This Isn’t My Bike!

“Let me move the seat up a little more. That should do it.”

My knees were jammed under my armpits and my arms were straining to reach the handlebars. I already had two bike salesman troubleshooting my fitting, and it looked like a third was about to descend. “Guys, I don’t think this bike fits me. It’s not right.” My first attempt at getting a serious bike from a serious bike shop was going poorly. My family and I had gotten into riding our bikes longer and longer distances, and I was finally committing myself to the idea (and expense) of a road bike.

Thirty frustrating minutes later, I managed to extricate myself from their “help.” No, I really don’t want to buy this bike. No, I’m not going to try it out for a few rides and see how it goes. No, I do not want your business card in case I realize later today that this really was the bike for me–the implication being that I had no sense of what I needed. Three bike shops later, I was discouraged. The scene was the same in every shop: enthusiastic, wiry men showed me what they had (in the sale section if-you-please). I hopped on a likely bike to see if it was comfortable, or comfortable enough. (I know that no road bike is “comfortable,” but you have a sense pretty quickly of whether you will be cramping up before you get out of the parking lot. If that’s the case, doing 40 plus miles is not an option.) The bikes I was offered were not comfortable. They were not right. But, as a 5’6″ woman, I should fit a 52″ frame. The men insisted on adjusting and tweaking bikes I knew instantly wouldn’t work for me.

Bike Shop“You’ve got long legs and a shorter torso. Let’s try a 54,” said Jessie, bike tech and badass semi-professional racer at bike shop number four. She set the bike up on a tripod so I could pedal in place and get a feel for the bike. My body relaxed. My legs had room, and with a few proper adjustments, I could comfortably reach the handlebars. This was my bike.

All the bike stores had the same tools, and ostensibly had similar bikes. Someone else could have tried me on a bigger bike, but instead they were intent on jamming in to the bike that “should” fit. Sometimes, I think therapists do this. In psychology programs, we learn to identify a theoretical orientation. It may sound unfamiliar to the lay person, or even the experienced client of therapy, but it consists of two things: how you approach therapy (or how you believe people grow and change) and what interventions you use.

Freud identified with a psychoanalytic theoretical orientation, and he believed people changed when they were able to talk through blocked impulses and drives. He intervened by being a “blank slate” and allowing client issues to “reflect” their frustrated drives and inappropriate id-based impulses off him. He also intervened by analyzing and interpreting client issues since he believed they could not identify their ego-threatening unconscious motivations.

FreudCognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another theoretical orientation. CBT psychologists believe a person’s thoughts and feelings develop out of someone’s interpretation of a situation, not the objective facts of a situation. Mistaken core beliefs–such as the belief that you are unworthy of love–influence interpretation of events. A cancelled date might be taken as proof that someone is unworthy of love, which leads to feelings of despair; someone who believes they are worthy or love might be open to alternative explanations, like the date being sick or shy.

CBTThere are many, many more: Gestalt, Adlerian, Feminist, Multicultural, Humanistic, Person-centered, Rogerian, Existential, Interpersonal…the list continues. And the short descriptions I’ve listed above don’t do justice to the complexity within perspectives.

The thing is, what works for one person may not work for another, and what should work for one person may not necessarily be the most effective intervention for that person. Practitioners who are strict in their orientation and identify with only one approach can absolutely be helpful to the clients they see, but I sometimes wonder if we are bike salesman trying to squeeze people onto bikes they should be riding, not the bikes that fit them.

We don’t need to do away with theoretical orientation, but we should be willing to “flex” our approach to client issues. As a good bike store manager, I should offer a wide range of bikes and be willing to try people out on different sizes and styles until we find something that works. I may not have the right bike for everyone, and when that happens, it’s appropriate to refer out. But it doesn’t make sense to keep only one bike in stock.

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