So I admit it: I’ve got a lot of hangups. I refuse to watch commercials. I don’t look at billboards. I hate talking on the phone. I’m a grammar nazi. I’m a spelling nazi. (Ironically, I think there are probably some spelling and grammatical mistakes in this post). I have this weird beef with abbreviated words. I’ve been in bands for years and one of the most annoying things in the musical world is when other bands would refer to the CD’s, t-shirts, stickers and other MERCHANDISE they had for sale as “merch”. “We got some CD’s for sale at the merch table” they’d say.(UGH!!) A former supervisor used to always ask me if I had an “auth” (authorization) “to talk to the school”. Drove me nuts…sorry Gail. Anyhoo, my point is or at least my meandering subpoint is that I hate buzzwords. So, with that rambling and mildly unrelated disclaimer in mind, let me discuss a particular buzz word or possibly buzz phrase that is extremely common in the therapist’s world: Coping Skills. As a therapist with lots of experience working at various psychiatric institutions, I’ve often seen some bit about coping skills strewn about as an acceptable, although rather meaningless, phrase plopped down on so many poorly written treatment plans. What does it mean? Nothing. It’s a phrase placed on therapeutically oriented documents that suggests “we’re doing what we say we’re doing” so that the people who pay(insurance companies) don’t raise a fuss. It’s supposed to have a meaning,though, and an important one. The way I’ve always explained the presumed meaning of the phrase “coping skills” to my adolescent clients in particular, is “anything you use to deal with something”. Take particular note of the word “anything”. Considering that I’m a psychotherapist, most would assume that when I say coping skills, I’m talking about things such as exercise, journaling, deep breathing, prayer or any other healthy habit. While this is the case to a great degree, I’d also add to the list some other less likely candidates such as drug abuse, physical aggression, calling in to work, avoidance, repression, overeating, etc. Again, the definition above states ANYTHING is a coping skill. To take this definition even further still, I would suggest that EVERYTHING is a coping skill. At this point you might be saying, “so what, big deal”. The big deal is that the attitude of everything being a coping skill, although seemingly benign, suggests a radically different view of human nature. This view (obviously my view) suggests that nearly all human behavior is directed towards the goal of fulfilling our highest potential. This model of human behavior states that even unhealthy behaviors serve as a manner by which an individual moves towards balance and self-healing. In the larger picture, this also suggests that humans are basically good, growth oriented and even when placed in impoverished environments, naturally progress towards actualization. (note to self, look up actualization). In summary, I and this theory are proposing a number of things: 1. Humans are basically good. 2. We have an inborn drive towards expression of potential. 3. Given the right environment, humans will express this potential in healthy, life affirming ways. 4. Even in impoverished environments, this drive will still express itself, although possibly in a less healthy form. Therefore, as clinicians and people in general, it perhaps should be our aim to view the more maladaptive coping mechanisms with less condemnation and see them more as different versions of a healthy drive towards wellness and health. Betcha didn’t see that one coming back when I was talking about the “merch table” did ya?
As always, here’s the unrelated song and recommended reading:
The Melvins : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6ggvDpEvvc
The Plauge by Albert Camus