It often takes only a few minutes into a counseling session for me to realize that I have no way of speaking solutions into the room. A story begins, a tear drops, and people began to share with me the kinds of things I would never be brave enough to speak out loud to another…or myself for that matter. And after only a little bit of training in graduate school, I learned that me offering advice isn’t the craft of therapy to begin with.
And it also doesn’t take long to realize the kind of disrespect or arrogance that my solution-speaking or advice-offering would actually be suggesting. It seems, when I think about it for a moment, that in no situation would I ever allow someone who has talked to me for thirty minutes, once a week, for a month, tell me what to do with my life or how to orient my grief or what to do in my marriage.
And yet the role of counselor or therapist or even pastor sometimes has those connotations attached.
So in a kind of powerlessness, when others begin their stories, begin to tell the truth about the life they have been living in and wrestling with and learning from since birth, my only option is to switch into the mode of curiosity. And in that curiosity, I become another human being in the room, asking questions that the person sitting across from me may never have asked before even to themselves.
And in the magic of the room, new things are learned. New things are learned for my own life and for the client’s life.
Good helping doesn’t come from being the answer-man, but rather from being the questioner, a facilitator of the insight that is buried within the person who has come in seeking counsel. And more often than not, as two human beings sit in the room listening to each other in spaces that don’t judge, don’t lie, don’t have other agendas… people find their ways.
There is a deep, dangerous humanity in offering to simply bear witness to the grief, pain, fear, horror, loss, confusion or despair of another. And in staring it in the face, we both become, together, a little more human.
Pine Tree Dr.
Your “mode of curiosity” is very valuable because it invites new questions into the mix and provides alternative ways of looking at situations. I am reminded of the essay “Beloved Image” written by the late theologian Nelle Morton and reprinted in her book The Journey Is Home. She writes about the experience of group therapy in which she observed someone being “heard to her own speech.” She refers to it as “a depth hearing that takes place before the speaking – a hearing that is far more than acute listening. A hearing engaged in by the whole body that evokes speech – a new speech – a new creation.” Thanks for your honest writing.
Thanks, Mark. “A New Speech.” I use a lot of Narrative Therapy and Theory in my counseling practice. Your words from Morton, whom I will have to look up, make me think of the narrative notion of “solution knowledges” that are come to in actual dialogue between persons. It’s the idea that what you and I create in conversation, especially when searching for the truth or for hope, is more than the sum of what we both bring in. Solution knowledges are rather something new that is created between two people hearing each other, and learning new possibilities together. My clients teach me every day.
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