The pizza party mode walk through for therapists

In my Schema Therapy Made Simple group I posted a super helpful interview with Ida Shaw in which she shared many therapy gems including what I’m calling the pizza party mode walk through. It’s a story Ida tells to explain how we can “walk through our modes” when we have a difficult moment or day.

The story is about a mother who goes to work feeling good. Shortly after arriving she gets yelled at by her boss. Then at morning tea she gets criticised by her co-worker. She thinks to herself what a terrible day but at least tonight my husband is taking the kids out for pizza so at least I don’t have to worry about that tonight.

Then during her lunch break she steps in a huge puddle and gets her shoes all wet and has to spend the rest of the afternoon with wet feet. She thinks to herself “it will be ok when my husband takes the kids, I’ll have a nice warm bubble bath and relax and it will all feel ok again”. Then 10 minutes before the woman finishes work her husband calls to say he can’t pick up the kids or take them out for pizza.

She can’t believe it. The day is now a total disaster. So she goes and collects the kids and their upset dad isn’t taking them for pizza. When she gets home she says “ok give me 10 minutes and then let’s have a pizza party at home”. The kids are happy and she goes and lies on her bed for 10 minutes.

In this time she walks through her modes:
The vulnerable child (little you) says “it was so mean when my boss yelled and me and then my coworker criticised me, I felt all alone”

And the angry child says “it’s not fair they shouldn’t talk to me like that, they ruined my day”.

The punitive critic says “well it’s your fault for getting upset because you know what your boss is like”

And then the Healthy Adult says “that was a really hard day. It was hard for you dealing with your boss and colleague and then getting wet and your husband not coming through. No wonder you feel exhausted but you are ok. It was just a hard day and now look how happy the kids are with the pizza party. You are a good mother for fixing the problem for them. Well done”.

After this, she feels ok and ready to have the pizza party with her kids.

How could this look for a therapist?

Rushing into office because of unexpected traffic and worried, doesn’t have time to settle and prepare, what if the first client sees me rushing in? 3 clients all cancel last minute – you worry about rapport building and whether you are meeting their needs. An experiential exercise doesn’t have the intended impact. Your manager is annoyed at you because you said you don’t want to do the Friday afternoon shift and is trying to pressure you into it. And then you ask a clinical question on social media and some colleagues are very blunt and tell you just to get some supervision. You feel criticised and wonder if people think you’re a terrible therapist?

You go home feeling deflated. You lie on your bed and think about your terrible day using a mode walk through.

Little You: “It felt terrible like none of my clients like me or think I’m a good enough therapist. And I didn’t like my boss being mean to me about Friday, she doesn’t understand me at all. I tried my best with that exercise and it went bad, I feel confused. And I feel dumb for asking that question on Facebook.”

Angry child: “It’s not fair I worked hard preparing for my clients and they didn’t show up and also my boss shouldn’t try to manipulate me like that she knows I play sport on a Friday night and it’s important to me. And I hate it when my colleagues make me feel stupid!”

Punitive critic: “You were late and that’s unprofessional, no wonder your clients all cancelled. And you shouldn’t do experiential exercises. You’re no good at them and don’t be selfish do the Friday for your boss.”

Healthy Adult: “I’m proud of you. You did your best today even though it was hard. It was so hard for you to be late because you like to be on time but it wasn’t your fault the traffic was rough, and still you got there with a few minutes to spare. I bet those clients all have different reasons they didn’t come in, it’s unlikely to be about you, after all yesterday everyone came in. And I’m proud of you for standing up for your need to play sport on Friday. It’s difficult for you to be assertive and you did it, that is really awesome. You were also brave to put yourself out there and ask a question. Try to focus on the people that offered you something good even though it stings a bit to see the blunt comments. You are a good therapist and all therapists have difficult days.”

If you have a bad day as a therapist – try a mode walk through.

Ps. Maybe we could all do with a pizza party at the end of a difficult day!

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