Some news topics will focus on the creative self. Others, theories and approaches to therapy. Some will be exercises to practice as assigned by your therapist. This particular topic falls into a category of skills you can learn in session and use in your life outside of therapy. Before you use a new skill, always talk about it with your therapist how and when it is right for you. If you have already done this in a session, you can also use skills based topics like this as a reference guide to remind you of what you have learned.
The therapy skill we will explore today is containment. With many practical uses and flavors of applications to try, we will focus on an introduction to and some basics of the skill.
The goal of containment, unsurprisingly, is to contain. Containment as a skill refers to the process of containing, and this is something important to learn and practice. Once you have learned how to contain, your next task will be identifying when you need the skill and using it during those times. Collaboration with your therapist is an important part to all of this, circularly, because we are trying to contain something.
What needs to be contained? In therapy, we are probably talking about emotions, and strong ones. The function of an emotion is to communicate something to you through its expression, and to thwart that natural process by containing it means two things: 1) The emotional experience is likely too powerful to have all at once, and 2) you do not feel in control of the emotional experience. Creative people are passionate people, and whatever the source of your emotions, good or bad, you will feel them strongly. That makes containment an especially important skill to learn.
I will give you an example I often give to children I work with. Imagine a balloon representing you, and the air in the balloon representing emotions. The natural experience of this balloon is to be inflated and deflated, inflated and deflated. In this fashion, a normal flow of emotions comes and goes in our lives. If suddenly too much air inflates the balloon, then we have a deviation of the natural experience and now a larger volume of air to manage. If the larger volume of air is released all at once, the balloon flies all around without control. If the larger volume of air is not released at all, when more air inevitably inflates it, the balloon can burst. Containment represents a process in which we learn to let out some of the air, close off the balloon, let out more, close it again, etc.
So far so good. How is containment done? Like many things in psychotherapy- the answer is: it depends on what works for you. Your goal is to try to find a way to close yourself off from experiencing too many feelings at once and being debilitated by them. Remember- you don’t want to close yourself off forever, but you do need a system to do this periodically, allowing you to control how, when and how much you experience emotion. You and your therapist will work together to devise a system to help you do this. Some people are successful with a physical ritual, like closing up their office at the end of a stressful day. Others do well with a meditation, visualizing locking up a box with the emotions inside. There are as infinite a number of ways to do this as your creativity will allow.
Once you have devised a system of containment, your second step will be identifying when you need it, and using it at that time. Sounds simple. It isn’t. What it is, is effective. Containment is a process taught universally in mental health to help people cope with powerful experiences, and it can also work for you!
Like any new skill, all therapy skills have a learning curve. This means it will require patience, perseverance and repetition to get good at it. Therapy skills are often less tangible than other things we may learn, and too often I will hear a patient give up and say something doesn’t work, simply because they haven’t practiced long enough. It can be harder to stick to something you can’t physically see. Remember to do something new or different is to change and change is a process that takes time- so stick to it!
Talk to your therapist about how you can use containment in your life and create your happiest self.
(c) 2017 CREATIVELY, LLC
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.