Response- and Solution-Based Strategies for Recovery

Robert F Mullen, PhD

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“Dr. Mullen is doing impressive work helping the world. He is the pioneer of proactive neuroplasticity utilizing DRNI – deliberate, repetitive, neural information.” – WeVoice (Madrid)

“Visualize this thing that you want. See it, feel it, believe in it.
Make your mental blueprint, and begin to build.”
– Robert Collier

There are multiple coping strategies utilized to alleviate stress including problem-focused, emotion-focused, social, and meaning-focused. They can be adaptive or unhealthy depending upon how they are utilized. We emphasize response-focused and solution-focused strategies for our purposes, but all options are considered and incorporated into a comprehensive recovery program.

The emotion-focused coping strategy focuses on reducing the emotions associated with a stressor while avoiding addressing the problem. Our recovery program emphasizes identifying the situation, associated fears, and corresponding ANTs (automatic negative thoughts).

The problem-focused coping strategy uses the same tools and techniques as our solution-focused strategy. The difference is important, however. The disease model of mental health is pathographic or problem-focused, whereas the wellness model focuses on our character strengths, virtues, and attributes. Recovery is a here-and-now response, The past is immutable. We emphasize the solution over the problem.

Meaning-focused coping strategies entail rationalizing or delegating responsibility for our thoughts and behaviors to a moral or religious code or influence. Our recovery program emphasizes personal responsibility, self-reliance, and self-determination.

4. Social coping strategies are counterproductive to recovery from social anxiety which symptomatically resists social connectivity and finds healthy relationships problematic. They are useful, however, when one has regenerated their self-esteem to a level where they are comfortable in social situations. Avoidance-focused coping strategies are also counterproductive to the recovery of someone whose symptomatic modus operandi is avoidance of stressful situations.

To counter the emotional undercurrent of our situational fears and ANTs (automatic negative thoughts), we learn to respond rationally and intelligently. That is the response-focused element of a recovery program. The solution-based strategy, often neglected in recovery programs, puts theoretical recovery tools and techniques into actual practice. While it is necessary to know the enemy and know ourselves, the origins of our emotional instability are irrelevant. The focus of recovery is resolving or modifying our extant behaviors.

An essential component to moderating our situational fears and anxieties is devising a Feared Situations Plan that we practice in non-threatening workshop environments before exposing ourselves to the actual situation. Incorporated into that plan are coping mechanisms crafted for the specific situation.

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There are two types of situations: anticipated and recurring situations and unexpected ones. Planning for the latter is inherently unsystematic. We have assembled an emergency preparedness kit. The Feared Situations Plan is structured around those situations where we generally know what to expect. Both kit and plan utilize similar coping mechanisms.

The focus of this writing is designing a Feared Situations Plan for an anticipated situation that will become a template for similar types of situations. 

Let me restate the structure and components of a Plan for Feared Situations

1. Identify the Feared Situation – the place or circumstance that provokes our fears and anxieties. 

2. Unmask the Associated Fear(s) we anticipate will manifest during the Feared Situation

3. Unmake the Corresponding ANTs (automatic negative thoughts) – our immediate, involuntary, emotional expressions of our Fears.

4. Examine and Analyze our Situational Fear(s) and ANTs. These actions are implemented by various approaches including cognitive-behavioral self-modification, and positive psychology. 

5. Generate Rational Responses by deconstructing our Situational Fears and ANTs. 

6. Reconstruct our Patterns of Thought and Behavior. Through proactive neuroplasticity and other approaches, we replace or overwhelm our toxic thoughts and behaviors with healthy productive ones. 

7. Design our Feared Situation Plan to include: 

A. SUDS Rating. The Subjective Units of Distress Scale is a numbered, self-evaluation scale (1-100) that subjectively measures the severity of our Fears and the intensity of distress we feel about a Situation. 

B. Purpose. The primary motivation(s) behind our exposure to a situation. What do we seek to accomplish?

C. Persona. The social face we present to the Situation, designed to make a positive impression while concealing our social anxiety. 

D. Character Focus. Personal character strengths we emphasize to support our Persona. 

E. Distractions. Predetermined sensory objects to rechannel our stress during our Feared Situation. 

F. Diversions: Predetermined mental activities to rechannel our stress during our Feared Situation. 

G. Projected Positive Outcome. Reasonable expectations we set to ensure a positive outcome to our Feared Situation. 

H. Projected SUDS Rating. Our predetermined, reasonable projection of the severity of our Fears and the intensity of distress at the conclusion of our Situation. 

