Whether you’re a counselor or counselee, isn’t is sad or at least surprising how little is remembered from a session?
Even though my clients record our sessions on their phone and I encourage them to listen, many don’t, and even if they do, they remember only a small fraction of the takeaways they had agreed is important.
On reflection, that shouldn’t be so surprising. Think of all the counseling, workshops, let alone college courses, you’ve taken. How much do you remember? If you’re like most people, not much lives beyond a day or two. Takeaways’ half-life is short indeed.
The family report. At the end of a session, I’ll ask the client to stand up and pretend s/he is talking to the family about the session. “What would you tell them are the session’s takeaways and your to-dos?”
The Board of Advisors technique. I ask the client to fold 3×5 index cards in half and write a name tent for each of the few most respected people in their life. The client then places the name tents around the table. Next, I say to the client, “You are the CEO and these are your advisors. Ask for their opinion about that issue you’re grappling with.” The client then moves to where a person’s name is and pretends they’re that person offering advice. The client goes from “person” to “person” and perhaps back again until s/he’s gotten enough of “their” perspectives.
The field trip. I’ve taken many clients on field trips:
- I took an aspiring inventor of mountaineering equipment to a shop specializing in that. There, we discussed, not only if and how his products would fit in such a shop but his psychological reactions.
- I played wingman with a client who wanted to meet a romantic partner.
- I sometimes suggest we do the session while walking: around the nearby lake or beach, or simply around my neighborhood. One client wants all her sessions to be while hiking with my doggie!
- I walked the aisles of a supermarket with an executive at a Fortune-500 consumer-products company who is in charge of acquisitions. Why? To facilitate expanding his thinking about which products should be evaluated for acquisition.
- An aspiring librarian was too shy to ask for an informational interview, so we went to the library. I also did that with a client who wanted to work for the federal government. To get past the security guard, we told an arriving worker what we were up to and whether she would tell the security guard that we were with her. She agreed and we got to talk with a range of employees.
- A client wanted an office job but was afraid to go on elevators. So I took her to one, where we did desensitization exercises. First, she just watched people go in and out of the elevator. Then we walked into the elevator but left the door open. Then we closed it but didn’t go up. Then we did. After a half-hour, she soloed with only moderate anxiety.
Thought experiments. I’ll often say something like, “Of course, the following couldn’t happen, but make believe that X. What would you do?” Temporarily freed from realistic strictures, the client is more likely to come up with fresh ideas that could be adapted to work in the real world.
The switch-seats technique. That was made famous by psychotherapist Fritz Perls. When I sense that a client knows what s/he should think or do but may be too close to the situation to articulate it, I might ask the client to switch seats with me. I then pretend I’m the client. I describe the problem and ask, “What do you think I should do?” That often unlocks the client, memorably.
The benevolent despot technique. When I sense that there’s tough feedback that the client needs to hear and could take it, to soften it, instead of just launching in, I ask, “Would you mind if, for a moment, I change from mild-mannered counselor to benevolent despot? This isn’t the real me, it’s just a game.” The client invariably says yes, whereupon I change my demeanor and, like a drill sergeant, tell the client what I think s/he needs to hear and do. Almost always, the client agrees with what the “benevolent despot” has barked.
Analogy. I sometimes essentialize the client’s problem as a memorable visual. To good effect, I’ve even said things as trite as “We’re all roses: We can be beautiful even with our thorns. Or just maybe we can clip off some of them.” One more example. Some clients have responded well to analogizing their complicated problem to a table or three-legged stool. For example, “Your life is like a three-legged stool: career, relationships, avocations. Right now, the stool isn’t balanced. We need to build up the career one.”
Story. People remember stories. So I often tell stories, often client success stories ‘ but also failure stories, including mine, with lessons learned.
If you’re a counselor, are your sessions as memorable as you’d like them to be? Want to try any of these ideas? Or should you just stay alert for opportunities to enhance memorability that are custom to your client’s needs?
If you are a counselee, you too can try to enhance memorability, perhaps by suggesting one of the above to your counselor, or simply by taking a few notes, polishing them at home, emailing them to your counselor, and reviewing them daily.
Counseling is time-consuming, sometimes painful, often expensive. Perhaps one or more of these will increase your memory of the important takeaways.
I read this aloud on YouTube.
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