Recently I’ve taken on an exciting project, writing my first self-help book. I titled it: The Invisible Toolbox: Coping Skills for Everyday Resilience. The idea for this book first came to me when I realized that in the first two to three sessions of working with clients, I often find that they are looking for practical techniques—“first aid” if you will. People come to therapy with the expectation that they should be able to feel better fast, and I don’t think that is such an unrealistic goal. Thankfully, there are a number of techniques that are quite helpful for reducing negative emotions and countering negative thoughts.
In fact, I have quite a bit of experience with teaching these techniques, which are often called coping skills. This is in part due to my work at the VA where I would meet with Veterans in the emergency room, often because they were having thoughts of suicide. As part of my role there I helped them create a Safety Plan. Together we would write down a list of what activities they could use, places they could go, and people they could call when things were getting bad (You can see a blank form for this kind of plan in the Resources section of this website). I found this process to be so powerful that when I was asked to provide an educational group for the Veterans staying on the substance abuse unit, I adapted the Safety Plan into a workbook. Each session, I would walk a different group of Veterans through the process of creating a Safety Plan.
Through this experience I had the opportunity to discuss with them what had worked in the past and what they were confident would work in the future. One of the most important parts of this work was discussing “warning signs” those factors that would tell you when you need to start using your Safety Plan. Thinking about your own behavior this way can be enlightening. What is it that you begin to do, feel, or think just before you get into trouble? Many times the participants in this group stopped me to tell me what a useful experience it was for them.
Now that I am in private practice, I have found that I still keep coming back to the same way of thinking about coping skills. So I dug out the old workbook I created and expanded it. Now it not only includes the instructions about how to make a personalize coping plan (what in the VA is called a Safety Plan) but also a comprehensive list of the most effective coping skills available—the ones that time and time again my clients have found to be effective.
I called it the Invisible Toolbox, because I want my clients to always have these skills by their side, ready to respond to what life throws at them. Learning these skills is a great foundation. Once you have coping skills at the ready, you no longer need fear the extremes of emotion or the storms of unwanted thoughts. Then you can confidently move on to do the real work of therapy—creating the kind of life you most want.
The Invisible Toolbox is coming soon to all of your favorite ebook retailers (Hard copies are also in the works). You can download your own free copy here.