What therapy techniques can help us manage stress in the workplace and general anxiety? And in therapy, why is it common to talk about our childhood?
On a sunny afternoon, we spoke with the Singapore-based therapist, Richard Logan, about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), how therapy can help people change and analyze behavior patterns, inner-child work, and why there are usually deeper personal issues when struggling with work-life balance and workplace stress (among other things). Here is an excerpt from our conversation.
Katya: Richard, thanks for your time! Let’s begin by discussing your style of therapy and how you typically work.
I work with a lot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques, combined with other techniques that are now known as “mindfulness.” I, as well, use transpersonal approaches, which I think about as being spiritual in nature, and psycho-dynamic techniques. Whatever technique I use, I like to give clients information, strategies, and skills for them to use. A good part of my time is spent on this kind of psycho-education.
Katya: Can you please elaborate on an example of psycho-education?
For example, the fight-or-flight response is a subject that I discuss with most of my clients. So, if someone knows the fight-or-flight response, how it works in their physiology, in their thinking, how they react, then they’re able to better manage it.
A broad term I often use with clients is “learning to manage yourself.” It could be managing your mood, your mind, your emotional state, your time management, boundaries, relationships. All of those things begin with the basic CBT-type of approach.
Katya: As many clients come to therapy with the goal of wanting to feel better, with an existing or non-existent list of items they want to work through, how do you work with the client to help them identify what need to manage?
In the first session, I would be doing a lot of listening and asking them questions. What led them to be here? Is therapy something they’ve been thinking about for a while or something new? What’s their history? What are the main issues or blockers in their life?
Every client is unique and the mix of techniques and format we’ll use for therapy will differ. I also work with clients both in-person and through remote consultations through video or less often, the phone.
Katya: What else can a client expect when beginning a course of therapy?
An important primary step for myself and the client is to develop a common language and vocabulary for our sessions.
Something that is fairly common to many items is anxiety (from the fight or flight response). For example, many clients bring up stresses in the workplace, of being a new parent. The stresses of being an expat.
When I hear “I feel stressed”, it usually means “I feel anxious.” So, going forward with this client, we may want to go through explaining in more detail how stress and anxiety make them feel, and frame the conversation in “how do we work to manage these feelings of anxiety.”
For most of my clients, I use a structured approach, and we’ll cover many topics—from their current life and the past. CBT is a technique that is very present where we talk about the now. What am I thinking? What am I feeling? What is my behavior? What can I do to change?
But, patterns of behavior are usually a learned behavior that were learned somewhere along the way in life. Identifying the route of the learned behavior may include talking about their childhood.
Katya: Why is “talking about childhood” important and so common in therapy? It seems to be a topic that scares many people off from trying therapy.
Very often, you need to talk about your childhood. This is daunting for many people before they come into therapy, so I explain to clients why we may need to explore talking about their childhood and the potential benefits. If clients are comfortable with this, then we’ll explore their childhood. This would rarely happen in the first session; more likely after rapport and safety have been built. If not, we’ll use a different approach to exploring issues.
Behaviors and patterns of thinking are learned from somewhere.
Going back to learned behavior, let’s explore an example of where someone is experiencing a high amount of anxiety. Speaking very simply, someone learns to feel anxious. Learns to be anxious perhaps through their attachment with their parents. The experiences they had in their early years will form how they may still look at the world. Is the world a loving place? Or is the world a cold, scary place? Is it warm? All these sorts of things impact how we feel about the present.
Katya: Is talking about childhood then necessary for everyone experiencing issues with anxiety?
Not at all. It’s not that you have to go back to your childhood to understand every single behavior and thought pattern. We’re working with the human mind. Each person has a different experience and way of perceiving the world, thus there isn’t just one type of therapy or technique that will help someone. But, talking through some childhood experiences can be a way to make the client reflect on “Why am I thinking this way now, even when everything in my life is quite good?” This technique can help explain where these patterns originated.
In early sessions with a client, I explain to them that we will primarily be focused on the present, but may need to also talk about the past. So, if we work in the past, I will often use a lot of inner-child work.
Katya: What is “inner-child” work?
To be clear, this is the way that I use inner-child work, and there are many techniques and definitions out there.
One way to explain it is that we all have developmental stages. At each developmental stage of childhood, we have different needs and requirements to develop un-bruised. If the child didn’t get some critical element at one of these points—say, love or attention—or if they didn’t learn something at a particular stage, the person may remain stuck there.
Another way to think about it, is that chronologically, there are things that happen that cause distress. For example, the fight or flight response. Now as children, we generally learn that we can’t fully express our negative emotions. These are anger, frustration, sadness. So, what happens is that these emotions are suppressed; they’re swallowed. They’re kept inside, resulting in there being parts of us that are stuck internally.
When I do inner child work, what I’m doing is accessing all those bits that are stuck. It’s simply me guiding the client to “go inside” and to connect with “the little Katya”, “the little Richard.” The little youthat is inside all of us.
Katya: What can someone expect in “inner-child” work and talking through childhood experiences?
We might revisit specific events and work through reinterpreting the events, and giving the child what they didn’t get. It might just be giving the child reassurance. Letting the child know clearly that they’re loved and accepted. We’ll be working through the patterns that have developed from these events. It’s like we’re de-energizing them and filling in the missing parts.
Katya: Can you elaborate on how inner-child work, and de-energizing unproductive thoughts and beliefs, can work in therapy?
So, let’s say that a child has learned and believes that they’re no good or not good enough. So, what we’ll do in this process of revisiting the past is to give the “inner child” what they needed during that time or part. We’ll give the needed message that was missing at this point in life that may be blocking the person’s current ability to be free and happy.
Perhaps, just implanting the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes, for example.
Katya: Workplace anxiety and stresses from the office are one of the common reasons that many drive people seek out therapy. What kind of techniques could be used to help someone suffering with these issues?
Just as with any issue, I would ask the client a series of questions and listen. What is their current work situation? What, specifically, are they working with? Have they had these issues in the past with other colleagues or in other jobs?
An issue that often comes up with workplace issues is one of boundaries, and not being able to set boundaries. These days with technology, many people believe that they need to be available 24 hours a day.
I’ll ask my client, “has anyone told that you that you need to be available 24 hours a day?” And usually the answer is “no”, though sometimes the answer is “yes”, so we need to deal with that. But generally, this is a belief that someone has put upon themselves.
“I’m getting this e-mail at 3 am, so I need to reply. Because if they’re working at 3 am in the morning, I should be”
So, what’s driving this behavior? Is it that the person believes that this is their duty? Or perhaps this client has a tendency to be what’s called a “people pleaser.” If this is a common pattern in the person’s life, not just needing to please the boss, then this is perhaps where inner-child work could discover that the person is interpreting figures of authority in their lives, and even non-authority figures, as the relationship they had with their parents as a child.
“I need to please my parents. I need to please my boss.”
People will often get themselves into a situation where they constantly need to be pleasing their boss, without setting boundaries for themselves and without putting their own well-being (mental illness V well-being) first. For this person, we would explore where their need to please someone comes from. And, very often, it’s because there’s been inconsistency in the parenting. So this is when I would go back to “the child” with them.
Of course, inner-child work is not for everyone, and many people prefer to focus on mindfulness and present methodologies, primarily taken from the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy school of thought.
To consult with Richard Logan in-person or remotely from his Singapore office, contact him directly through his profile.