Encouragement in Action

Published May 18, 2020, The NASAP Newlsetter (TNN), Erik Mansager, PhD

Creative power and active encouragement belong together!


Maybe you have examples in your own life of the ingenuity and stick-to-it-iveness of this little one. Isn’t ingenuity a version of creative and tenacity a show of courage?

We professional helpers need a flexible and deeply rooted creativity ourselves to seek out the specific root of our client’s discouragement – their distorted inferiority feeling. We need to understand the discouragement in an empathic manner by taking in the wholeness of the individual – which will include what lies beyond or beneath the discouragement: that original core of courage with which they addressed initial feelings of inferiority!

When was it that the individual’s native courage, so well-illustrated in the little pony rider, was undercut and became distorted or self-serving? Might there be something in our clients that aren’t completely discouraged? That’s what we want to tap back into! In light of the client reaching out to us in the first place, we search for that modicum of courage that still flickers.

Might this be found in a recollection of childhood?

Did they report an incident of courage in early adolescence?

Were they acquainted with a character they hoped to emulate in a book they read?

Perhaps a chance encounter with a caring teacher?

In the course of my client work a modicum of courage was shown in therapy when one client succeeded in an experiment of “showing good will” to others in the family. With careful debriefing of the experiment, she was able to see the subtle change that resulted.

A commercial airline pilot I worked with experimented with “holding her tongue” for 24 hours upon her return from a week of long-distant flights. It had been her habit to point out the unfinished projects around the house when she returned. She saw it as her job to get things back on track as her partner clearly wasn’t able to keep it there.

She was surprised at the outcome of her self-designed experiment. There was no outpouring of gratitude, nor was there a disaster of the magnitude she anticipated. Instead, during our debriefing, she described an initial tension that mellowed and simply went away. After 24-hours, she said she was actually reluctant to mount her usual Orders Regimen after the initial 24-hours and noted that by the time she left for her next trip many of the jobs had, in fact, been completed. The pilot acknowledged her tension had slightly dissipated and she said she found herself less eager to leave on her next round of flights. This was a new feeling for her.

If we hadn’t taken the time to assess the actual outcome of her experiment so many encouraging elements would have been missed: the cooperation of the kids without reminders, the deeper sleep she mentioned even that first evening home, the slowing of her own impulse to direct things which she experienced as novel, not bothersome, and she wondered if the positive anticipation of returning home might actually grow.

None of these were miraculous, but the pilot often looked back at that experiment as a solid if small step in the right direction, and from which improved family relations grew. She felt she could do differently and was gratified that her children and partner became more self-directed to their mutual satisfaction and joy.

This type of active encouragement you’ll find masterfully illustrated by Martha Holub as Rocky Garrison outlines in his column (this issue of TNN). I’m attaching a touching 4:47 minute clip of another example of active encouragement. This is of a wise mother overseeing her child’s learning about a world he will one day have to navigate without her.