Recently, after hosting an advanced training webinar for therapists, I was asked to say a little more about the actual strategies I use to help people transform their lives. This is my (barely edited) response.
I got an email today that got me thinking about something I really didn’t cover in the webinar, and I thought this would be a good time to add this vital piece.
In the webinar, I didn’t really give you “5 ways to do X, and 6 ways to do Y.” I don’t usually think that way.
Instead, I presented “7 ways to think about the same thing from different perspectives,” with the idea that if you keep floating through various ways of framing the situation the next obvious step will become clear.
Something I’d like to emphasize here is that every time you change perspectives, you gain freedom of movement. If you take the client with you, you help them regain freedom because you’ve changed the context of their problem for them. As their perspectives change, how they see their problems will change and they’ll start telling you how to help them.
I guess this is one reason I’ve never been a fan of formulas like “Solve this problem in 3 easy steps!” Everybody’s a little different, they all know deep down what they need and how to get it, we just have to divorce them from their sense that they understand the problem and know how to solve it.
If they were right, they’d have already solved it.
In fact, they are right, they do know how to solve it…it’s just that they don’t know they know how to solve it the way that will work for them. They just know, consciously, the way they’ve been programmed to believe they have to solve it. That way doesn’t work and won’t work for them. If it did, they wouldn’t be sitting in a room with you!
So a big chunk of how I work is helping clients become uncertain of their perspectives by offering them other ways of seeing the same thing. Sometimes, confusion alone is enough to allow them to release their inner wisdom.
A lot more people need to transfer their certainty to another perspective and get grounded in that first. Their wisdom comes out more slowly, a little at a time, as you keep changing perspectives.
Figuring out which client is which is all part of your ongoing assessment process.
People change in their need for certainty depending on how far they’ve progressed. As they get more comfortable with you, and mostly with themselves, their need for certainty diminishes.
As certainty diminishes, creativity arises. You always want to leverage your clients’ creativity and use it to help them solve their problems. First, it makes your life easier. They’re doing all the creative work!
Second, it makes their following through more likely. Everybody would rather do something they thought of themselves than follow someone else’s directive. That’s human nature.
Third, if it was their idea and their effort, they’re more likely to own it instead of discounting it. They’ll tell themselves positive, flexible stories about themselves and their abilities, so there’ll be less of a struggle with them later.
That’s why I resist reducing the process to formulas. I’d rather produce the biggest impact with the least effort on my part, and leave people with the maximum freedom to live their lives productively.
Here’s how it might work. You say (and this is a generalized you, this could be anyone), “I’m having a problem with my parent/partner/client. He/she is doing thus and such for this exact reason.”
First I’d empathize and get a baseline on your emotional state. I’d explore your fantasy that you understand the reason. All of that might take awhile. Then I might ask, “Are you sure it’s for that reason? It occurs to me that it could also be this reason, and that reason, and the other reason.”
What I’m doing is freeing you up to look at your problem differently. It doesn’t matter if none of my suggestions are absolutely correct. That totally doesn’t matter. You can knock down every one of them for all I care. You just need to see that the situation could be different than you believed, because if the situation is different then the possible solutions will be different.
The first step, my aim in asking these questions, is helping you become less certain about your assumptions. Treating assumptions as facts is really what gets people in trouble.
As you look at your assumptions and where they came from, you start seeing all the irrational beliefs that Ellis talked about. Unlike Ellis, I’ve found that disputing them leads essentially nowhere.
That’s because at their core they’re defensive. They seem crazy because they’re infantile assumptions we made when we ourselves were infantile, but we don’t question them because doing so would allow the early unregulated pain to come flooding back, and we’ve convinced ourselves that pain would kill us.
We’ve never accounted for our improved abilities to regulate ourselves in the many years since then.
When a therapist uses CBT methods to dispute their client’s old beliefs instead of doing things this way, part of the client hangs onto their old belief, for exactly that reason — they’re sure if they let it go, they’ll die. Under enough stress, the old belief magically and inevitably reappears. That’s the weakness of CBT.
With ADEPT, sidestepping the initial assumption and solving the problem takes all the sting out of the old belief. Now we can ask about that first assumption, and since it’s no longer life and death, we can access the old memory and resolve the original situation it was based on.
That takes care of the old emotion. Poof!
If we’re thorough in our work once it’s gone, the belief goes away right behind it. Poof!
That’s a bunch of philosophy, practical psychology, and how-to, all wrapped up into one answer.
Email me to get your copy of my Inner Transformation Cheat Sheet, which outlines the 7 perspectives this post discusses.
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