There is a delightful, fanciful prose-poem by Louis Jenkins; it’s called, appropriately enough, Walking Through A Wall. Jenkins draws the reader’s attention to the wall texture, how to approach the wall, his experiences with walking through walls, and the feeling of exhilaration when the Wall-Walker emerges from the wall:
“The best approach to a wall is, first, two hands placed flat against the surface; it’s a matter of concentration and just the right pressure. You will feel the dry, cool inner wall with your fingers, then there is a moment of total darkness before you step through on the other side.”
Of course, his literary piece is allegorical, a representation or symbolization of a concept or idea. We submit it’s a marvellous metaphor for working with our clients who build their own, seemingly impenetrable walls concerning health behaviour change/s all the time. As one of our colleagues says, ‘we experience what we believe’ and it’s so true. If a client has spent years building a wall of “I just can’t ___________,” it becomes her or his reality, what s/he experiences. And, it’s so important to realize that the wall seems very real to that person. Even ambivalence, the tendency to resist change is a wall of sorts. Dr. Nicole Kosanke addresses the issue of ambivalence in an excellent blog entitled, Why Befriending Your Ambivalence Can Help You Change. She notes that,
“When ambivalence is viewed as a collapse in resolve, you can set yourself up to have a collapsing windfall internally and behaviorally: feeling sad or demoralized; bingeing on snacks; having hopeless or self-denigrating thoughts about yourself.”
In other words, that collapse in resolve becomes another wall, a perceived failure in trying to reach a behaviour change goal. Instead, Kosanke recommends getting curious about nagging self-doubts or apparent steps backward in order to learn from them and move forward. As health professionals, we can play an integral role in helping clients move through their walls, through ambivalence, through the “total darkness” to support them in getting to the other side of whatever it is they want to change. When clients have a set-back in their resolve or when they build a wall or build a thicker wall, help them to visualize the wall they have built and then get really curious with them about their wall – What is it like? What do you feel like behind that wall? What does the wall feel like? What might have contributed to building that wall? In what ways have you built that wall yourself? What would it be like if you got to the other side of your wall? What support do you need in dealing with this wall?
Robert Frost, many years ago, penned what is now a famous line, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall;” it’s the first line in his poem, Mending Wall and it’s about the fence-like barriers two neighbours build. Frost’s 1914 poem leaves the wall unresolved, the neighbour echoing his refrain ‘good fences make good neighbours.’ Behaviourally, walls don’t make good neighbours for our clients; they block their view, their belief in self, their goals, and their ability to change what they want to change. Helping our clients face their walls, supporting them and being with them as they deal with these walls, learning from their walls, and becoming intensely curious with them can help them when they are ready to begin to walk through their walls.