Sometimes our greatest teachers are the most unassuming ones. That’s the message from Lynn Lyons, a child therapist specializing in anxiety disorders, and author of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents: 7 Ways to Stop the Worry Cycle and Raise Courageous and Independent Children.

What would you do if you instructed a client to face their greatest fear, he did so with flying colors, and then asked you to confront yours? That’s exactly the predicament Lyons found herself in with her young client, James.

In her presentation, “I’m Funny and I Faint,” from the 2017 Networker Symposium evening storytelling event, Lyons shares the heartwarming—and often hilarious—story of how James used a little exposure therapy technique of his own, which helped her walk away from their experience a stronger therapist.

As Lyons mentions, being confronted with a challenge by your client isn’t always an occasion for turning away from that challenge and refocusing your attention on them. In fact, leaning into the challenge may strengthen the therapeutic alliance between you two and lead to a more robust healing experience.

Anxiety is completely normal, and therapists need to emphasize this, Lyons says in her Networker piece, “Taming the Wild Things.” When families “tell me their story,” she says, “I usually nod a bit nonchalantly and say in a matter-of-fact voice, ‘Yes, I’ve heard that before; lots of families I’ve seen tell me the same things.’ My ho-hum response tends to both reassure the child and his parents that their situation isn’t uniquely terrible and model for the parents a way they can lower their own emotional temperature—which is critical for calming their child.”

Lynn Lyons

Lynn Lyons, LICSW, is a speaker, trainer, and practicing clinician specializing in the treatment of anxious families. She’s the coauthor of Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents and is the co-host of the podcast Flusterclux. Her latest book for adults is The Anxiety Audit.