“Be the Buffalo”

As a mental health therapist, I am always on the lookout for materials that could aid clients. I recently read a piece by Rory Vaden, MBA, co-founder of Southwestern Consulting, strategist, public speaker, and New York Times bestselling author.

Rory shares a story of his time in Colorado when he observed a peculiar phenomenon between the various cattle on the Great Plains in Kansas. He noticed Western storms rising on the horizon and observed the reactions of the cattle cows versus the wild buffalo. The cattle cows, saw the storms and began moving East, in hopes of out running the storm. The buffalo saw the storms, and they began moving toward the West directly into the thundering horizon.

This story serves as a metaphor in what I have seen in the therapy room time and time again. My clients are challenged by, struggling with, or suffering from a storm or even series of storms in their lives. Unfortunately, many clients were not provided the support, resources, or skills to know how to manage life’s storms effectively. Therefore, they do what is natural when faced with ambiguity. They run away, just as the cattle cows run.

Though running can be effective for certain storms (seeking safety, leaving abusive/neglectful situations, etc.), it is simply not effective for most of life’s storms and therefore must be endured or overcome. If our clients continue attempting to out run storm after storm, they actually maximize their suffering, time and frustration experienced from that storm in the long term.

Unfortunately, clients without support, resources, or skills tend to seek external avenues to cope with or deny life’s storms altogether. Their inability to manage the storms effectively can manifest into addictions (substance, sex, gambling, shopping, social media, etc.), codependency, flashbacks, nightmares, eating disorders, mood disturbances, physical ailments, and other biopsychosocial health concerns. As one can imagine, these additional complexities certainly exacerbate a person’s suffering under the givens of life.

In the therapy room, my goal, among many, is to aid the client in exploring and understanding themselves; to gain insight into how the clients’ behaviors have come to be as they are today and seek to find new ways to think and behave to achieve a more fulfilling, adaptable life. Or, in line with this metaphor, we need to help our clients shift from a “cow mentality” to a “buffalo mentality.” So the next time a client notices a storm on the horizon, they move toward the challenge rather than running away. Facing one’s fears and troubles is not easy, but it minimizes the amount of suffering, time and frustration experienced from life’s storms in the long term.

There are several interventions to aid clients in creating a mental, emotional, and behavioral shifts, but it appears to come down to a few key concepts. A client needs to come to believe they can overcome a storm and this is fostered through awareness, repeated positive self-talk, cultivating hope, and building on their self-esteem.

A client also needs a practical skills set to know that when they face a storm, instead of running, they have a toolkit full of options (DBT skills, meditation, spirituality, resources, etc.) to aid them in overcoming the said storm. Finally, a client needs support, a network, or more fittingly for this metaphor, a herd. The buffalo do not overcome the storms alone and neither do people.

Each client and their storms look different and they each need a unique set of therapeutic interventions, goals, and skill building, but if we can guide our clients to shift from a “cow mentality” to a “buffalo mentality,” then half the battle will be won by instilling a hope and faith in themselves. The other half will be the choices the client makes to overcome and recover from their storms.

In therapy, it is a common intervention to ask a client to create a mantra to aid in building that positive feedback loop and making new choices with their thoughts and behaviors. Some clients utilize a spiritual saying, an inspirational quote, or an affirmation. Yet, for the client that does not seem to have one or cannot create one on their own, we might be able to offer them this short phrase, “Be the Buffalo.”

This story and simple mantra could be the guidance our clients need to know they can face life’s storms,not without suffering, but with their empowerment and knowledge they can suffer less because they are resilient, they are capable, and they can overcome. This is the beauty of the therapeutic relationship; to see a human being transform into their authentic self; finding hope, faith, and fulfillment.

Vaden, R. (2015, January 23). Be the Buffalo and face life’s storms. The Tennessean. Retrieved February 27, 2023, from https://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2015/01/23/buffalo-face-lifes-storms/22187351/

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*The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders and not intended as endorsement by iaedp™ Foundation, Inc. or its Board of Directors.*

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