Dr Cian Aherne is a Clinical Psychologist and Clinical Manager of Jigsaw Limerick. Jigsaw, Ireland's National Centre for Youth Mental Health, is an early intervention mental health service for young people aged 12-25.
Following the success of an earlier interview, Thinkful returned to Cian to learn more about the Power Threat Meaning Framework. In part two of this three part series Cian shares a practical example of the framework in action. Part one can be read here.
Emma Farrell: Can you give me an example of how you use the framework in your practice? Perhaps an anonymised example?
Cian Aherne: I might talk about my own personal experience first, and then maybe what it's like in the room, because that's what's coming up for me as we're talking about this. Because when when you say it's so simple, or it sounds so obvious, or you know it's great that we're able to think about it in this way - I didn't! Like, I did not think about this stuff at all until only the last few years. I saw the world from the entirely other perspective in so many ways. I was definitely of the mindset of 'Oh, if you're feeling bad, or if you're off kilter, maybe there is something wrong with you, or these are symptoms, and no, kind of, ulterior perspective of all of the other things that could be affecting my emotions, or that kind of thing.
I was definitely of the mindset of 'Oh, if you're feeling bad, or if you're off kilter, maybe there is something wrong with you'
So for me, when I used the Power Threat Meaning Framework first for myself, to reflect upon my own life, it was like, okay, what was one of the biggest challenges for me? And for me, one of the things I always wanted to do was to be a professional rugby player and that was the be all and end all. That worked out for a bit, but didn't fully work out. Certainly didn't work out the way I planned it. And I was miserable for a couple of years and found things really tough and wondered what was wrong with me? What was wrong with me, firstly, for not making it the way I wanted to. Did I not work hard enough? You know, that's the narrative: 'Oh, I wasn't good enough. I didn't work hard enough. And now there's something wrong with me because I'm reacting this way. I am not coping with it the way I should be, or whatever.
I had a dream that didn't work out the way that I wanted it to. It's not that I had an abnormal reaction, or that I didn't do it right. It's that something really difficult happened, and of course I was supposed to feel sad.
Then to use the framework and go back and think. Well, what actually happened to me? And what was the what was the narrative growing up around Cian the rugby player, or Cian's family is a rugby family. And to think about all the pressure that that brought with it. And, again, my narrative at the time was, I didn't make it because there was something wrong with me. But when you look back at it and you think, well, what what happened to me? The actual question there is something really hurtful and difficult happened to me. I had a dream that didn't work out the way that I wanted it to. It's not that I had an abnormal reaction, or that I didn't do it right. Its that something really difficult happened, and of course I was supposed to feel sad. And of course I was supposed to have a couple of tough years because things didn't work out. So that's the first two questions straight up. What happened to you? And how did it affect you? Whereas the dominant narrative I grew up with, until I was 29, 30, was 'what's wrong with you? And then, to think of, okay, well, what sense did I make of it? And how did I build my own identity from that? You know its such a deeper way of looking at things rather than what I'd been looking at it was 'Oh, it just didn't work out'.
It's such a deeper way of looking at things
And then to think, how what did you do to survive. And again you're moving from symptoms. You're moving from reactions. This is still space for the the term coping mechanisms, or whatever, but moving from that to thinking of it as threat - survival response. My entire identity was under threat. And, so, how did I respond to that? How did I survive? What were the things that I did to get through a really difficult time? Some of them were really good things, and you know I did lots that was really helpful in my life. And some of the things I did, I probably wasn't proud of, or or saw as defective or saw as doing the wrong thing but, for the most part, actually got me through. And whether it was socially acceptable, or deemed a coping mechanism or a denial or whatever, for me it was a thing that really got me through a difficult time.
And so, to deconstruct that whole experience from the dominant narrative of the first 30 years of my life, to this alternative kind of way of thinking of the last 5 or 6 years was to give it so much more meaning and comfort and a place in my narrative and in my story that was. you know, it makes it just that bit more coherent. I can see it as a part of myself, or I can see that story, and how it played out, and why it played out the way it did. And I had a sense of it, but certainly not the kind of deep sense of it that I would have now.