What To Pay Attention To During A Session
When I talk to therapists about what they pay attention to during a session, it seems strange to me. I find they often talk about content–the story the client tells.
In my experience, content is important in terms of being able to communicate with the client, but not much else. In other words, if the client is talking about the time their mother disappointed them because she didn’t show up at their 3rd grade graduation, you should be able to feed that information back to them so they know you’re listening. But I don’t focus on the story as many in the field do.
Structure & Process
I focus on the structure–the structure of their problem and the structure of a possible solution for them. I pay attention to their process–the sequence of thoughts and feelings they go through to create both resourceful and non-resourceful states. I think a lot of the reason I do that is because of an exercise I did in my NLP training. I call it…
The Most Frustrating Drill Ever
It’s frustrating because it’s e-x-t-r-e-m-l-y slow and because its point isn’t to solve your “client’s” problem. The point of the exercise was to install a strategy in you, as the therapist.
Here’s how the exercise goes…
One student plays the therapist, another the client, and a third installs a strategy in the therapist. It starts with the therapist asking the client, “What would you like to accomplish today?”, or “What can I help you with today?” The client then answers (they can use some real problem if they like but it won’t get solved in this exercise). As soon as the client stops talking, the installer asks the therapist the following questions (waiting for the therapists answers in-between each question).
- Did they answer your question?
- What did you learn relative to the well-formedness conditions?
- What did you learn about the structure of the present and desired state?
- What do you need to know next?
- What question would get you that information?
The therapist answers the installer and they then move on by asking the question the therapist came up with in the last step.
After you do this for about 15 minutes, you rotate through and switch positions. Repeat until everyone has had the experience of all three positions.
Those Questions & Why They’re So Powerful In Directing Your Attention To The Right Place
Let’s talk about the questions and what the point of them is.
Did they answer your question?
You’d be surprised how many times a client simply doesn’t answer the question you ask. If you need specific information from them, and they don’t give it to you, you can end up in la-la land for hours unless you bring them back to the point. I’ve seen it happen many, many times.
It’s a trap that’s easy to avoid if you have a check built in–a little voice that asks, “Did they answer your question?”
Often, my strategy when a client doesn’t answer a question is simply to ask it again.
What did you learn relative to the well-formedness conditions?
The well-formedness conditions are something we use in NLP to help make sure a goal is structured in a way that works for the unconscious mind. Essentially in this step, we’re keeping track of how many of those conditions we’ve met.
What did you learn about the structure of the present and desired state?
The present and desired state are simply how the person feels now about their problem context (present state) and what they would like to feel in that situation.
The structure of the states means specific information about what thoughts they have that gets them to those states, what’s important about those states, what beliefs and behaviors go along.
For example, a person who smokes might think, “It’s time for a smoke” when it’s break time at work. It might be important to them because smoking relaxes them and they might believe that smoking is the only way to get that relaxation.
What do you need to know next?
What seems like the most logical piece of information to fill in the blanks in terms of the well-formedness conditions and/ot the structures of the present and desired states? For instance, fnding out what’s important to the client about stopping nail-biting might get you the criteria of the desired state.
What question would get you that information?
“What’s important about stopping nail-biting?” might be the question. So you ask and when the client answers, proceed to cycle through the questions again.
That’s A Lot!
Yep, it’s a lot to keep track of–consciously. That’s why the exercise is an installation exercise. After doing it for 45 minutes (all three positions), that sequence of questions is pretty well installed and tends to happen automatically when you sit down with a client.