Dr. Seuss and the Individual Recovery Plan:
Oh the Places You’ll Go!
By: David Baker, LPC
Clinical Director
Georgia HOPE

When I graduated from graduate school a friend of mine gave me the Dr. Seuss book “Oh the Places You’ll Go.”  Some of you may be familiar with this book. The book is about a character who is at the beginning of a journey and it emphasizes the destinations on that journey he will reach and the experiences he will have along the way. The story is all about moving forward even if there are experiences like the “slump” and the “lurch” or places like The Waiting Place and The Alone Place that create problems or slow our hero down. The point of the story is that the character is moving forward toward a positive (and even exciting!) destination. The story ends with the promised excitement of what you’ll see when you make it to the top of the mountain you’ve chosen to climb.

Our job in working with clients is to help them identify the destinations they want to reach – the “mountains” they want to climb. Think of a time when you were planning a vacation or trip to somewhere. Usually when we do this we are thinking about the destination we want to reach – Bora Bora, Destin, the Smokey Mountains. Usually we aren’t just thinking about what we are getting away from. Ok, sometimes we are thinking “I just want to get away from it all” – work pressures, family pressure or some other discomfort. But we usually have a picture in mind of where we want to be instead – walking on a beach in Maui, sitting on your deck with a cool breeze blowing, curled up on the couch reading a great book, climbing a mountain with a Dr. Seuss character.

The role we can play with our clients is to help them identify those mountain summits they want to reach in life.

The role we can play with our clients is to help them identify those mountain summits they want to reach in life. They’re not usually physical mountains. Sometimes the “summit” is being able to get to the end of the day and say I’m proud of something or many things I did today. Sometimes it’s being able to say when I felt myself getting anxious today I knew what to do to return to my chosen sense of calm and peace. Sometimes it’s being able to say when I thought about the loved one I lost I was able to remember something positive about them and smile instead of breaking into tears. So while it may be very important for little Johnny to stop having temper tantrums at school or Sally to stop injuring herself when she feels afraid or anxious, it’s also just as important to help Sally and Johnny identify what they want instead. Maybe Johnny’s and Sally’s mountain to climb is developing a comprehensive sense of safety that they can call on when times are difficult.

Some mountains may seem big and some may seem small, but the thrill of getting to the top is usually the same and you almost always have a better view. Sometimes getting to the top of a small mountain gives a view of the next mountain you want to tackle. Not everyone wants to reach the same mountain top and not everyone climbs the same mountain the same way. So as tempting as it is for helpers like ourselves to think “I know the way to go and I’ll tell you how to get there” it’s probably more helpful for us to help our clients decide where they want to go and then help them decide what way there works best for them. Then our job is to simply cheer them along the way to the places they want to go.

So as tempting as it is for helpers like ourselves to think “I know the way to go and I’ll tell you how to get there” it’s probably more helpful for us to help our clients decide where they want to go and then help them decide what way there works best for them.

So the next time you look at or write an Individualized Recovery Plan see if it passes the Dr. Seuss test. Is it about “Oh the Places you’ll Go”? Do the “mountains” it identifies for climbing look exciting and positive? Or is it only about staying out of the “slump” or avoiding The Alone Place? And does it sound like something that your client thinks would be a good place to get to instead of the “slump” or The Alone Place? If it doesn’t pass the Dr. Seuss test, than have your client help you change it! As important as it is to prepare for the “slumps” and to know what to do about the “Alone Place”, it’s equally important to decide where you want to be once you get beyond those places. Our job as helpers is to keep that phrase in the back of our minds and to keep reminding our clients of it – “Oh the places you’ll go!”