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Random Acts of Therapy

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Tony Burkinshaw

Autumn 2015

Random Acts of Therapy

Kindness is a strange phenomenon. It exists across human culture. History is littered with examples of altruism, heroics and small acts of selflessness. Then there is the more widely reported acts of negativity, which our modern media like to call news.

We are kind to those we love. There are circumstances in our lives where we help without question; family, children, parents, loved ones. And then there are those where we might help but instead begin to weigh up whether we should or shouldn’t; neighbours, friends, random strangers we meet. At some point the balance between helping and the personal cost begins to slip in favour of ourselves and the inclination to be that ‘Good Samaritan’ fades away.

I still occasionally find myself in a rush and under pressure, find myself letting opportunities for kindness slip by. Somehow, it becomes easier not to notice. To ignore the tacit requests for help and let them pass by unheeded. Kindness loses its importance and somehow tending to my own needs takes precedence.

At first, having taken on the authorship of these articles, I found myself berating that part of me, which found it easier to walk on by, (note the lyric reference, Dionne is such a songstress). After all, if I was tasking myself with focusing on the benefits of exploring Random Acts of Kindness, how could I then be someone who doesn’t act when kindnesses are needed? Guilt duly raised its head.

Even though guilt has a way of grabbing you and not letting go, it also makes you feel guilty, whilst at the same time letting you carry on doing the very things that create the guilt. It’s as if guilt is one of those emotions which has its own self-preservation drive. Once you allow guilt in, it likes to stay for a while. For many, guilt hangs around forever. But therein lies a whole other therapy article.

It’s a bit of a paradox. You feel bad for not being kind when you could have. But then, when you do join in, it’s empowering. There seems to be a threshold where it becomes easy to be kind but if you don’t reach that threshold, the kind deeds go undone and guilt begins its incessant chatter.

I have yet to do anything kind, where I didn’t feel good about it afterwards. There is a theory that states that there is no such thing as pure altruism. No matter how self-sacrificing an act of kindness might appear to be, there is always a physical, mental or spiritual benefit to the giver of kindness. I think I subscribe to this one, without having tested it fully; it does have a ring of truth about it.

I’ve begun to use this in therapy.

When clients who come to me in various states of distress about their anxiety, depression or stress, (my particular area of therapeutic specialty), there is sometimes the opportunity to task them with homework.

Depending on their stage of recovery, this task setting can vary from noticing small ‘gifts’ present in their lives, (you know the sort of thing, a butterfly, the shape of a leaf, the smell of fresh coffee) through to using the techniques they’ve learned to have overcome that limiting belief about their boss / partner / parent.

The new task I’ve been setting has been around kindness. It can be as simple as spotting when a kindness could be done. Not to do anything about it, for some they are still too fragile but simply seeing the opportunity can help them to re-engage with the outside world. For others, it’s the chance to begin to have a positive impact on other people. Even strangers.

Therapy can benefit hugely from that side effect of altruism. That feeling we get when we do help someone else is extremely valuable. It’s has a restorative power unlike anything else.

One of the changes that clients experience with Cognitive Hypnotherapy is the move from ELOC to ILOC, from having the feeling that the external world is controlling your life, your well-being. That despite your best efforts nothing you do can influence your world. It devolves responsibility for wellness onto the outside world and getting better is beyond your power. ELOC is that External Locus Of Control.

ILOC is the state where that control focuses inwards. The stage where responsibility for your won well-being lies firmly within yourself. You can almost see the point where it changes; when the Locus of Control becomes firmly internal.

Kindnesses are a fantastic way of nudging a client from one state into the other. You see, it’s difficult to spot and react to an opportunity for being kind without it bringing a sense of being able to affect the world around you in positive way. This positive side effect starts to bring empowerment back into areas which seemed unreachable not so long ago.

There’s even a form of therapy which revolves around simply being kind.

I thought it might be useful to share some of the kindness tasks. Each time it is negotiated with the client rather than just me setting the task, as if I were the
teacher; Cognitive Hypnotherapy is a collaborative process after all:

  • Give a compliment to a colleague at work
  • Hold a door open for someone
  • Do a chore at home without being asked
  • Do a chore at home and don’t tell anyone
  • Say hello to your neighbour

One which works particularly well is to spot how many opportunities you see where you could do a kindness and then to deliberately refrain from doing it. It might seem counter-intuitive but what seems to happen is that if you set this up properly, people find it really difficult to keep holding back. It is surprising how many come back and tell me that they gave in and went ahead and did a good deed, despite being asked not to. This is one homework task that I want people to fail at, although I don’t tell them until afterwards.

By taking the time to become aware of the need of others, in an everyday sort way, people begin to realize their own value and the power they have inside themselves to affect others’ sense of well-being. And their own sense of power and well-being is enhanced as a result.

Research shows, (well it does, doesn’t it, Trevor?), that human beings seem to be pre-disposed to kindness. It even appears to be prevalent in toddlers who display increased levels of happiness when sharing. Kindness fosters greater sense of community. Community can’t exist for long without sharing of resources, including the ability of one community member to help another. Kindness feeds a sense of purpose.

As you might expect, the Dalai Lama has something to say on the subject of kindness: “When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.” And if the Dalai Lama, happily smiling chap that he is, believes in kindness, then that’s certainly good enough for me.

So I have a plan for you; homework, if you like:

Why not try it out and accept either Kindness Challenge A or Kindness Challenge B?

Challenge A:

In the next week smile at two strangers every day and start the world off on its journey to ‘The Big Grin’  Notice how many of them smile back

Challenge B:

Over the next week make a written note of all the opportunities you spot that could have become a kindness deed… BUT Don’t Do Them! Notice the things that let you know it gets harder to ignore those deeds

Whichever you choose, it’d be kind of you to let us know how you get on