The Ultimatum: Michael Scott Does DBT

In honor of The Office leaving Netflix (US) last night, I spent a lot of yesterday afternoon marathoning. (I have to say, though, the Super Fan episodes on Peacock make me feel like I’m watching for the first time again!)

Choosing a favorite episode of The Office is like choosing a favorite child; I just love them all. But one that felt particularly appropriate to watch on New Year’s Eve is Season 7, Episode 13: The Ultimatum.

Pam collected everyone’s resolutions for 2011, which was 10 years ago because I’m ancient.

For those of you who haven’t seen it or need a recap, Michael is anxiously awaiting news about whether Holly, the woman he is in love with, got engaged. To prepare himself, he creates two videos “talking myself down” from either grief or excitement, and he makes two boxes of things he will need for either outcome.

For the record, two full bottles of Scotch do not count as a healthy coping skill.

Michael Scott isn’t exactly a textbook example of a well-adjusted adult, but I have to give him credit for this setup. In Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, there’s a skill called coping ahead where you mentally prepare yourself for triggers and how you will respond to them. Michael’s talk-down videos and boxes are a beautiful example of coping ahead!

Today will either be the best or the worst day of my life. Holly gave AJ an ultimatum. He either proposes by New Year’s or they break up. Now, if she’s engaged, I’m gonna go crazy, and I’m gonna start attacking people. If she’s not engaged, in all honesty, I may just burn this whole place to the ground out of happiness. Either way, I am going to need some talking down.

Michael Scott

Granted, when the time comes, Michael doesn’t actually use his coping boxes; instead, he projects his anger and disappointment all over the rest of the office (and in defense of the episode writers, that episode would be much less entertaining).

Eat the broccoli, Kevin!

Going back to Michael’s coping boxes, this episode actually inspired me to do something similar when I was waiting on the internship match as a graduate student. I wrote myself two letters – one for if I matched and one for if I didn’t – and put both in an envelope with a gift card to Coldstone. I had to put myself in the headspace of how I would feel if I got the desired outcome and the undesired outcome and consider what kind of support I would need in each situation, and I prepared a little treat for myself as a form of pre-emptive self-care.

This is a great activity for anyone who has anxiety about a future outcome! Writing the letters to your future self is an exposure and prepares you for whatever happens, and you’re prepared with (hopefully healthy) coping skills for when you get your answer.

Images from The Office are the property of NBC and are displayed here under the Fair Use Act

Published by Dr Marschall

Dr. Amy Marschall received her Psy.D. from the University of Hartford in September 2015. Her clinical interests are varied and include child and adolescent therapy, TF-CBT, rural psychology, telemental health, sexual and domestic violence, psychological assessment, and mental illness prevention. Dr. Marschall presently works in the Child and Adolescent Therapy Clinic at Sioux Falls Psychological Services in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where she provides individual and family therapy and psychological assessment to children, adolescents, and college students. She also facilitates an art therapy group for adolescents and college students with anxiety and depression. Dr. Amy Marschall is certified in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telemental Health.

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