Daniel A. Kaufmann, Ph.D
Owner of Area of Effect Counseling & Dr. Gameology on Twitch
Noticing the Path to Beginning the Change Process
The yellow light pushes you into consciousness, and the voice inside whispers “Open your eyes.” With that moment of nascence the player is welcomed into the control of Link as a Hero for the next countless hours of missions, quests, conversation, failures, and successes. The cave is filled with very little to be recognized save for a blue console offering a Sheikah Slate (or the Nintendo version of Link’s iPad). Link claims the first tool for the journey which triggers the opening of the first stone door. Within the next chamber are chests designed to help the player begin the process of clothing their Hero to begin readying for the grand quest across Hyrule. Once finished in this room, Link will again press the Sheikah Slate against the wall to be greeted by the inner voice and the light of the outside world.
The decision to step forward enters the Hero and the Player into the larger world. Every Hero faces this moment just as we all do in life, if only in a symbolic way. Whether our routine world calls us to take up a sword or only coping skills to vanquish the most challenging elements in our existence, many of us feel the power of this call to rise towards the occasion and fulfill something powerful in ourselves. We are drawn to games because this quest for meaning echoes within us. In many situations, we play games more because this is the only place where our mind feels connected to the mythic quest the way we become connected to the play of a hero like Link in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Noticing Pretreatment Change: The Backlog Issue of Our Problems
Numerous clinical approaches take the time to discuss the pre-treatment process of change. In Mastering the Art of Solution-Focused Counseling, Dr. Jeffrey Guterman (2006) spends time discussing the realization clinicians ought to consider of just how much opportunity exists for the client to experience such a change prior to making it into their new clinician’s office space. This way of perceiving the therapeutic process is often overlooked amongst clinically minded colleagues I have the privilege of conversing with. Whether we are gamers, clinicians, or clients with our own therapist we engage with regularly, we all can relate to that idea of having things in our “list” that might be good to get to some day down the line. In the gaming world, we might refer to this as a “back catalog” of games. As games have gone digital and other memberships make it fulfilling to add another game to your list, it becomes more and more common to not actually play the games we have access to. For the metaphor of crossing the threshold, we may consider this parallel to mean Link grabs the Sheikah Slate but decides it would be nice to just continue sleeping. I would actually posit that we would be better served to zoom out and say this ambivalence is more like the player never booted up the game to even wake up the Hero of Time for one more adventure.
Now we can return to the concept of Crossing the Threshold and Pre-Treatment Change. Counseling change is a process with defined stages and developments, and as such we ought never to shy away from the belief that change can occur at all phases of the process. Afterall, a client making a contact through outreach and searching for that absolutely right person to be their Mentor on the journey through therapy shows a resolution in their life that was not there before. The problem in life also has a metaphorical bridge. The problem experiences a shift from being a “game that can just be in the list” to being a “game I want to experience and work through.” That is a powerful experience. Afterall, it is so much easier to leave the list alone and never play thousands of games than it is to sit down and beginning experiencing things. The very decision to go meet someone new and being wondering what their “Sheikah-Slate-of-Problem-Solving” would be is a deliberate decision that should be commended.
Beginning the Journey Towards Self-Actualization
Another game which exemplifies the power of this transformative potential is the ThatGameCompany title Journey (2012). In this game you are awakened in a desert and begin the path towards a far-off mountain which deliberately appears in the shape of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Although the abilities of your character to navigate the challenge of the game do grow from phase to phase, the ultimate accomplishment is conveyed to the player by eventually climbing to the light at the mountain’s peak. This is the moment few experience in reality which can be called Self-Actualization.
Although it takes work to continue existing in this space, clinicians and researchers of similar mind to Maslow have considered this to be one way of describing the pinnacle of therapy progress; to identify this over-arching purpose and acquire that feeling. That is another post in and of itself, because right now we are focusing on the feeling of the Traveler knowing how much work and suffering lies ahead. It is called a Journey for a reason, but the decision to experience it is EVERYTHING at the early phases where the decision is made to start moving forward.
The hard work is always ahead because it hasn’t happened yet. However, nobody has to face all of life’s challenges alone. One of the greatest benefits of beginning the counseling process is to have a new ally in your journey that can organize thoughts, identify blind spots, and help you capitalize on the motivation that was there when you became ready to Cross the threshold. Remember, beginning the game does not mean the game is finished. Those are different moments in time. Just as a player finishing a game is a sign of hard work, clear priorities, and dedication, so is it the same with counseling goals. Just remember, every journey for every hero (including you in the therapy journey) begins with waking up, realizing there is a quest ahead, finding our strengths and skills and stepping across the threshold of the first door leading into the adventure.
Knowing You Are Ready
It is okay to wonder when the timing is right. At a certain point things happen in life that become a signal that it is time to wake up, get ready, and face the issues we know we can work on. We see this in our stories, and it feels so powerful because we feel it in ourselves. Counseling is just one resource that can help people on their various quests which will move us forward. It is a powerful thing to see someone begin the process, and we can see the signs of it happening with something as simple as an email or phone call. That is when the person has silenced the voice that says, “now is not the time.” Remember, everyone can be the Hero on their own Journey. We simply have to notice when the voice is telling us our time is now, and then step into the larger present to see what happens when we decide to stop sitting still and continue our journey…