Seek First to Understand

Many years ago, when I was being trained for counseling there was an impetus to spend the first few sessions to understand where a client was coming from to establish a baseline, then came along Stephen Covey with his 5th Habit: Seek First to Understand, and this concept of understanding has evolved in my practice as I have as well.

Initially, “understanding” was basically an assessment tool, after which one would prepare a series of successive programs to guide a client from where they were at the initial consultation to where one’s training had determined was the proper destination for the client.

Only after years of practice did I begin to see that no manner of training was suitable for guiding each client to his or her highest and best. This could only be determined by challenging the client to reach deep inside and discover his or her own path and destination. In doing so, it became clear that there was no one size fits all solution, and every client was different. After a time, this increasingly made more sense to me.

If you are in the counseling or “help” business in any manner, shape, or form, it is easy to have preconceived ideas about what is generally, if not specifically, the best path that anyone should follow. Your drive might be to “fix” someone. That is to assert your perspective over that of the person you are trying to help. Instead, consider a deeper level of empathetic understanding.

Time and experience have humbled me and taught me that my opinions may not be the best for an individual, for if any given person is truly individual then the path they travel will be just as unique and individual as he or she is.

This really changes the emphasis on understanding and takes it to a new, empathetically deeper level, because now you have to take an entire life into consideration, and while your training may have equipped you to look for clues and probable suggestions for solutions, you should be ready for anything.

One thing that has helped me in this structural reframe is to allow the client to be right in all things and allow them to adjust their sense of rightness as we progress in a supportive coaching arrangement. I really try to get a sense of what it is like to walk in their shoes as they live through their life.

In retrospect, I am somewhat ashamed of the sense of superiority that I exercised with clients in the past, when I approached my work with clients as more structured and rigid. I have a much higher success rate based on the increased connection due to this increased understanding of a client.

Honoring where they are at any given moment, without judgment, standard recommendations, or preconceived outcomes.

My motivation is highly love-inspired because that is who I am. I sincerely and lovingly regard my clients and support them through whatever their process may be. To encourage and walk alongside the clients to discover where this journey leads.

I am not likely to tell a client what to do these days but am probably going to make many suggestions, giving them many options to choose for themselves what is the best door to open along the way.

This means allowing the individuals to be comfortable in their world whatever it might look like and work from there.

This has allowed me to have the most entertaining and expansive experiences and has enabled me to have access to their innermost thoughts and data provided by the people that I work with that I would never have had access to otherwise.

All from truly seeking to first understand, allowing them to be or believe anything they want, and genuinely accepting and loving them through their process, supporting them as they find their way to new levels of personal and spiritual growth.

In the end, the client is blessed. Still, I feel that I am even more blessed because I was able to be there in those most precious of moments when perceptions shifted, epiphanies were experienced, and a new life metamorphosis happened before my very eyes.

I Can Believe Whatever I Want to Believe

One of my favorite one-liners is, “I can believe whatever I want to believe.” That will stop any coach, consultant, or counselor right in their tracks. Some people have these weapons that they wield whenever they feel like they might be feeling challenged beyond their ability.

We work so hard to encourage our clients to reach new heights in their relationships, businesses, and lives, but there is a point where the client is just done reaching for new plateaus. They get to a point where their desire to grow and change is too far beyond their willingness to push through and continue the journey.

You, if you are the coach or therapist, must let go of your expectations. For us in the business, the excitement that comes with accompanying someone on an explosively exciting journey onward and upward is often the fuel that inspires us to do what we do. I know that it is for me, that’s why I only work with the movers and shakers.

I love being nearby or even in the room when someone reaches a breakthrough or epiphany. Seeing people grow and change, go through that metamorphosis from where they were when I first started working with them, then seeing them in the fullness of their capabilities, and being with them step for step along the way, that is the blessing beneath the work that I do.

What does someone mean, when they say, “I can believe whatever I want to believe?”

That means that in your communication and encouragement to look at things from a different perspective you have reached a stage that has gone well beyond the ability of the client to comprehend and they offer up the phrase, “I can believe whatever I want to believe,” in a sense to stop the bus from going any further.

It can also be a refusal to even look at something that might challenge their current rationalization, which gives them a feeling of comfort and security, or it may be more deeply rooted in their belief system or dogma.

In any case, your client has drawn a line in the sand that is not to be crossed, at least, for now.

This is your client’s journey and he or she has every right to direct his or her own path, even if you might see trouble ahead if he or she chooses “this” over “that.”

What can you do?

Of course, you should continue to present the ideas of alternative choices and what the future could hold given different decisions and actions.

