What Topic is "Good Enough"?

May 21st, 2018

This week’s blog is pretty specific in its focus. I’m going to talk about the act of choosing what topic to bring to the mental health professionals charged with our support. This decision can be paralyzing, but if we are able to figure it out, can be an important part of our journey.

Sometimes, when a professional asks us what we are wanting to discuss today, in therapy, counselling, or coaching, we know right away. Some life events, emotions, or problems are so intense or obvious that we have no difficulty in pointing to them and saying, in essence, “This is where it hurts.” Other times it is very difficult to figure out what we want to work on.

The trap I often find myself in is that of “Is my topic good enough?” I spend a lot of time trying to figure out the optimal topic to work on. This is a way in which I unfortunately employ maximizing in my thinking and sometimes end up paralyzed by indecision as a result. I want so badly to have the best possible thing solved that I don’t often know, until right when my coach says “What do you want to work on today?” what it is I do officially want to work on.

Don’t get me wrong: some topics make way more sense to work on before others. It wouldn’t make much sense to coach around how to make the transition from high school to university if someone is procrastinating on applying to universities. If there are a bunch of things that all seem really urgent or important, with no clear indicators as to which need to go first, then maximizing might bring us down.

The first thing to consider when paralyzed in this manner is to speak with the professional about it. Consider making a list of all the things that seem to be competing for the top spot. Maybe even do a brain dump, the act of writing down the things that are swirling in our minds so they aren’t distracting us, and then take a more logical look at what is important and urgent. Often the professional can assist in sorting through the flotsam and jetsam of our minds.

Then there’s the dartboard method. Shutting our eyes, we point to one of the list, and go with that one, regardless of which one it ends up being, just to get us out of this stalemate. Or use this online dice generator to use an imaginary die with the number of sides equal to the choices available to pick. That secondary method can either be used as a random selection, or to reveal to us which option we truly want. This happened to me all the time when I asked my sister to pick between two outfits I was thinking of wearing. I always chose the one she didn’t point to.

Another method is to order the list in descending urgency or importance. I like to do this with Post-It notes. Write each item on a Post-It note and physically move them around until they are in order. Then decide to bring the professional these topics in the order laid out. This can help with anxiety because we know we will get to everything, eventually.

One last thing about topics in mental health professional support that I’ve learned. When something is really bothering us or we are really excited about it, and the client trusts the professional, the really important stuff will often come to light, no matter what the original topic was. And it is also important to remember that it is possible to change our minds. Changing more than once in a session can be very counterproductive, but if we, the client or patient, truly feel that the topic we originally started needs to change, I firmly believe it is our right and our duty to speak up. This will obviously be easier for some than for others, especially if social anxiety is at play, but it is an option to be considered.

How do you determine what topics and challenges to bring a mental health professional?