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Informal Eco-Therapy*

I had lunch the other day at a pocket park near the Silver Lake Reservoir with my retired social worker friend Victor, who maintains a personal regimen of yoga, Qigong, and meditation. Back when he was providing psychotherapy, his preferred modality was Solution-Focused Therapy, a close and Postmodern cousin to Narrative Therapy, my passion of over 20 years. Whatever. Victor and I get to talk shop from many fronts, when we are in each other's company. And we did on Thursday for a good 2 hours.

Along the way, he mentioned that, at some point during this pandemic, he read a book about Kaizen**, an approach to change that (as I understand it) privileges the regularity (as in daily) undertaking of small tasks toward an identified goal over the "size" or "weight" or seeming "significance" of any of the tasks. The point is the cumulative effect the dailiness can have in the creation of new habits. When it was my turn, I provided Victor with a rough-hewn paraphrase of the following statement from a book that upended me 21 years ago and nudged me toward investigating Narrative Therapy in the first place. In Language, Structure, and Change: Frameworks of Meaning in Psychotherapy, authors Jay S. Efran, Michael D. Lukens, and Robert J. Lukens declare that "human beings are fundamentally conservative systems—they easily repeat what they have already done, even if it was only partially or sporadically successful." The repetititiveness alone does not signal pathology. (***A longer citation is below.) Taking fundamental conservativism as a given, I have made peace with change via tiny increments over time, an approach that has served me, in part by allowing me to practice acceptance and self-compassion along the way. (Efran, Lukens, and Lukens also point out that cognition is the behavior of the brain. On that basis, when all I'm doing is just contemplating change, I tell myself I've already begun it.) (A rationalization?)

I left the pocket park, thinking both about several projects that I've been stymied over for days, for weeks (months, years) and about the extent to which my way of undertaking change (when I do) comports with Kaizen. I decided to get more deliberate about it somehow.

And I got back home and planted the Hummingbird Sage**** that my neighbor Jay gave me from his native plant garden over a week ago. (In the interim, I had been cognizing, dontcha know?!)

* I have one required 6-hour Continuing Ed course to take the first week in February, after which I mostly get to choose 30 hours' worth of "electives" between now and December, 2023. A formal course in Eco-Therapy is first on the list! Watch for updates!

** I didn't get the author or title, but if you're interested in knowing which book Victor read about Kaizen, toss me a line at I'll ask him and relay the info! In the meantime, you might launch your own Kaizen program, using material from this article I found online. (Which reminds me, one of my own new personal Kaizen tasks is to pull at least one weed from one garden bed every day. Why am I sitting here typing?)

*** "Sometimes, therapists claim that because a client's behavior pattern keeps being repeated, it must be neurotic or maladaptive. However, human beings are fundamentally conservative systems—they easily repeat what they have already done, even if it was only partially or sporadically successful." The authors go on to give a detailed account of someone, for example, looking in the same places for keys over and over. Then they aver, "This isn't repetition compulsion. It isn't self-sabotage. It isn't attention-getting. It is the conservative system at work. In human affairs, repetition is the rule, not the exception. Therefore, it is novelty of approach that requires explaining" (p. 103). Efran, Jay S.; Lukens, Michael D.; Lukens, Robert J. (1990). Language, Structure, and Change: Frameworks of Meaning in Psychotherapy. New York: W. W. Norton.

**** Both Hummingbird Sage (Salvia spathacea) and Lilac Verbena (Verbena lilacena, potted) attract and support both hummingbirds and butterflies, and as such, are fitting residents in the Ortiz Taylor House atrio butterfly garden.

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