Welcome to the archived web site of
Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. Psychologist (1950-2013)
California License No. PSY 10092
Specializing in Presence-Centered Therapy
balancing mind and heart, body and spirit
Now in memoriam - This website is no longer being updated
Articles by Dr. Friedman (except where noted otherwise)
Healthy ChangeMoving Through a Skid
A Four-Step Process in Facing Loss, Death and Life
2011 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
A metaphor for healthy change is a story told by friends who live in snow country. Climb into your car and hold on as we move through a skid. The structure of moving through a skis can apply to handling any change, loss, death and life conditions.
Imagine: You are on vacation or visiting loved ones somewhere high up in the mountains, more than 11,000 feet above sea level. It's a hot and early Spring after a heavy Winter, so the snowpack is quickly melting. Yet at that altitude it gets very cold at night; by early evening the temperatures fall below zero and the melting water turns into icethe extremely dangerous form sometimes called "black death" because it's invisible.
During the late evening you receive a phone call of great urgency that compels you to come down the mountain immediately. Your mind on the need to hurry, you quickly pack and join your family in your car, truck or van. It's nearly 10:30 PM when you leave. Acutely aware of the danger, you drive very carefully. Even so, part way down the hill you can feel the tires spin out of control. You turn the steering wheeland nothing happens. Helpless, you're skidding toward the side of the road. Now you are 4.3 seconds, 27 feet and 9 and one-half inches from hitting and breaking the guard rail and tumbling to a fiery death. You are now in the throes of a change. What do you do?
The odds-on probability is that you will engage plan A: react automatically, scream that this is unbelievable, yank the steering wheel in a direction away from the imposing cliff and desperately slam on the brakes. Now your vehicle is going sideways and out of control, In the appointed 4.3 seconds, 27 feet and 9 and one-half inches, you know what happens.
Plan A is the most common reaction to change. First we deny reality by not believing what is smack dab in our face, with all our senses screaming to be heard. Then we turn away from it, a universal symbol of avoidance and further denial. Thirdly we brake, spinning the car out of control, a precise metaphor for resistance. Of course this entire plan is misguided and stands no chance of moving through the skid, literally or metaphorically.
Plan B is to turn in the direction your automobile is skidding and hope for the best. I've heard of individuals doing this, yes, even in combination with pressing the gas pedal! In that case the results would only take 3.6 seconds. While you do gain some control of the car, the same result is inevitable.
Plan C is to pretend all the occupants in the car are highly-skilled stunt artists who jump out of the car at once and end up safely on the pavement or dirt shoulder just before the car plummets over the cliff. Save this one for the movies. This action plan is recommended only as a means of last resortperhaps better than nothing, but not much.
Plan D is to pray frantically and trust that the powers of the universe will hear you. Possibly some miracle will spare your lives, but it goes against the odds. God helps those who help themselves, and this situation is no different. Your cause is not furthered by retreating into numbed paralysis.
What you really need is plan E. Keeping your wits about you, affirming life with a prayer like "HELP US LIVE!", you take the first step by steering the car, truck or van in the direction it is already going-in other words, with the skid. At the same time, you resist the impulse to brake. This choice takes guts because it calls for aiming in exactly the direction you do not want to precede. Now you are 2.1 seconds, 14 feet 6 inches from that fiery demise, but you do have control of the vehicle. The key is to steer into the skid briefly. Having done this, you can then take the second step and turn the steering wheel quickly, but not suddenly, away from the cliff toward safety and accelerate moderately. This maneuver is the likely to allow you to get back onto the road, the mountain and life.
Plan E is most likely to succeed because it works with reality instead of fighting, denying, condemning or hating it. Prayer to God can help because that primes all good. The first workable step is to steer in the direction the rear of the vehicle is skidding, literally accepting the unacceptable and participating in the challenge life has brought you. This counterintuitive move actually straightens out your vehicle and can save your life! Secondly, avoid the typical panic reaction of oversteering, bringing your front tires beyond the axis or line in which your back tires are pointed, demonstrating presence and calm sane fine judgment, instead of impulsively panicing.
Thirdly, refuse to strongly brake, and you are respecting, instead of forcefully resisting, the present stressor that demands a change. Instead, keep the clutch engaged so when the vehicle straightens out the tires are still rotating, and can grab the road. Avoid suddenly lifting your foot from the accelerator. Rather lift it slowly and keep it lightly on the accelerator so the tires continue to rotate until they grab, which points to being a participant engaged in the actions of life to give life the opportunity to contribute to you. Some recommend lightly pumping the brakes or using steady pressure with an anti-lock braking system (ABS), thus taking the initiative as well as acting in an adaptive and resourceful manner in a most difficult and challenging situation.
The fourth step is when you turn your vehicle in the direction of the highway and then give it some gas which,. in effect, is aiming in the direction you do want to head and mobilizing your resources.
A healthy structure for productive change starts with initial acceptance and re-perception, then choosing your form of participation, and next swiftly redirecting your course of action to maximize key resources. Alternatives like denial, fighting, avoidance, rebellion or resistance to change are usually counter-productive. Roll with the skids of life and you roll back onto your road. You can particularly appreciate the three change steps REFRAME, RECLAIM AND REFOCUS that we are forever learning and relearning.
Reframe the situation
the situation, circumstances and conditions as amenable to change,
Reclaim by choosing the best
Enter into the fray of change by engaging in the process of real choice, that is, generating two or more viable alternatives, drawing out the likely results of each, weighing the trade-offs in outcomes and then picking one that serves you and all concerned. In doing this you reclaim your true power, respect, integrity and agency. Ask, "How can I reclaim my feeling like a vital agent by operating out of real choice?"
Refocus on your goal
"Right on the ball" and "Keep your eye on the ball" are helpful handles to remind yourself to ever concentrate and refocus on your goal. With so many daily distractions that come onto our paths, it is essential to keep your dreamed of possibilities ever in front of your face and in your eyes. Ask, "What can I best refocus my attention and energies on this moment?" and "Instead of getting distracted with minutiae, where is my attention best directed right now?"
Change is an incremental process in which we process
and integrate a difference that has come into our lives and won't seemingly go
away. Think of adaptive change as continuous improvement, what the Japanese call
kaizen. Change may start as a whisper, dream or intuition. If we don't listen
and take adaptive steps, the message just gets louder and louder, like beginning
with a gentle tap on the shoulder, then a firm shove, a rough punch and a finally
a rude and painful sledgehammer! The message demands recognition and initiation
of action, the only questions are when and how.
© Copyright 2013 by Will Joel Friedman, Ph.D.
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