Recognizing When Your Client Defines a Clear Issue with Related Feelings
Today's blog post is the second in which we focus on the Initiator for more effective Initiation. We are explaining the steps with volatile couples as you begin working with them in the Initiator-Inquirer format.
The tasks of being an effective Initiator sound simple. The Initiator…
1. Brings up one and only one issue/problem
2. Uses “I messages” to describe thoughts & feelings about the issue
3. Describes the issue without blame or name calling
4. Is open to learning more about him/herself than was known before he/she started talk
For you as the therapist, this step involves asking yourself, “Did my client actually initiate?”
Be especially alert to whether he or she is, in fact, defining a clear issue and a clear feeling that connects to that issue.
It is common in volatile couples for the initiating partner to wander and talk a lot. They believe they have been clear, but in fact they have been quite vague.
They describe the context: ” You remember when we were discussing me coming home late?”
They may describe the partner’s behavior: “You were looking so critical.”
Or they may complain: “Your timing was terrible, getting mad at me when I was so stressed already.”
Even after listening for a while, you may not know what the issue is. It is so tempting to think a partner has actually defined an issue when they haven’t. And if we are not sure how to clarify the issue, it becomes even more tempting to ask their partner to clarify it. However, this is our work. It is up to us to be sure a clear initiation has occurred before asking the partner to come into the discussion. Interrupt any interaction between them and work with the Initiator first to articulate a clear issue. This involves working more on self-definition, articulation of emotions and the main significance of the issue.
Another way to respond after you’ve heard a long description is, “ Now could you describe the core of the issue that you really want to discuss?”
Or, to help the Initiator be more specific you might ask, “When you’re done having this conversation, what do you hope to learn about yourself and what do you hope your partner will learn about you?”
It would help your colleagues if you post examples you spot in the weeks ahead. Here’s one that recently happened in a session with me. One of my clients said, “I want to talk about a trip I’d like to take. I know you won’t want me to take it. It’s too long and too far away. You’ve been mad other times when I’ve gone on eco-safaris.”
Or here’s another one: “I want to talk about us, what’s going on with us. I don’t get it. I say I want to talk and you don’t talk. I want to talk. We never talk. When will you ever talk to me?”
And now it is your turn. What is wrong with these two attempts at initiation? What would you say to the Initiator to get more clarity? I look forward to reading your own examples.
As you read this article, I will be heading out for three weeks in Kenya and Turkey. I won't be responding to blogs or emails during that time. But I hope that won't stop you from writing.
I am going back to Kenya with the organization World Teacher Aid to help build a high school. Pete and I have been involved with this non-profit that builds schools in camps for internally displaced Kenyans. Last year we conducted a conference call and invited everyone to attend for any contribution they wished to make. The response was tremendous, so I know that many of you support this work – and I truly appreciate your support. Last weekend Michelle and I shopped for all sizes of kids underwear and some toys/activities to bring along. I look forward to sharing this year's experience in Africa on the blog.
I have written one more newsletter on initiating that will be sent to you while I am gone, and I am eager to read your comments and respond to them after I return.