Cultivating Gratitude

Elizabeth Spencer

Clients who come to see us suffering terribly from anxiety and OCD understandably often have little ability to think about being grateful for anything. They just want to get rid of the terrible feelings they have. As they begin exposures and start to get well, it is important to help them look for the good things in their lives, and to find healthy things to spend time on as they spend less and less time with anxiety.

One of the final signs that a client is ready to finish therapy is when he or she realizes that anxiety has really been something to be grateful for. There are innumerable ways anxiety is a gift, and seeing our client recognize the gift in suffering is always a powerful moment. I think of a 12-year old girl who struggled with social anxiety who told me on our final session that anxiety had made her a better sister and a better friend because she was empathetic to other’s suffering.

What’s true for our clients is true for us as therapists as well. I think about the gifts I have had from anxiety in my own life – my career, my connection with my clients, my ability to be brave and do new things in my life. In many ways, I was able to join with Kimberly in starting because I had learned to be brave dealing with my own anxiety.

Recently that I’ve had another opportunity to cultivate gratitude as I have been dealing with a treatable medical condition that will require me to have surgery in 2020. My anxious mind can really get going on this one, thinking “It’s not fair” and “why me?” I have found that for me it is working best to remember specifics like how grateful I am to have good health insurance and how grateful I am to live in a time and place where surgery is an option and how grateful I am that medical care afterward is available. I admit that I can’t hold onto that attitude all the time, but returning to it when I feel discouraged is really helpful. Give gratitude a try –it may just help you and your clients when you are in tough moments this year.

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