The importance of validating feelings
I haven’t posted about OT in a loong time here! But this situation arose the other day and it got me reflecting.
My friend and I were leaving a restaurant.
A white-haired woman was slowly headed towards the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. She had the panicked look of someone who is scared of falling. Another lady was holding her hand, helping steady her as they walked. A white-haired man waited at the curb for them.
As the unsteady woman reached the curb, requiring her to step up, she hesitated.
The man at the curb said to her, neutrally but with slight impatience: “It’s not a mountain.”
As I walked past, I chimed in: “It FEELS like a mountain.”
The woman instantly cried out, “YES! THANK YOU!” in a relieved tone. She felt validated/seen.
I am about to start teaching psychosocial OT/mental health to incoming Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) students, for the third time now, and one thing we circle back to again and again is validation of feelings of their clients.
Yes, maybe a curb is not a mountain, maybe other people have it worse, blah blah blah. But people crave validation. Especially people in pain or fear. It doesn’t mean we are agreeing with them. It just means we hear them, see them. Often, once a person feels validated, they’re then more willing to hear alternative points of view, or to move on.
The day I first introduce validation as an important component of therapeutic use of self with clients, I have them watch this brief clip from the incredible animated movie “Inside Out.”
In this sweet, sad clip, we quickly see the outcomes of invalidating versus validating feelings. Even children can understand the concept once it’s discussed using that clip as an example.
I love the concept of “therapeutic use of self” and address it in a blog post here as well: https://missawesomeness.com/therapeutic-use-of-self-in-ot