Kevin's Corner - April, 2023
Every month, The Sunset Project board member Kevin O'Brien breaks down news articles, stories, and people that he finds interesting and relatable to The Sunset Project's mission!
Ok, so what I am going to be talking about might get super concept heavy and metaphorically driven. Some of it may or may not be easy to grasp, but I want to talk about it because “Stutz”, the documentary on Netflix, is really good and it has brought some ideas of therapy into the mainstream. Now more so than ever, therapy is cool and mental health is something most people generally support these days. This movie shows that and it provides us with a glimpse as to what therapy may look like. The main premise is Jonah Hill wants to share what a session with his therapist, Phil Stutz is like. He believes that his techniques, his tools, are essential and he wants to share them with everyone. I think this is a great opportunity to not only talk about and analyze the tools in this documentary, but to also provide a small glimpse into what a therapy session may look like for those who are contemplating, have doubts, or even are in therapy and may have learned something new! I will do my best to break it down and dive into some of these ideas and how they may apply to you!
Before we begin, I want to make something clear; this film is about two people who have had a working relationship for years, many years. It takes a lot of time for a therapeutic relationship to reach the level we see between Jonah and Stutz. The therapeutic process is not one that happens over night. Also, the concepts Stutz talks about and his tools are basically his take on universal ideas. Every therapist has their own twist and approach to therapy. I am developing my own as we speak. Therapy is a delicate dance, it’s an art. Some are very warm and supportive, others are confronting and share their true opinions and are less hand-holdy. There are also sooooo many theories and evidence based practices out there. One may work for you better than another, and that’s great! This could be an entire separate segment, but I at least wanted to bring this up. Stutz uses drawings that I have recreated myself with my wondrous handwriting and artistic skills. I will also sprinkle in clips from the film, but I recommend watching it yourself!! These are his ideas, and I am just describing them and adding my own spice to them.
Stutz’s techniques revolve around tools. He defines a tool as something that can change your state. He wants to give some form of forward motion to his clients so that progress can feel possible. It doesn’t have to be anything groundbreaking, but some form of momentum to provide hope to a client. It can sometimes be frustrating when you want your therapist to give you advice over a typical “how does that make you feel?” Mostly, it’s our friends who give us advice who we actually just want them to listen and be supportive. It’s this reverse cycle that Jonah points out in the movie, and that can certainly be frustrating. I would say that one reason why therapists don’t straight up give advice is that they don’t want to impede upon the client coming to a conclusion themselves. Most will bring up topics and encourage the client to think in a general direction. The therapist is a guide and comes along this journey with a client. Their job is to shed light on people’s problems and build support, introduce coping skills, and find ways to manage behaviors among many others.
Remember, most people in outpatient therapy see their providers once a week for an hour. That’s a whole lot of time for someone to act independently. That is why it’s important for therapists to not completely shove advice down client’s throats because someone in therapy is encouraged to be a cooperative member of the process and put in the work themselves outside of therapy. Therapists don’t want their client to be co-dependant on them and need constant guidance every moment of their lives. Some people do like to stay in therapy for maintenance of problems, but sometimes a goal can be set, short or long term, and once they are in a place where things are good, they can be on their merry way. There are a lot of things that go on in therapy that depend. I hate to cop out an answer but it’s true.
With that long winded discussion, it’s time to get into the meat and potatoes of Stutz’s techniques. When all else fails and you don’t have any direction, you can always work on your life force. By activating your life force, you will be able to feel more motivated and confident, but what is it? It’s a way of saying just generally take care of yourself. Some of this feels no brainer, but it’s always good to come back to the fundamentals, and Stutz illustrates this into a pyramid broken down into three sections: at the bottom is your relationship with your body, middle is your relationship with other people, and the top is your relationship with yourself.
Let me break this down starting with the bottom. Your relationship with your body entails your exercise, diet, and sleep habits. These are all pretty generally agreed domains in that improving all of these positively impacts our mental health. When we put good in, we get good out, and these three aspects of our lives at the start contribute to roughly 85% of what makes us feel better.
Next, our relationship with other people. Our relationships can be the gateway back into life. I know when I enter spurts of depression, my first instinct is to withdraw from others, from activities, from the outside world. It can be super hard to be around others when you are down, but social interaction is the start of getting back into the swing of things. Stutz also suggests that you have to make the initiative instead of waiting forever for no response from a friend. I see this as partially true. It’s not as clear cut as that, but actively reaching out to friends does prove that you care and want to be in their lives, and they want to be in your lives. It always takes two in a relationship of any kind. One interaction can, symbolically, be an interaction with the human race which affects you in a positive way.
