- Jed Murphree, LPC
"It's about how willing you are to let an experience rewrite your maps." This was said by Kate Harris at a benefit dinner in New York City for Outward Bound in 2017.
Outward Bound is an experiential educational school with a number of locations across the US and abroad. It takes young and old people alike, into the wilderness (the mountains, down rivers, the desert) for periods of time in small groups, and teaches them to travel and be outside. I worked for them in Colorado as a backcountry instructor teaching climbing, mountaineering, and backpacking skills in the the late nineties and early aughts.
Those experiences have very strongly influenced how I do therapy now that I'm a professional counselor.
The reference to maps makes complete sense to me as a metaphor for therapy. We all carry around internal representations that help manage our everyday stresses and give us a sense of direction. Our internal maps are just sets of behaviors and thoughts (scripts) that we rely upon to interact with the world, and the people and circumstances that comprise it.
Having worked with couples for the past several years, the idea of how our "maps" get rewritten or redrawn through our intimate relationships is a way to explain the impact that having a relationship holds as well as a means to help those couples in distress. Whether we like it or not, our partners influence us, they challenge us, and change us. Our intimate relationships are a reflection of how we see ourselves, even when we don't want them to be.
Because of that, relationships brings out the best and worst of us. As a relationship grows, the map gets larger, and the locations on it begin to change. As a relationship ages, what's important on the map also changes, along with the directions to certain locations. Even with a map, some relationships get lost. Many find their way again, and some do not.
For me, what Ms. Harris said is very true. That the rewriting of maps is transformational and brought about by a novel experience. In the case of an Outward Bound course, the change occurs through the climbing of the mountain or the paddling of the rapids. With therapy, the novel experience occurs as your past is explored, and as new insights develop that produce new options, and perceptions. Change is the work, and work is the change.
So if you find yourself struggling, consider seeking professional help, if even for a short period of time.
Just remember, mental health matters.