Our Work is a Privilege
These days I cannot help but get excited about the privilege I get to be a psychotherapist and meet with so many amazing people and amazing clients. I view it as such an amazing privilege that sometimes the questions I get from people surprise me because the answer to the question isn’t, here’s how to do Solution Focused Brief Therapy the answer is, view the work as a privilege.
Like I always told you guys, like I get literally hundreds of emails every single day. I read, we have the largest Solution Focused training organization on the planet, and we reach well over 10,000 people per month, 10,000 different people per month with our training material. And that leads to people contacting me all the time, asking me like, what about this? What about that?
And I know that they’re asking, “Can you tell me how to use this technique?” Like, “So when the client says this… Elliott, what do I say?” And I totally get, I totally totally get it. No judgment here whatsoever. I get why they’re saying that. I understand why they’re asking. But the answer isn’t in the pragmatics of like when the client is A, you say B. The answer is in the way you view the work.
Like for example, people ask me a lot, “What do you do when the client says, ‘I don’t know’?”, or even more forward, “What do you do when the client doesn’t know how to answer your questions?” and the answer isn’t like, I do this thing, or I ask this question or I prompt them in this way.
The answer is I never allow myself to think that my client can’t answer my questions. Like that’s the real legit 100% answer. I do not allow myself to think that my client cannot answer my questions. And I do not allow myself to feel entitled enough that the client should be answering my questions. If you think about it, Solution Focused questions are designed to be hard to answer.
That’s why they’re so impactful. That’s why they’re meaningful. That why they make a difference in a client’s life. If you ask someone a question that they’ve never thought of before, you got to give them a minute to struggle through and not know the answer to the question right away. For example, if I say to somebody who’s been struggling with an addiction and in the addiction world, it’s just like, get clean, get cleaned, got to get rid of the drugs, get rid of the drugs, get rid of the drug, get rid of the behavior, get rid of the alcohol, get rid of it, get rid of it, get rid of it.
And then I say, “So on the day you get rid of it, what would you be doing instead?” I’ve had literally hundreds of people telling me when I asked that question. “I don’t, I hadn’t thought about it. I just spent so much time thinking about not gambling, not drinking, not drugging.” When I say “So, what would you do instead on that day?” The most logical answer is, “I don’t know, cause I hadn’t thought about it before.”
And I can’t think that they’re saying they don’t know because they can’t develop an answer. I have to think that they don’t know because they need a moment and not only do they need a moment, they might need for me to help them. They might need for me to say, “What do you think? Take a moment to pause.” “What is it you’ve used to do before you started drinking or drugging?”
Like that’s the whole point is to help the client design the world in which they would like to live in linguistically. And sometimes that’s hard for them. In fact, I would say most times, because Solution Focused questions are actually by design, difficult to answer. I should be asking you questions you haven’t heard before, because you’re supposed to be giving answers you haven’t heard yourself say before.
And in order to do that, I have to be patient, but I have to be humbled. And I have to understand that the client does not owe me an answer. The very fact that I’m sitting in front of them is a gift they’ve given me. Every word they give me in the therapy session is a gift they’ve given me. The very idea that I get to sit here in this space, in this moment and help this person is a privilege, not an entitlement.
There is so much entitlement in our field as if the client is supposed to help us do our job. And that’s not true. The only thing the client is supposed to do is show up the rest of it is our job. And we have to understand that them showing up and them talking to us is a privileged gift that they’re giving to us. And we should cherish it. Not think that they’re not doing it correctly.
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