By Mike McMahan, LPC
As noted on Blabbermouth.net, legendary Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott gave an interview with WRIF radio, which is based in Detroit, Michigan. He talked about how the band survived a drought in the early 90s and their attitude provides a great example of how Solution Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) can be effective.
If you’re of a certain age (ahem), you no doubt remember the “grunge” explosion of the early 90s, in which Nirvana, Pearl Jam and their contemporaries turned the “hair metal” bands that had dominated late 80s hard rock into something slightly more radioactive than disco in the late 70s. Despite filling arenas years or even months before, bands like Poison, Warrant and Motley Crue found themselves facing declining record sales and empty venues. Bands took different approaches to this problem—most regrettably, bands like Motley Crue attempted to make personnel changes and “modernize” their sound, to decidedly mixed results.
Joe Elliot notes (correctly, in my opinion) that the change began with Guns ‘N’ Roses: “When Guns kicked it in '92, we were still selling three nights out in every arena in the States with an album that was No. 1 for six weeks on the Billboard charts. And then in the mid-90s, it got tough.” Tough may be an understatement for many of the 80s superstars.
One of the key principles of SFBT is the idea that problems are formed when a person neglects to apply strengths or skills that have worked for them in the past. Def Leppard carefully avoided this trap, by not attempting to record a “grunge” album. They were smart and recognized that they were a pop band, with huge pop hooks. In fact, their entire philosophy may have even been inadvertently summed up by the title “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” As Elliot notes: “you had bands like Sugar Ray coming along that were kind of grungy, but they were happy-sounding stuff, and the Goo Goo Dolls. They were going, like, Top 40. [And I was] like, 'This is a pop song [packaged] as grunge.' And then people started re-accepting us, and we realized, 'There's a lot of hard work gonna be involved here. We can't take it for granted. We can't expect to be lifted up like the Pope and carried around in a box. We've gotta get back up there and do this ourselves.”
I respect his work ethic as well as his insight into the band’s strengths. While many bands blamed the media or record companies for their demise, Def Leppard took it in stride. In fact, they had already observed that the popularity of music styles shifts as time passes and each generation rejects what came before it. So, in effect, they used the coping strategy of playing to their key strength (strong pop songs) and hard work to climb back. Though they are not as successful now as they were in their heyday, they are remarkably successful given where many of their 80s peers have ended up.
You can apply a similar strategy to your own life. Take a look around you, and ask yourself, “what challenges can I predict looming in my life?” And more importantly, identify key strengths have gotten you through problems before. If you mastered a certain computer application at a previous job, ask yourself how you can use that skill at a new job. Or perhaps being able to learn new things is the skill itself? It’s hard to say, but the premise of SFBT is that you do have strengths that you have applied in the past. And if you’ve survived long enough in this world to be reading this, I’d say this is undeniably true.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
By Mike McMahan, LPC
Often, when clients come to therapy, their life stories are convoluted, with strands bouncing all over the place. Is there any value in sorting all of this out?
A recent re-post from Dorkly mused about the question we’ve all wondered about at one time or another. Do all of the storylines from the Super Mario Bros. games really line up and make a cohesive narrative? Though amusing, it turns out that the video is quite serious and meticulous in its approach and methods, even though the presentation is clearly light-hearted. It involves straightening out time-travel plots and revealing that characters thought to be children of other characters are in fact, younger versions of these characters. You’ve always kind of suspected that, right?
However, in all seriousness, this video reminds me of a technique I have successfully used with clients, which is to have them draw a graphic representation of their life history. This exercise is fairly simple to complete, and requires only a pen and a piece of paper. If you want to get really fancy and make your graph especially spiffy, you might want to grab a ruler as well.
Think back to math and the concept of a graph. The Y-axis (or horizontal lower portion of paper) will represent the years of your life. So the lower left corner would be the year of your birth. The lower right corner would represent today, or at least the endpoint of your graph. The X-axis (or vertical portion of graph) would represent a value that you assign to each event, based on (a completely relative) value of how “good” the event is. Place a dot in the corresponding year and place a “value” on the event as well, perhaps starting with your birth. And there is the first question. Where do you value your own birth in your hierarchy of life events? It’s clearly important, but it may have different meaning for someone who grew up in a happy home versus someone who was born addicted to drugs and alcohol to a mother who later lost custody. Take it from there! (See this example, from The New Yorker in the sidebar.)
Events to consider that many would consider positive might include major milestones such as graduations, awards, marriages, births of children. But as we want to get a full picture, don’t forget to include more challenging events such as significant deaths in your life, times you didn’t achieve your goals, mistakes and other similar experiences. Then, once you have completed the events, simply connect the dots. You will have a graphical representation of the ups and downs of your life.
Now that you have this on paper, what do you see? Have you had more ups or downs? Is this because of circumstances in your life, or did you choose all negative (or positive) events? What are the important lessons or skills that you learned from these events? How can you apply these skills going forward?
Remember, this is quite likely to be a work-in-progress. After all, life deals each of us changes, disruptions and triumphs each day. It’s learning to deal with and grow from those changes that’s the real trick.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
By Mike McMahan, LPC
Psychotherapy provides a chance for clients not only to tell their story but for details, events and actions to be turned over, examined and maybe even broken apart and re-assembled in a new design. By choosing to emphasize certain elements of your story, you can do more than just change the tone or tilt of your narrative; you may have an entirely new story!
For a kinda mind-blowing example, check out this video from Mashable that recuts footage from Jurassic Park as a preview for a faux-documentary about the early life of a raptor named “Littletail.” By the time a Disney-esque voiceover and music were added, I was all ready to see if this was streaming on Netflix.
What I’m discussing here is not entirely different from the “recut” technique I discussed in a previous post using the clip of Batman And Robin recut in the style of Batman auteur Christopher Nolan. But there is a key difference to me, and that is (more or less) how far are you willing to go with this?
Let me interject here and emphasize something: I’m not talking about lying. Plenty of us know people (or are maybe one ourselves) who interject fake experience on a resume to land a new gig. Politicians are masters of this sort of reinvention as well. To use a more clinical term: this is malingering, and it’s not what I mean at all.
But, to extend the job example, what if you are considering a career change. Yet, you have no idea what you want to be doing or how to start doing it? This might be a good time to apply the “Jurassic Park recut” technique. Perhaps make a list of all the things you do during a regular day. Say, for example, you currently work at a retail clothing store. While folding and displaying clothing might be something unique to this industry. But if you work in retail, you may have some experience with cash handling and making bank deposits. Maybe you have been at your current position for some time and you have supervisory duties. Now a story of your day might be about someone who makes decisions about how the store operates and helps other employees with problem customers.
This same technique could be applied to your personal life as well. Perhaps you are someone who feels they are crippled by anxiety. Perhaps your story can’t be recut to be a person who is free from anxiety (though it may be some day). But maybe there is a different story about a person who is confident in other areas. So you start off with “I am a person who is paralyzed by anxiety over everything” and end up with “I am a person who is great at keeping an exercise routine and is building confidence by making t-shirts and selling them on Etsy.” There is literally no reason that both of these statements cannot be true—there is no contradiction inherent in being both of these people.
Opening up these sorts of possibilities is part of a therapist’s job. But don’t kid yourself. Just like you can edit movies at home these days, you can use this technique by yourself with a pencil, paper and a bit of motivation.
Mike McMahan is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Antonio, Tx.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture