What would you say, are you a palm tree or an oak tree? Palm trees are flexible and when strong hurricane force winds come, they bend in the wind, sustaining the force. Oak trees, on the other hand, despite their strength and deep root system, can snap in half in strong wind. Flexibility promotes resilience during a crisis. Can you bend and adjust to sustain the wind, or does your inability to cope make you snap?
Back in March the conference I planned to attend on play therapy and trauma was (surprised!) cancelled. Instead, the Virginia Association of Play Therapists rallied and started weekly Zoom calls for the therapy community to come together and support each other as we took our very interpersonal and hands on work online. I'm not going to lie, I NEVER intended to do work with children online. I considered it to be the opposite of what I was aiming to do in the play room -- which is to connect and hold space with a child. Well, I had to get over that and quickly. And it helped to have a community of peers to process and brainstorm with as we figured it out.
During one of those meetings we processed this Palm Tree vs Oak Tree metaphor. I've been thinking about it ever since and use it as I support my clients who may be stuck in rigid thinking that is causing more harm than good. For example:
Rigid Oak Tree Thoughts:
"I cannot handle this."
"I will go crazy if I have to stay in this house."
"All of my ways of coping have been taken away from me."
"I just need to know now how long this will take."
Flexible Palm Tree Thoughts:
"This is not what I planned, but I'm working on accepting it."
"I'm nervous at the thought of speaking on camera, but I really need to see my friends/complete my coursework/attend this meeting so I will give this Zoom thing a try."
"I've been coming up with new ways to cope. I'm working on new small goals for exercise and trying new hobbies."
There's so many examples of palm tree sustainability right now -- small businesses pivoting to continue to sell their goods curbside, churches holding online and drive-thru services, all the teachers working their butts off to keep our kids learning. My friend got married yesterday and all the guests watched over Zoom! As for me, I'm grateful I was wrong about my previous thoughts about meeting with kids online-- it does work! The most important element in therapy is building a trusting and safe relationship. Through this pandemic I've learned that whether online or in person, counseling continues to provide safety, unconditional support, and promotes connection.
How about you? How have you been flexible during this time? Have you worn a mask even if you'd rather not? Have you adjusted your plans and schedule to accommodate your children's learning needs? Celebrate the ways you've been flexible in this crisis, and celebrate your resilience as you continue to deal with its challenges.