At the top of the pyramid, is yourself. Stutz suggests the way to be in tune with yourself is to unlock your unconscious mind. You do this by writing. Writing in a journaling fashion can create a free flow of thoughts, and allow you to create a closer relationship to yourself. If you are aware of your thoughts, you become more self-aware of your goofy habits. I think another way you can develop a strong relationship with yourself could be getting out in nature, and hearing the sounds around you. That’s what works for me. Honestly, I would say anything that gets you in the zone, where you feel the most like yourself!
Part X is the next term of Stutz’s isms. Essentially Part X is that part of you that is always trying to elicit doubt, shame, judgment, and more out of you. Stutz calls it an invisible force that is always trying to take you down, to prevent you from growing. Everything you want to do in life, Part X will always tell you that it’s impossible. Even though Part X is a horrible thing, you can never truly get rid of it forever. Honestly though, you don't want to get rid of it forever anyway. Without some struggles, there may never be any personal growth. Life would be stale and boring. The reason you can’t get rid of it is due to the 3 aspects of reality: pain, uncertainty, and constant work. These are what keep Part X around. In a previous post, I talked about acceptance and how we need to own our flaws. Part X is a perfect example of this case, along with the three aspects. Get in touch with your Part X, maybe you have a different name for it like Bob. What is it saying to you? It’s important not to completely shut it out, but to instead prove it wrong and to be the hero of your life story. Remember though, one victory does not mean you win forever.
Stutz is always encouraging forward motion. Continue to move forward and improve on who you were before, either yesterday or even an hour ago. He developed a tool for this sort of idea, along with a mantra “I am the one who puts the next pearl on the string.” Thus, the String of Pearls is created. Envision a behavior, say you’re making coffee. What do you do? 1. Make sure there’s water in the coffee maker, 2. Prep the coffee however you do it. 3. Place a filter in the maker. 4. Scoop coffee, and so on. Think of each of those individual behaviors as a pearl along a string. Each one propels you forward. This was a super simple example, but it for sure can be more complex than that. It’s the process of moving yourself forward. However, with each pearl, there is a little turd. And what that turd represents is the idea that whatever you are trying to do, the outcome will not be perfect. Often, our expectations of something are much grander and hopeful than what the true outcome is. This can lead to disappointment across any level, major or minor. This happens to me all the time. What I have schemed up in my head is often not what actually happens, at least not to the level of perfectionism I originally thought it would be. True confidence is living in uncertainty, and moving forward beyond that. That’s what this is all about.
Jonah had an alternate view of the string as well that I thought was cool. Instead of a turd inside of a pearl, he sees it as a pearl inside of a turd. So based on the 3 aspects of reality, life can have some suffering, hence the turd being bigger. But Jonah chooses to look for a pearl among all the muck, like there is a valuable lesson from this
bad thing that has happened to me instead of sulking in sadness. I liked that change of view. Like most of these concepts, none is the right way to go, do what works for you!!
Part X is unfortunately the only bad thing in our lives. The Shadow is another concept that is always lurking around. Everyone has a shadow. It’s the part of themselves they are most ashamed of. It can often be personified into a caricature of yourself. I had massive buck teeth growing up that went every which way but straight with a goofy haircut with acne everywhere and awkward as all heck. Gotta love those late elementary/middle school days. It’s also telling me that this is way too much information, and that it’s written poorly, and no one will get it. There are instances in my life where that side of me will emerge every once and a while. Along with the doubt, anxiety, and deep rumination. The quick fix method to rid the shadow is to suppress it, but you will eventually suffer the consequences of that later. It puts a band-aid on the issue and only fixes it in the short term. It’s important to get in touch with your shadow by using the tool of wholeness. Being content with all aspects of yourself, for all your strengths and flaws. It’s very freeing to relieve the burden and pressure to radically change who you are. “I don’t need anything else. I’m whole the way I am.”
The Snapshot is another common trap I fall into all the time. Basically it’s the false sense of perfection and a goal that won’t be achieved. “If only I had a million dollars, once I get a new car, house, job, I’ll be happy.” It’s called a snapshot because it is a moment in time, there’s no depth, it’s a fantasy. It also negates the aspect of constant work. If you were able to achieve said snapshot, then you would never have to work again, which just is not true. We all have to put in effort of some degree into many things. I don’t think the snapshot is entirely bad. It’s good to have goals and to reach for greatness, but that is never the end of the journey. Celebrate and relish in a victory, but be cautious of getting carried away. It’s a slippery slope.
