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Treatment’s Toughest Assignment

treatment's toughest assignment“Just this one Netflix episode. I mean, it is Game of Thrones.”

Or “I can spend another five minutes surfing”

We stall before delving into an unpleasant task. We search for discounted shoes, binge watch reality TV, and devour Ben & Jerry on dreary Tuesday nights. On Thursday nights, we devote two hours to adorable puppy cams and addictive Friends reruns. And don’t ask about Wednesday nights — after a draining day at work, we slam the apartment door and collapse on the couch.

And this is just for laundry. Imagine your trepidation and avoidance for therapy.

Temptation is more expansive than alcohol or recreational drugs. It is the time we spend puttering on Facebook, admiring SnapChat photos, and reveling in the Kardashians’ lurid details.

Until I read Rhonda Williams’s time organization handout, I thought I prioritized my time efficiently. Sure, I could prattle off arcane NBA knowledge, recite the Facebook wanderings of long-lost acquaintances, and summarize national and world headlines in one fell swoop. But I didn’t ogle over bunnies on hidden cameras. I was disciplined, or so I thought.

Williams’s handout has been a revelation. There is an emotional aspect of time management. According to her, we spend time we don’t really have doing things that make (us) feel better (e.g., shopping, puttering, watching TV). Before outlining a paper, I would search Ebay for vintage T-shirts or sneakers. You can imagine my stall strategies before therapy homework. Laundry is unpleasant; eye contact with personal demons is excruciating.

Mental health recovery requires discipline and diligence. You are retraining your mind — from processing trauma to conquering OCD rituals. You are also retraining, or relearning, emotional management skills. The latter can be as tough a challenge.

When we procrastinate, we act immediately on the need to to “feel better.” We opt for the gym or GChat despite foreseeable negative consequences. When I read the latest news headlines, I claim that I am being productive. But, as we know, productivity is relative: we prioritize the easiest tasks over the most important. Self-guided therapy is critically important for all of us.

You own your recovery. Here are opportunities to hasten it:

  • Impulsive and intellectually curious, my emotions swirl with hurricane-like force. When the negative feelings spike, my instinctive reaction is to find a book, an article, anything to distract my active mind.

    Practice delaying gratification. Treatment will test your emotional strength; the reward will be that much richer.

  • Visualize the future. We focus on the present; the future seems abstract and distant. Many of us are trying to reach the next weekend, next month, and next year.

    Instead, design concrete goals through repetitive, open-ended prompts. For example, treatment will encourage me to be a more involved father. How? I will see my son every weekend. Why? I want to introduce him to baseball and watch his progress in school. With broad questions, a level of specificity emerges.

In recovery, we straddle the line between healthy and unhealthy behavior. Recovery is broader than medication compliance. It is a holistic evaluation of strengths and opportunities for improvement. The real FaceTime? It is assessing yourself in the mirror.


Handout 1 (Williams, Rhonda, PhD Cognitive Skills Group, Seattle, Veterans Administration Medical Center).


Treatment’s Toughest Assignment

Matthew Loeb

Matthew Loeb, a Seattle-based attorney, is a mental health advocate. You can contact him at

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APA Reference
Loeb, M. (2018). Treatment’s Toughest Assignment. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Jun 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.