Clinicians — are you ready to face your own fears?

Elizabeth Spencer

I hope you had a great summer with time for relaxation and adventure. It is so important for clinicians to take time away from work to recharge, whatever time of year that works best for your life and your practice.
This summer I had the opportunity to use my CBT skills in my own life, and the results made me proud to be a CBT therapist, so I want to share my experience with you.
My husband and I took a trip to beautiful Iceland, and on one of our final days took a day trip to Drangey Island.
Any of you have fear of heights? If you have heard me speak you have heard me talk about my own anxiety starting with a panic attack in high school. None of my anxiety has limited my life thanks to early education that took the fear out of intense symptoms. However, anxiety has tried many times to scare me about new situations or situations in which I have been many times – anxiety is very cunning!
This situation in Iceland, though, was not subtle. I don’t know why in our trip planning I had not focused on what the climb on Drangey would be like – I think I was just focused on getting to see puffins!
When we got off the boat with 10 other people and a father and son guide, and I first looked up the almost shear face of the 180 meter rock we were about to climb, my reaction was, “I can’t do it.” That feeling did not get better as we climbed, holding ropes that were tied to pegs that had been pounded into the rocks, and with seabirds by the thousands flying and calling around us. My anxiety was a 9 out of 10 from the first steps on the rock, and my heart pounded and my knees shook so I didn’t think they would hold me. My thoughts began to race “what if I miss one of the rungs on the ladder? What if I stumble on this small patch of earth and hurtle over the edge into the ocean so far below?”
My hands are sweating now as I write this and remember my terror. Have you felt anxiety like that before? It is humbling and impossible to ignore. Your body screams at you to stop. I kept going because of all of you – all of the clinicians I teach and all of my clients. This is what I know – back down from anxiety and it will have you. So I kept climbing with tears in my eyes.
At the top, I collapsed to the ground for a few minutes to try to stop the world from spinning. Then we spent 90 minutes on top of this huge island rock so high up it felt like we could touch the clouds. Gradually my anxiety faded. I didn’t focus on “what-if” thinking or add anxious thoughts. I didn’t try to distract myself. I kept looking over the edge. I tried to get my anxiety back up, but it was impossible.
The climb back down was pure joy. I wasn’t anxious at all, and I could relish the beautiful scenery and watch the puffins since I was no longer stuck in my own head with anxiety calling the shots. Can you see that smile on my face? This was my victory moment!
I know anxiety isn’t done with me. It surprises me now and again, and I’m okay with that because I climbed Drangey Island, something I had never even know to be anxious about before our trip.
I’m home and back to work now, and I am charged up and ready to help the clinicians I teach and the clients I work with break the spell of anxiety. Send me your success stories and join me in being proud to be a CBT therapist — #CBTworks!

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