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Tamie Pushlar - Therapy Blog

Stuck in The Mud

posted by Tamie Pushlar at 2022-05-10 19:57:00

mud - help

Most of us have heard the saying “Stuck in The Mud”. Usually, when a person comes to therapy they are figuratively “stuck in the mud” and the goals they want to achieve are somewhere on the horizon, and quite often on top of a decent-sized mountain. The goal of therapy is to guide them out of the mud and work towards the mountain. This is not so simple.

I have to first develop a relationship with the person to figure out what their mud consists of and what is their mountain. The relationship-building and discovery stage can happen in the first meeting or it could take weeks or months.

When a person realizes they are stuck in the mud, I often see one of these typical reactionary behaviors:

mud - mountain
  1. Fight Response: They may blame others and try to throw some mud at them. This will not get them unstuck. Instead, more mud could get piled on.
  2. Flight Response: They may try to run away from the mud. They need to get through the mud to reach their mountain so running away just prolongs the inevitable.
  3. Freeze Response or Dissociation: They don’t want to feel the mud, so they try to do anything to avoid thinking about the mud or feel the mud. Mud doesn’t just disappear; it is still there.
  4. Submit Response: They feel there is no conceivable way to get to the mountain, and that their only option is to lay in the mud and give up any control.
  5. Attach Response: They feel they can never make it out of the mud or to their mountain. They want the therapist to have the answer to unlock how they can quickly get out of the mud and land on top of the mountain, without doing any work. There is no magic answer and any work needs to be done by the person and their support system.
  6. Acceptance: The person is able to recognize what their mud consists of, and they are learning the tools and resources to help them get out of the mud so they can reach the obtainable goal on the mountain. They recognize that some days it is harder and the mud is more restrictive, and other days they are able to make some great strides towards their goal. They also realize that some of the mud is out of their control and they focus on what they can control.

The therapist cannot will a person into acceptance when they are still active in fight, flight, freeze, submit, or attach response. The therapist has to carefully, respectfully, and authentically guide the person. It is important that the therapist not also get stuck in the mud with the person. A therapist has to assess when it is best to encourage movement towards acceptance or mirror back what they see. Therapists are fallible and at times assess wrong or do not use the best approach. The therapeutic relationship may need to be reestablished at these times, or the therapist may need to refer to another therapist or treatment modality. Sometimes it is best just to take a therapeutic break and gather more information to have clarity about what is at the top of your mountain. Achieving goals are doable when you have a clear vision of what you want the outcome to be.