As a mental health counselor with nearly a decade of experience working with people in crisis, it’s safe to say that I am drawn to the opportunities for change that crises can create. Out of a crisis can come the possibility to look again at what is happening, to remain flexible and to work on regaining influence, as much as possible, over the situation. Looking again at a situation is important because we can recognize what is actually happening, which can be different from our interpretation of what is happening. When we do this, we can define the true scope of the crisis and tackle it accordingly. Remaining flexible serves us because we can take on a different role than the one we may have taken in a more neutral state, or even in a past crisis. In times where we may have previously shied away, we can look for ways to challenge ourselves to get moving and stay moving. The inverse may be true as well.
Where we may have otherwise moved quickly, we can challenge ourselves to remain still and give ourselves the time to think about our next move. By staying open in this way, we are able to move more freely within the crisis and experience the confidence of serving in the various capacities that may be required of us.
The ability to regain influence can make an incredible difference, particularly when we consider the fact that many crises are born out of circumstances that are outside of our control. And it is important to note that there is a difference between control and influence. Control refers more to one’s ability to direct events, while influence implies more of an ability to effect events or people. In a crisis, we may truly have no control over what has occurred or is occurring, but we can influence what happens next. This ability to recognize our influence over a situation can assist us in feeling less stressed when things are spiraling out of control.
As a mental health counselor, understanding the importance of looking again, remaining flexible and regaining influence is not only critical in my work with people in psychological crisis, but it is also key in my work with individuals who are looking to create meaningful change as they navigate the various tides of their lives. And whether we like it or not, or are aware of it or not, we all experience these tides. Whether they are the rise of a new career and the prospects that come from that, or the sink that befalls us when we lose a loved one, these tides are all occasions to look again, remain flexible and regain influence where we can. When we do this, we give ourselves the chance to reflect on what we need most in those moments. Perhaps we need care and support of loved ones. Or we learn about and take advantage of additional resources that were previously unavailable. Either way, this reflection can lead to our learning more about ourselves and drive us to challenge ourselves to gain what we need.
When managed well, through the support of trusted others, by sharing our struggles and by being open to possibilities, we can regain influence over an “out of control” situation and reduce our feeling of stress. In this way, the crisis or life change can serve as an avenue of empowerment — where there was once powerlessness and great uncertainty, new possibilities based on an understanding of strengths and weaknesses can now form. We can begin to feel less stressed and more powerful! Of course, some crises present changes that are irreversible, but by positioning ourselves as an influencer in the situation we can create a different experience of the crisis itself.
To me, this is truly the function of mental health services: to provide us with the ability to witness these changes and find new and creative ways to endure them. In my work, I am always amazed at our resilience and our ability to overcome those circumstances that were once thought of as too big or impassable. While some of life’s challenges are difficult, they provide us with our truest measure of our capabilities. When we endure, we become stronger versions of ourselves, overcoming obstacles and slowly building confidence for the next hurdle. And when we are more confident and stand stronger as individuals, we are stronger and more empowered as a community.