One thing that we all can sometimes hyper focus on is fairness. We always want to make sure that we are being treated fairly, and that wrongs against you will always be corrected. Sometimes, we can get stuck in this loop of grudge holding against others or situations. This loop is called The Maze, it keeps you stuck in this cycle of bitterness and resentment towards people or situations where it was not in your favor. But while we are stewing away in anger, time continues to fly by, life goes on whether you get over it or not. People can spend days, weeks, months, years in The Maze. It’s a product of Part X because it’s always seeking fairness. It’s easy to tell when someone is stuck in The Maze when they are hyper fixated on a person or situation. “I’ll move past this once they make up for _____.”
This noble quest for fairness truly puts your life on hold. Chances are high you will never get the satisfaction you desire, you’re “entitled” to form an individual. Active Love is a way to move on. Active Love is an exercise to practice when you feel like you’re stuck in The Maze. Humor me and try it. You must first imagine that you are surrounded by a universe made of love. A world filled with positive loving energy flying around you. Closing your eyes, feel the love going through you, all the love in the universe, and you are absorbing it. Gently place it all in your heart. It’s at this moment, you are the leader, the ruler of love. Once all that is in, think of that one person you despise, and take that concentrated love, and send all of it their way. Nothing is held back, you send it all their way. It’s at this brief moment, you are one with that person.
Active Love is not a way to completely forgive someone. You were hurt by them and it’s ok to feel that way. But it’s a way to move beyond it and to think to yourself if you can be at peace with a real “piece”, then you can be one and at peace with anyone. That’s a real master’s way of thinking about it, but these techniques are meant to always keep us rooted in the process. We may not win all the time in our life, but we have the unstoppable will to move forward.
In the film, Stutz brings up a story of when he was a kid on a plane, and it was super cloudy that day. He was worried about not being able to see anything, but his dad said not to worry, they will pass through the clouds and the sun will be out. Once the plane was up, he was in awe. Every thought we have has an affect on our mood. Choosing to focus on the positive will elicit positive outcomes in our behaviors and continued thoughts. Think of a big dark cloud looming over you, but the sun is on the other side of this cloud. The way to move beyond the cloud is through grateful flow. It’s a way of carefully and thoughtfully naming and thinking about what you are happy about. Taking inventory of all the positives in your life. This process will allow you to bust through the cloud. It’s the constant cycle of positivity, and the digging for the things you are grateful for will provide the means to break through. I love thinking of the idea of there always being a sun beyond the hardship I am going through. It just isn’t visible yet.
Ok, last one I promise. These tools have all stuck with me and have helped me look at life through a different lens, but this last one takes it all for me personally. Loss is something that most of us are terrible at. It doesn't matter what kind of loss: breakup, a material item, death, etc. The final tool in the film is meant to address this, called Loss Processing. The idea is to always inch toward non attachment towards all things. You can still pursue something and want it very badly, but the thought of losing it in the process has been accepted and there is no fear of that outcome. Think of something that you realize you’ve become too attached to, could be a person, hobby, job, doesn't matter as long as there is a bit of fear that if you let go, the thought of something bad might happen. Imagine you are grasping onto it for dear life, like you’re hanging on a tree branch over a massive drop. As you are hanging on, you let go, and you are falling in a gentle manner. As you let go and are falling, you say to yourself “I am willing to lose everything.” You eventually fall into the sun, and your body metaphorically burns up. Your physical is no more, you truly have lost everything. You then become a sunbeam, radiating positivity among the other sunbeams. Once you are burned up, you notice all the other suns in this sun world, radiating positivity, giving, and love. They speak out to you saying “we are everywhere.” You are not alone in this happy sun world of giving. You’re not trying to become completely unattached with this, but you are trying to inch towards acceptance of the idea of loss. As humans, we need attachment, but there is a threshold where it becomes unhealthy.
The Take home:
I highly suggest watching “Stutz” on Netflix if you haven’t. The tools provide a
good perspective on how to deal with situations going on in your life. However, it’s not
the only answer. There are dozens and dozens of therapy models. But since this was
put into a movie, I wanted to talk about this one. Check out more of The Tools on Phil’s
website that talks more about the ones discussed in the film and others not!