I. Strategy. Our predetermined outline or scenario of our Plan incorporating lines A. – H.

8. Practice the Plan in Non-Threatening Simulated Situations. We consolidate the effectiveness of our Feared Situations Plan in practiced exercises including role play and other workshop activities. Affirmative Visualization is a valuable scientific asset.

9. Expose Ourselves to the Feared Situation. We implement our plan in a real-life situation. This transpires after significant graded exposure to facilitate the reconstruction of our neural network and establish comfort and familiarity with the prescribed tools and techniques. 

Jeanine P.

Jeanine is a workshop graduate. She created a Feared Situation Plan to prepare her for a 3-day, work-related, out-of-town conference. Jeanine had recently been promoted, in her mid-thirties, to a major accounts managerial position in telecommunications. Jeanine’s social anxiety was severe when it came to associating with her peers. The upcoming conference included the other managers throughout the country – a male-dominated, competitive, and experienced group of about thirty colleagues.

Strategy: By clearly articulating our strategy, we coalesce all the elements and coping mechanisms of our Plan into a gestalt. Gestalt theory emphasizes that the whole of anything is greater than its parts. It creates a mental scenario that helps us visualize the entirety of the situation.

Our strategy supports our three primary goals. (1) To replace or overwhelm our negative thoughts and behaviors with healthy, productive ones, (2) to produce rapid, neurological stimulation to change the polarity of our neural network, and (3) to regenerate the elements or self-properties of self-esteem. 

Visualization is a cognitive tool that compels our neural network to realize all aspects of a projected outcome. Scientifically supported through studies and neuroscientific understanding, Affirmative Visualization is a form of graded exposure. Its systematic desensitization reduces our fears and anxieties about the actual situation. We envision thinking and behaving in a certain way and, through repetition, attain an authentic shift in our behavior and perspective. 

Our brain provides the same neural restructuring when we visualize doing something or when we physically do it; the same regions of our brain are stimulated. Just as our neural network cannot distinguish between toxic and productive information, it also does not distinguish whether we are experiencing something or imagining it. Visualizing raising our left hand is, to our brain, the same thing as physically raising our left hand.

The more we visualize with a clear intent, the more focused we become and the higher the probability of achieving our objectives. Affirmative Visualization activates our dopaminergic-reward system, decreasing the neurotransmissions of anxiety and fear-provoking hormones, and accelerating and consolidating the beneficial ones. When we visualize, our brain generates alpha waves which, neuroscientists have discovered, can dramatically reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

This is Jeanine’s strategy.

“I admit, I’m apprehensive about the work conference in Dallas, but that’s to be expected. Everyone wants to make a good first impression. I will be dressed professionally and present myself with confidence and quiet strength. I will deliberate before asking or responding to questions (slow talk). I will emphasize my dependability and resourcefulness – someone who can be counted on and solve problems. I have four excellent coping mechanisms if I start to feel unwarranted stress. By the end of the three days, I anticipate not only will I have impressed the others with my pleasant and confident demeanor, but I will also be recognized for my value and qualifications. Reasonable expectations are that I will impress some, but not all of my cohorts – everyone has self-baggage. I will, however, be generally considered a deliberate, professional, and supportive colleague. I expect to exceed my Projected SUDS Rating, but it is a fair and moderate benchmark for my success.”

That is a winning strategy from a woman with severe social anxiety who had convinced herself she would be criticized and ostracized by her peers which negatively impacted her career with the company and her emotional well-being. The situation remained consistent; Jeannine had dramatically moderated her perspective of and response to the situation. She was no longer subdued by her fears but had taken control of the outcome. “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.” – Paulo Coelho

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WHY IS YOUR SUPPORT SO IMPORTANT?  ReChanneling develops and implements programs to (1) moderate symptoms of emotional malfunction and (2) pursue personal goals and objectives – harnessing our intrinsic aptitude for extraordinary living. Our paradigmatic approach targets the personality through empathy, collaboration, and program integration utilizing scientific and clinically practical methods including proactive neuroplasticity, cognitive-behavioral modification, positive psychology, and techniques designed to regenerate self-esteem. All donations support scholarships for groups, workshops, and practicums.  

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