Is Lego Really Like Therapy?
This looks perfect right?
I remember the night I received it - it's probably the best birthday present I've ever had. I was turning 41 and being a huge Harry Potter fan my partner decided to treat me, thinking Lego would be a good form of self care for me . I can’t describe the excitement I felt when it arrived, but with that excitement came fear and anxiety too. I’d never put together a Lego set before, let alone one with over 6000 pieces so I was worried I wouldn't be able to do it. The present arrived a few days before my birthday and as I looked at the box day after day I felt so much anticipation...it was only when I opened it and gradually built my castle up over the next two weeks that I realised just how much building a Lego set is like the therapeutic process. So how did I come to that conclusion?
Well, from the outside it looked perfect. Completely put together, stable and all neatly packaged up. It reminded me of the façade I used to put on when I was pretending everything was ok. It was only when I opened it up that I realised that what shows on the outside isn't always what's inside. Because it was just a mass of confused mess!
And so it is with therapy. When our clients come to us, we never know what they have hidden inside. Even the most 'put together' person can feel like an emotional mess inside and it's down to us as therapists to help them sort that "mess" out so they can start putting the pieces back together and start building themselves up again.
I could sit here and write this article from a therapist’s perspective, after all it is my training as a therapist that allowed me to have the self awareness to be able to compare the building of my castle to the therapeutic journey, but I think it makes more sense to explain it in terms of my own journey towards recovery from anorexia.
I’d like to say when I first seen my therapist that I was perfectly packaged up with all my deep, dark emotions hidden neatly away inside, but that wasn’t the case. By the time I started therapy that façade I’d sent so many years putting together and holding in place had disappeared and the “mess” from inside was spilling out into my every day life. I couldn’t see a way forward, because just like when I opened the box of Lego the sheer volume of pieces in front of my left me totally overwhelmed. I was looking at my life, the exact same way I looked at those little packets of Lego, as one whole mess that I’d never be able to sort out. But that wasn’t the case...there was hope ahead, I just needed to stop trying to look at everything at once and instead start breaking it down one step at a time. And so that's what I did. I separated out each of the bags in front of me, took the instruction booklet and opened the first bag!
Having the instructions was a big help. Suddenly I had a guide, something to direct me and give me hope that it was possible to do this and in that moment I was reminded of the hope I felt when I first trusted that my therapist could help me to navigate the turmoil of my life. Yes, opening that first pack was still scary, after all it still had lots of pieces inside, and even another hidden bag that I wasn’t expecting, but it felt so much more manageable. It was just like making the decision to open myself up to my therapist, trusting her was one of the scariest things I'd ever done in my life! Even the hidden bag was relatable because there have been times when I’ve thought I’ve known what emotions or past experiences I’ve been dealing with in therapy only to be surprised by other stuff that’s been hidden beneath them, and just like with the Lego by sorting the pieces out bit by bit I’ve been able to start making sense of them so that they can be made sense off. It takes time and patience but looking at each individual piece and making sense of where it “fits” within the big picture isn’t just how I gradually put my Lego castle together, it’s how I approached my recovery.
Finishing that first little pack of Lego was like when I hit my first target weight, I felt like I’d accomplished something. I’d faced my fear and although I’d only completed one tiny piece of a long journey, it was enough to give me hope. In fact not just hope, but courage to continue on. Gradually, hour after hour, night after night I seen my castle take shape. Some bags were harder than others so took longer, more patience and more determination to piece together but I stuck with it – just like I’ve stuck with therapy in my quest to recover. Some issues I’ve uncovered have taken all my will power and inner strength to face and work through, like my Lego castle there were times when I just wanted to say “I’m done” and walk away because I couldn’t see an end – but just like the instruction booklets my therapist walked me through the process step by step. When I thought there was no hope, she reminded me of what I was working towards and how far I’d already come. Not only was she my instruction booklet, but she was the foundation that I needed to stabilise myself enough to start rebuilding the pieces of my life – much like my kitchen table was for my castle!
Building Hogwarts was challenging. But as I progressed my confidence grew and I didn’t feel the need to check and recheck the instructions over and over; I began to trust my own judgement – just like I’ve done in therapy. It’s nice having instructions as a safety net, because there were times I made mistakes, got frustrated and had to retrace my steps, but even pieces that have to be undone can be put back together again. And so again it’s like my recovery journey – sometimes in order for me to move forward I’ve had to take a few steps back to re-evaluate, look at where I’ve made a mistake and learn from it. I've had to reach out for my therapist to steady me, but only long enough to get me back on the right path again.
Building a Lego set can feel like a big step for someone who has never tried before, and for someone that has never seen a therapist it can be exactly the same. But both are step by step processes. Everyone has emotions and for many of us they are jumbled up inside just like a big box of Lego. Trusting a therapist can be the first step to putting those emotions into some sort of order. The “problem” can be separated out issue by issue, worked on piece by piece and when everything has been identified and worked through then we have a new foundation from which to grow and thrive.
Am I proud that I built my castle? Absolutely, it brings a smile to my face each time I look at it. But I’m prouder still that I trusted the therapeutic process that facilitated my recovery from anorexia and am now well enough to offer others the same hope my therapist offered me.