I have worked at a children’s hospital in their inpatient psychiatric unit for over four years now. To this day, one of the most visceral images I have from my time there is of spaghetti with spoons.
I mean it makes no sense. You give a kid that has a very small window of tolerance a plate of noodles and two spoons. The thought of navigating that as an adult makes me angry. And yet, somehow, they all find a way to manage.
Some will painstakingly cut the noodles up until they have a makeshift soup to spoon from their plates. Others use a two-spoon approach, similar to chopsticks. And then of course there are the ones that use their hands—dangling the long noodles high in the air and catching them like a fish would take bait. It’s incredible, really, to watch them make do. Against all odds, they manage to find a way to fuel their bodies and fill their stomachs. To survive.
I think many of us have been given a plate of spaghetti with two spoons. And like the kids I work with, we’ve found ways to get by.
We find ways to cope. We avoid things that make us feel uncomfortable and small. We become dependent on our loved ones or shut them out completely. To be fair, these strategies often work. They may even work for years or decades.
The thing is, it’s very easy to get stuck using these strategies. Why change it if it works? Why try something new and risk failure?
How could someone suggest that we’re eating the spaghetti wrong?
Therapy is a lot like trying to eat spaghetti with a fork for the first time. It’s new. It’s unfamiliar. It challenges so many of the things that we have known to be true.
Learning to use the fork—or beginning a therapeutic relationship—takes courage. It takes humility. It is by no means an easy thing to do. However, learning a better way to navigate our lives is a worthwhile endeavor. There may be giant plate of spaghetti in front of you, but you don’t have to suffer through it.
In fact, the best way to eat spaghetti is by taking a spoon and a fork, together, and using them in tandem.
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