Timing is Critical .
People come to Bright Futures for help with getting their lives “on track”. Many feel out of step with the majority of their peers, who are moving forward with education, careers, and relationships. They sense having been left behind, and their daily activities may more resemble those of teens on school holiday than the lives of adults. They are out of step with most others their age, and this can be a source of shame and frustration.
The good news is that we all continuously develop and change throughout our lives, and the trajectory and speed of change can be positively influenced. That is a key function of all types of therapy: to facilitate clients’ achievement of their self-determined goals. As an occupational therapist, I rely on activities as my key method of promoting progress, and I view desired changes in a client’s daily routine and activity as the main measure of success. Keys to effectiveness include choosing tasks that are carefully designed to fit the goal and the person, locating settings that are supportive and accessible for the client, establishing rapport and trust, and (today’s topic): timing.
Good timing is essential in all types of therapy. Sometimes a person in distress needs time to reach a state of readiness, even though his or her family members may feel strongly that change needs to be immediate. When a new client feels unready, it’s best to explain what I have to offer, and then to place the decision of whether/when to start working together in his or her hands. Education and support are appropriate, but pressure and coercion are not a sound foundation for initiating effective therapy. When the client feels emotionally committed to making changes, the time is right to begin working.
Timing is my ongoing concern throughout the course of therapy. During each session, an OT must continuously decide when to offer correction, positive feedback, subtle cues, direct guidance with tasks, environmental modification, or silence and space. Therapy is like a dance in which the therapist strives to provide a sequence and pace of challenges and supports that meet the client’s changing needs from moment to moment. The timing of intervention is crucial. Responding too soon or too late can result in little forward movement, or even a setback. The interventions may be technically sound, but not a fit for the client at that moment. Well-timed interventions result in active client participation, and result in significant and lasting improvements. Therapeutic timing requires expertise and patience, important qualities to look for in any therapist.
A good sense of timing is also important for anyone who is concerned about the well-being of a family member whose life has become stuck or pulled off track. Families must be aware of and responsive to their loved one’s readiness for change, and are urged to initiate intervention as quickly as possible when a state of openness presents itself. Sometimes people become open to trying therapy when they feel especially strong and optimistic; more often, readiness emerges after a jarring setback or period of deep discouragement. Indications of readiness for therapy include comments such as,”I can’t take this anymore,” or “I need help.” Emotional reactions, such as crying or frustration, can also indicate that distress has reached a point where change would be more welcomed than before.
Periods of openness to seeking professional help tend to come and go, so accurate timing can make the difference between success and failure. I encourage you to watch for the right time to invite your loved one to reach out for help, and to initiate intervention immediately when that readiness presents itself.