports herself (while unlearning a lot of my colonial programming).

I know my language has shifted to include LOTS about colonialism and capitalism. You may be someone that, like me a few months ago, thinks “what does colonialism have to do with everyday therapy?”

Well, our entire mental healthcare system as it currently exists was founded on beliefs, assumptions, and processes that protected the interests of the capital. As in, folks who were “mad” or “mentally ill” and could not meet growing labor standards in the 1900s were outcasted. Sometimes to asylums, sometimes to prisons—but they were either “treated” with intent to get them back to working demands, or they’d remain incarcerated through most of their lives.

Then, as neoliberalism and capitalism took effect in 1980, the field of psychiatry attempted to gain credibility by making the public opinion of mental health more about genetics and biology than about the real social and economic factors shaping people’s mental health. It fit the capitalist agenda for mental health issues to be named as individual “syndromes,” treated by medication and individual services, rather than looking as social change as a resolution.

My anti-capitalism rants can go on and on in another blog, but for the time being, I'll leave us with this:

The very real reality for many folks is that they are under near-constant threats of danger—whether it be poverty and financial threats to stability, racism and discriminatory threats to their well-being, physical threats to their safety. In these cases, before you risk invalidating their experience by introducing a coping skill, maybe acknowledge the functionality of them first.

— Kaitlin 🥰

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