Before I became a Psychologist, I had the same summer job every summer for 6 years. I was a sailing instructor. It was a really great job; I spent every day out in small sailboats teaching people how to harness the wind. Every day was different and there were long, hot windless days where you floated around, praying for even a small puff of wind and days when the wind made you feel like you might get blown across the ocean. It was always an adventure, because you never knew what you might encounter. Despite the variety of conditions on the water, the challenge was that you had only a few tools to be able to get where you wanted or needed to go. You had your boat, your sails, your hands, and your brain. As I reflect on this great experience of my past, it is clear to me that learning to sail a boat is a lot like therapy.
I won’t bore you with sailing physics, but there is one notable principle that I want to tell you about. It’s called the Center of Effort. This is the idea that there is a specific place on the sails in which the wind interacts with the boat/sails and the result is that the boat moves forward. Here is a (complicated) diagram:
This concept is also abbreviated by this symbol:
This concept is a great metaphor for therapy because successful therapy is about moving forward by putting effort into the right places. No effort results in zero movement, too much effort in the wrong places will leave you feeling out of control. The point of therapy is to use the tools you have, in the conditions you’re working with, to progress forward in a meaningful way. Therapy never solves your problems, it just assists you to navigate challenges with the outcome of moving forward. Once you start moving forward you can more clearly see the path ahead and face the challenges that life will inevitably bring.