Overcoming fear is easy as riding elevator

Editor’s note: This is the second of two articles.

Here is a true life example from Friends of Cazenovia Halfway House. Herman, my client, was 5-foot-11, 360 pounds, an all-American football player at Michigan State.

Herm was deathly afraid of riding elevators.

Thus when he was in the city and had appointments on the 17th floor, he would walk the stairs. In and of itself, there was nothing wrong with this behavior, except that he had a bad back and bad knees. His assignment for my REBT classes was to go to the Rath building, with me, and begin to ride elevators.

He stated he wouldn’t go and I stated, “Then I’ll discharge you, and it’s cold outside in this winter.” He stated, “Do you know I could break you in half?”

I stated I did, but he was still coming with me to the elevator. I could see the pain and the fear overcoming him, this is where coaching and counseling, put in new behaviors, based new thinking patterns. I said, “Herman, you know we preach no pain — no gain in REBT, just like football with all the weights you lifted and all the grass drills you did to make you one of the best tackles in the country.”

I now had his attention. “We are going to stand by the elevator door to begin with, and watch people get on and get off, OK?” He nodded yes. After about five minutes, we moved near the door and I took him by the arm and guided him into the elevator. I then asked him, “At this moment, what is your greatest fear?” He stated, “That this elevator will crash.”

At that point, I pressed the button for the 20th floor. Herman was stunned,” I thought we were just going up a couple of floors!” When we got to the 20th floor, it was just him and myself in the elevator.

I then told him, “press the button for the first floor. He said, “No!” I stated then we will just sit here.

He finally pressed the button. When we got to the first floor, I then told him Press the button for the 25th floor.

He did. To make a long story short, we took 10 trips up and down that day. There were some moments that I felt he would “break me in half.” However, after the 10 trips, Herman stated, “Mr. T. I want to go by myself to prove I can do it.”

l knew he could do it because besides belong a great kid, he was also an athlete that accepted challenges. When he finally came down, he had a big smile on his face, and stated, “Thank you, I’m not going to break you.” That was good.

This exercise of cognitive/behavioral fear attacking has been used by this writer for over 30 years in coaching and CD counseling. Meeting clients where they are at, also means making them do things. Talk therapy is cheap and ineffective if it doesn’t lead to rational behavior. This is a true situation and Herman is now the football coach at a southern African/American college. When he drops a line, he always back to, “Guess what? I’m still riding elevators.”

In coaching, the great coaches, create an element of fear, to make players play above themselves. Because, in basketball, you play the game and you either win or lose, no ties.

The psychology of coaching basketball has to do with a player’s perception of himself, his teammates and his coach.

To get players to the level of embracing fear, but not letting it immobilize them, takes a lot of work. For example if a player has fear of making turnovers on the press, I would “overload” the press and make it 8 on 5.

If we can bring the ball up against 8 players, without turning it over, the we surely can bring it up against 5. This is another example of facing the fear, making mistakes, and then trying to manage the situation better.

I was lucky, I had great kids over the years who were coachable.

I would be remiss if I didn’t give you the reader some fear-attacking exercises. So here goes. Think of 10 fears you have. Rank them in priority, 10 being low, 1 being high. Now, pick out five and from 1 to 5, 5 being the most intense. Now look at your five great fears and ask yourself, “How real are these fears to me, how much power do I give them, and how do these fears disable me or not?”

Using REBT, ask yourself, “Is there any reality, to these fears, or am I creating a reality? Am I awfulizing people, places, events, the past, recovery, relationships or am I exhibiting low frustration tolerance and telling myself I can’t handle people, situations, events, the world and life. Am I rating myself and others as being a loser, no good for becoming chemically dependent, never being able to follow through with school, jobs, relationships, and others always get the breaks, and finally am I demanding that people, places and things change to accommodate me and my wishes.

Clients that do not get this type of therapy and who are resistant to play to gain through the pain, simply embrace the therapy of the week, this could be music, art, pet, yoga, recreational.

All have nothing to do with their chemical dependency recovery. Teaching clients to de-escalate fear from a 10 to a 5, in a manageable stage may help to prevent relapses.

Mike Tramuta has been a CASAC counselor for more than 30 years and currently runs the REBT program on Thursday nights at the Holy Trinity Parish Center from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Call 983-1592 for more information.


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