"I am so wordy. I have a strong need to be understood and a sensitivity
to being misunderstood. This has often made me talk too much when
I'm conducting psychotherapy. I repeat myself and give examples of what
I'm trying to explain and use too many words."
This was what I once told a supervisor when she asked me to tell her about the thing I would most like to work on. I recorded myself doing sessions and would cringe when I would play my wordiest moments for her. I learned so much listening to my own tapes and trying to practice ways to say things with fewer words.
Do you see yourself in this description at all? Many counselors are sensitive, which was often part of the motivation for becoming a therapist. Being sensitive can enhance our effectiveness as a therapist but it can also enhance a need to be understood.
I began to notice that when people used a lot of words to tell me something, I could lose the point of what they were saying. I could miss the proverbial forest for the trees. Maybe I have a short attention span but you have probably seen people's eyes cloud over a little when they are listening to something that is too wordy. I also realized that it was important for the client to feel like they were more responsible for their change than I was, so I began using questions more than statements as my primary communications with my clients.
I now think that the most important moment of a therapy session is when I've asked a question that causes the client to pause and consider something new. I think it's a more potent moment than when they are telling me something or I am telling them something. Of course it's not all or nothing and those moments can be powerful as well but the pause is what I am most heartily pursuing. Even when their answer is "I don't know," I know we're in new territory which is what change is all about. I often follow this with the comment "You don't know yet but if you pause and ponder, you might find out." Elliott Connie, a proponent and teacher of SFBT says that "You're only one question away from making a difference in someone's life."
Some of my favorite "asks" are:
What have you tried?"
"Is there any part of you that feels differently?"
"What percentage of you wants to...?"
"What would you tell a friend?"
"How did you learn to believe that?"
"What do you make of that?"
"What do you want to have happen?"
"What can happen?"
And when asked specifically for advice...
"Can I help you find your own wisdom?"
Of course there are times when I make suggestions but I always want to see if I can first help my clients make the suggestion to themselves for themselves.
My book A Clinician’s Guide to Pathological Ambivalence: How to Be on Your Client’s Side Without Taking a Side can teach you how to avoid common therapeutic mistakes by developing skills to work directly on resolving ambivalence. I would love to hear from you. Please scroll down to the bottom of this page (past the banner of recent posts) to leave a comment.