The 13th Carrot or How Will Therapy Take / Tolerating Uncertainty

This piece is called, The Thirteenth Carrot. When clients come to me to work on anxiety, relationship issues or depression, they frequently ask me, how long will therapy take? How long I’m going to be seeing you? My answer? Well, if you want to make a change, it will take somewhere in the neighbourhood of at least thirteen carrots.

At times clients can get frustrated by stoppages and starts, and feelings of moving one step forward and two steps back when it comes to personal growth. And it’s right to be frustrated; it can be confusing investing money and time in building a relationship with a therapist. This is an uncertain time.

But, unlike driving to someplace, there’s not really a straight line between Point A and Point B in therapy. Sometimes we circle around, and sometimes people get a bit lost in their therapeutic journeys. And they don’t know quite when things will be done. Despite this uncertainty, as a therapist/leader my job is to be there with my client in their uncertainty.

I had a client just the other day finishing a big piece that he’d been working on forever and he was shocked, surprised by how quickly things seemed to happen in the end. It was as though one minute he was on one side of the fence, and the next minute he was on the other.

My work, once he got there, was to remind him of what brought us to the tipping point, of all the work we had done to get there. And in doing so, I remember the story one of my mime teachers told me when I was at the Dell’arte school in California. That Daniel Stein story goes something like this.

Daniel talked about being in Paris in the seventies and how, when you wanted meat, you went to the butcher; when you wanted fish, you went to the fishmonger; when you wanted, say, bread, you went to the bakery; and when you needed carrots, you’d go to a green grocer. And at the greengrocer they had scales. They weren’t digital scales like the kind you’d find in a typical supermarket today. They were actual balances where you would put a one pound weight on one side, and then start loading your carrots on the other side.

So, when you you want to buy carrots, you put on your one pound weight on one side. That’s what you have to move; shifting that one pound weight is your goal. At first, you put on a carrot and the weight doesn’t move.Pick up another carrot, you put it on, still it doesn’t move. You put on another carrot, and another carrot, and another carrot; it still doesn’t move. But, you would keep putting on carrots, one carrot slowly after another until there were ten, eleven, twelve carrots. Still nothing. Until finally, as you placed the thirteenth carrot on the scale, everything would start to change; the scale would begin to tip.

When I’m working therapeutically with someone, what we’re really looking for is Daniel’s thirteenth carrot, the thing that brings us to a tipping point. It’s not that all the other carrots weren’t the right ones or they weren’t heavy enough. They were important pieces of work. The weight of those carrots got us to the tipping point. They were the uncertainty we needed to pass through.

So, when you’re in therapy it might feel like, oh no, nothing’s changing. Why do I keep doing this? Why do I keep feeling the same way, and what’s holding me back? This isn’t what I expected. Sometimes, it takes patience and the ability to hang in with uncertainty until you reach that thirteenth carrot.

And then, as with this particular client, that weight moves and it was a time for he and I to reassess, do we continue to work together or does he move on to a different part of his life? In this case, he said, “Nope,” and he put another one pound weight on that scale, another set of goals. And until the next big shift, when he comes to see me, we’re just moving carrots.

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