“Let’s talk about how and when to practice coping tools. So you and I, we’re going to meet for about 45 minutes to an hour, once a week, which is not enough time to practice using these tools. How often do you think you’ll need to practice?”
“I don’t know,” Nelson shrugs. “Maybe three times a week?”
You make a face of polite disagreement. “You think that’ll be enough?”
“I don’t know,” Nelson shrugs again. “I think so.”
“Ideally you’d be practicing every day,” you say, which makes Nelson burst out in laughter. “Let’s think of it this way: when you first tried out for your high school soccer team, how did you prepare for it?”
“Oh I played every day, every afternoon,” Nelson says with an air of pride. “I played in rec tournaments, too, on the weekends.”
“That’s great,” you reply, “And it’s the same thing with coping tools. Especially since some of them are new and may not feel natural at first, you have to practice them to get really good at them, and the more you practice, the better you’ll be. They should really become second nature, so that when you’re feeling bad you won’t need to think about what to do—you’ll automatically know.”
Nelson nods briskly. “Makes sense,” he says.
“With that in mind,” you continue, “I recommend practicing twice a day, maybe once in the morning, and once in the afternoon or evening.”
“Do you mean,” Nelson asks in a low voice, “every time I feel like a loser?”
“Oh no,” you say, “you should practice these tools all the time, just like how you wouldn’t wait for game day to start kicking a soccer ball for the first time, right? You’d want to practice first!”
“I guess so,” Nelson shrugs.
“It’s the same with coping tools,” you continue. “Practicing many times throughout the day, especially when you feel good—whether at home, at school, really anywhere you are—will give you the strength and technique to use them when you are in distress. And that’s the point we want to get you at.”
“Ok, now let’s talk about when to apply a coping tool. Will you pull out your feelings thermometer?” you ask.
Nelson flips through a couple sheets before landing on the one he needs.
“At which number should we start using a coping tool?”
Nelson stares at the sheet for a long moment. “Umm, 5 or 6?”
You point a bit lower on the thermometer. “I’d even recommend starting when you’re around 4. Right around here is when you might most often start to notice shifts in your moods, thoughts, and feelings.”
Nelson squints. “Oh! That’s right. That still sounds way too soon, though. That sounds like I’d be doing this way too often.”
You nod, slowly but briskly, with eyes closed. “It may sound too soon but at this point you’re still in control. Remember, at higher levels your emotions take over and it’s much harder to think about applying a coping tool.”
Nelson, smiling, throws his hands up in the air. “All right, I’m convinced.”