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The Lesser Of Two Evils

Richard Landis, Ph.D.

Ericksonian Integrative Medical Institute of Orange County

Judith was a 46-year-old woman who, for the first time in thirty years, was without a job. In the past, when she left a job, it was because someone contacted her with a better offer. Now, for the first time, she had to find a job for herself. She had been sending out resumes by the bushel but received no replies. Judith had been referred to me by someone who said I was practical and knew the ins-and-outs of the business world. The referral source told me that Judith did not want therapy. He identified her as feeling worthless unless she had a job, and that no one would care about her until she was in a position to help others. To match her expectations, I presented myself to Judith more as a coach than as a therapist. However, it was readily apparent that Judith was painfully shy and felt that she had no personal worth.

Her job hunting strategies were limited to using the want-ads in the newspapers and on the Internet. When I asked if she asked any friends or acquaintances if they knew of job openings, Judith said that she could not do that. It would be too embarrassing and why would they want to help her? There was nothing in it for them. This presented the opportunity to both open possible job offers and to challenge her underlying assumptions about her personal worth and rights as a person.

During the next session, I said that there were two avenues I would like her to explore in the coming week that would increase her likelihood of getting a job. The first one was to ask a friend or colleague from the old job if he or she knew of something that was available. Judith turned white and I continued. I said that I would like her to do it as a gift to the other person since Judith knew how good it felt when she could do a favor for someone else. I thought she was being selfish withholding this opportunity for her friends or colleagues to feel good. I spent less than five minutes talking about this alternative.

The second avenue was to make cold calls on companies. She was to research which type of company would most likely be able to afford the salary that she had before and might have a position that she could enjoy. I went into agonizing detail over how to dress and who to ask for when she walked into the office. We rehearsed what she was to say and what her presented attitude should be. I really micro-managed it ad nauseam for 35 minutes. She left knowing what to do but was a bit shaken.

When she returned the next week, she reported that she had done the research for the cold calls, but did not visit any sites. Instead, she decided to ask an old colleague. Judith was pleasantly surprised that her colleague was delighted to be of help and asked everyone else in the office if they knew of any possibilities. From that interaction, Judith got three referrals. Heartened by that outcome, she asked a parent that she met at a PTA meeting during the week. She had never met the parent before, and it just came out in conversation. The parent was a supervisor in a medical office and they were looking for a back-office person.

Judith left therapy at that time since she was no longer feeling depressed and helpless. She was a bit apologetic about not doing the cold- call homework. I reassured her that I was pleased how she knew which of the assignments fit her best. She did not recognize that by my emphasizing the alternative that generated the greatest anxiety, it made the other alternative more accessible and less scary by comparison. She had a strong need to do something, and the less anxiety-producing of the two choices now seemed possible to her. At the same time, she discovered that she was worthy enough that people were willing to be helpful. Her husband later contacted me for some help for himself. At that time, he disclosed that Judith acting on the assignment turned out to have been sufficient for her to become more assertive at work and at home. Once breaking her old assumptions by doing something that challenged them, she continued to assert herself as well as continuing to give to others.

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