Hot Air Balloons and Therapy

You are probably wondering what’s with all the hot air balloons on this therapy website?  The truth is that after my family, therapy and hot air ballooning are the two primary passions in my life and I really like being able to draw connections between them.

Several years ago I was asked to present to a group of people about either my business or some aspect of my personal life.  I decided to use the opportunity to draw the parallels between my life’s work and my life’s hobby and came up with:

What Can Hot Air Ballooning Teach You about Therapy?

Or, “How Can Carol Combine her Favorite Hobby with her Life’s Passion?”

I’ve always been fascinated by hot air balloons.  In 2002 I got to go to an “Evening Special Shapes Glow” at the Albuquerque International Hot Air Balloon Fiesta (I happened to be attending a conference nearby and we had a “field trip” to the event.)  I was in awe….so many fun and magical shapes.  And as the skies grew dark and the balloons stood up, the fire that heated the balloons caused them to glow.  I was (and still am at these events) like a kid in a candy shop!

When I moved to Flagstaff in 2012, I was hiking in the forest with my dog and ran into some neighbors on the trail.  I happened to be wearing a t-shirt I had purchased at the balloon festival in 2002.  One of the neighbors commented that she was part of a hot air balloon crew out of Albuquerque (about 4.5 hours from Flagstaff) and indicated if I was interested I could join her some weekend to be a part of the crew.  I took her up on the offer, which included my first hot air balloon ride, and I’ve been hooked ever since.  The neighbor and I subsequently started dating and are now married!  We spend many of our weekends helping out our friend and pilot with her balloon, called Bounce!

Hot Air Balloon

In ballooning the important players are the pilot, the crew chief and the crew members.  Therapy usually involves the therapist and a client, although occasionally significant others are involved for support.

You can’t fly a hot air balloon by yourself and a knowledgeable crew is vital to a successful flight.  In therapy, and in life, a strong support system is critical.  Sometimes the support system is a psychiatrist, a nutritionist, a coach, family members, friends, partners.

The process of launching a balloon starts with the balloon laid out flat.  Clients often start therapy because they feel life events or circumstances in their life have “knocked them flat.”

Once the balloon is laid out, cold air is added to begin cold inflating the balloon.  This is similar to the development of rapport at the start of a therapeutic relationship.  It builds the client up so difficult issues can be addressed.

As the balloon is being inflated, the pilot and crew inspect the balloon (often called the envelope) for any potential weaknesses.  As I get to know a new client, I pay attention to areas where they might need additional support (e.g., medication, nutrition advice, etc).

Sometimes the balloon needs some adjusting during inflation to make the flight safe.  Occasionally things come up in therapy that need addressing before other issues can be explored (e.g., substance use).

Once everything with the envelope looks good, fire is added to heat the air inside.  In therapy, “heat” is called “challenge.”  I have to have a good relationship with my clients so they can hear my challenges if they are to grow.

As the air in the envelope gets warmer than the air outside, the balloon begins to rise.  In therapy as initial concerns get addressed, the client begins to feel stable enough to do deeper, more intensive/painful work.

While flying, close attention must be paid to the temperature of the air in the envelope.  If it cools too much, the envelope will lose its shape and the balloon will lose altitude.  In therapy I have to maintain a balance between support and challenge to help the client keep moving toward their goals.

The opening at the very top of the envelope is the parachute; the pilot can pull the red line to release the parachute and let heat out of the envelope quickly in case of danger or if an immediate landing is needed.  In therapy sometimes a crisis will arise which requires quick action on my part to protect the safety of the client.

Just like it takes propane to fly a hot air balloon, it takes energy to invest in therapy and stay committed to the process throughout. Propane fuels the fire that heats a hot air balloon, making it rise.  Making the decision to start therapy when you’ve been struggling with an issue for a while takes a lot of personal energy and commitment.

In hot air ballooning, the winds determine where you will end up, which is not always where you thought you would be when you launched.  In therapy the process of self-discovery can take you to unexpected places. 

In ballooning it is important to be aware of weather patterns even at a distance, as they can impact winds at your location.  Past life experiences can have a significant impact on a person’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. (e.g., childhood sexual abuse, absent father, negligent mother, etc)

When we stand up our balloons at night, they glow when the burners are on and they look completely different.  In therapy different contexts of various issues must be considered to ensure all concerns have been addressed.

If you ever have the opportunity to go for a hot air balloon ride, I would definitely encourage you to take it!  Floating through the clouds, the silence (other than the burner) and the views creates a spectacular experience you won’t soon forget.  Similarly, the experience of therapy can be unlike anything else you have experienced.  You will gain new perspectives on yourself, your relationships and your life experiences and you will learn to make changes to help take your life in a direction that is more meaningful and fulfilling.  If you are looking for a therapist to join you on your journey of self-discovery, please reach out for a consultation.  I would be happy to have the conversation.