Taking the Good Lines

img_1919You are reluctantly remembering your last session with a client who wanted to quit smoking and feeling guilty that it did not go the way you would have hoped.

Your helper instinct kicked in and you were trying to have a conversation about the ramifications of his 2 pack per day habit of 20 years.  Unfortunately, it was like you were in the middle of a bad movie with you taking the role as the hero and your client being the villain.

This scenario is unfortunately quite normal when we give advice to our clients without their readiness to hear it.  When we take one side of their ambivalence, they take the other side which leads to very unfulfilling conversations.

If you are the one arguing for change or taking the “good” or protagonist lines, your client will take the “bad” or antagonist/opposing lines for behavior change.  The problem with this is that as they articulate the lines out loud they become married to what their brain “hears.”

In effect, this is actually pressing the “pause” button on behavior change.

If you were directing the movie how would you like the conversation to play out?  Having the client argue for change might make the story line more rewarding and satisfying.

If you want your client to be the one articulating the good lines, evoking those are the best option.  Using open-ended questions and complex reflections are the way to evoke a client’s own internal wisdom about what makes them successful.

  • What would be the benefit of quitting smoking?
  • What worries you if you did not make this change?
  • What gets in the way of quitting?
  • You’d like your life to be different and this change might provide that…
  • You see this change might offer you the benefits you’ve been looking for…

Although it’s quite challenging this requires suppressing your helper instinct. 

If you start employing some of the tools of Motivational Interviewing you will soon hear your clients taking some of the good lines and becoming their own hero.  At the end of the session the final act will remind you of why you became a clinician – to help evoke the wisdom, insight and dreams of what is already there, which may lead to a good sequel.