You may tell your client about the experiences of other clients who may have chosen “this” over “that.” Third-party reference material may be available that you can refer him or her to.

We encourage always having an open mind, and you too must maintain open-mindedness with your clients at all times, remembering this is their journey, and you must ever tell them what to do. The responsibility for their decisions lies solely on themselves and it is your job to support them and see them face the challenges they may face as they take responsibility for themselves.

So, when someone tells you, “I can believe whatever I want to believe,” know that you’ve reached an impasse and back off your approach, and have your client restate his or her limitations, and work within those boundaries, but don’t stop offering other perspectives or ideas that may encourage them to take a moment and think outside the box.

Besides, that’s what we do best. Right?

And it is the “looking outside the box” that leads to those most valuable life-changing moments.

I Tried to Be What You Wanted Me to Be I Just Couldn’t Do It

You’re a love and relationship counselor and it’s obvious that this couple is having challenges. They are clearly not seeing eye to eye and you’re doing what you can to help them communicate more clearly, then she says, “I tried to be what you wanted me to be, I just couldn’t do it.”

This is one of those one-liners that just brings everything to a halt. When one of the partners says, “I tried to be what you wanted me to be, I just couldn’t do it,” this is a clear indication that the partnership is over because it takes two to make a couple. This participant has clearly stopped wanting to be a part of this couple anymore.

Is this an indication that the relationship is over? As a couples’ coach, you probably already know that when one or more of the participants in a relationship say, “It’s over,” or, “I’m done,” hope for a bright future still remains. I mean, they are in your office. Right? What does that tell you? There is work that can be done. Just because they have reached an impasse does not mean that this challenge is fatal.

It helps to know which phase they are in the 7 Phases of Love to help predict how much hope there is for the couple who faces this particular circumstance, where it appears that a great deal of effort was put forth in an attempt to please the other partner, but the this particular partner has reached the conclusion that further work to become the person that the other partner desired was beyond her reach.

I Tried

The insistence that she “tried” indicates that they were probably not that good of a match at the outset of this coupling in the first place.

Blame it on Mother Nature

To her credit, maybe there was a deep attraction to this person, and she did desire to enter into a longstanding love relationship, maybe even to go as far as to commit and marry this person. Often at the beginning of a relationship desire and hormones take over and we find ourselves, victim, to Mother Nature’s love trap. All she (Mother Nature) wants is for matting to ensue because she wants babies.

So, we have this programming that turns off all rationale so that copulation can prevail. Mother Nature really doesn’t care about families, she just wants babies.

This appears to be one of those relationships, where the intimacy shared in those early moments was good enough for this couple to have the hope of a longstanding relationship, so they married (but did not have any babies).

To Be What You Wanted Me to Be

It wasn’t long before the wife discovered that she and her new husband wanted completely different things out of life. She decided, early on, that she would make concessions, compromising her own desires and beliefs, to accommodate his. This was a valiant effort and she was supported in doing so by family and friends.

At first, the concessions, were not that big of a deal, but after time, it began to annoy her, but she persisted, continuing to sacrifice her own wants, needs, and desires for his, for the greater good of the relationship.

I Just Couldn’t Do It

The “I just couldn’t do it,” means that this partner has reverted in some way to her previous self, as she was prior to his relationship, which she feels is not conducive and is not an appropriate state of affairs to sustain any possible future as a couple.

The last time I heard this, unbeknownst to the husband, his wife was a prostitute. Also, not known at the time the statement was made by her, “I tried to be what you wanted me to be, I just couldn’t do it,” she had returned to her previous profession as a full-on sex worker, while he was at work, or when she was away visiting family.

In this circumstance, she was right, and this did lead to the end of the relationship, but that does not always mean that it is “the end.” We all have seen relationships recover from what appeared to be impossible odds.

That’s why we who are in the business proclaim that “Love conquers all.” Even if it means that it rarely conquers because we are mere mortals and unconditional love seems too far off a possibility for most of us, nonetheless, even if in the rarest of circumstances,

Love conquers all.


Difference Between Therapy and Friendship

There is a difference between therapy and friendship. Whether you are a coach, consultant, counselor, or member of the clergy, there is (or should be) a clear line between the therapeutic relationship and that of being a friend.

If you’ve been professionally trained in therapy and are licensed by the State or some other governing agency, more likely than not you are held accountable to uphold a code of ethics which assumes certain boundaries be maintained throughout the therapeutic relationship.

Then there are unregulated forms of therapy, such as peer counseling, life-coaching, religious counseling, and spiritual consultation, among others. For these therapeutic relationships, the lines of boundaries can blur, be crossed, or violated.

Some may say in religious therapeutic relationships that due to the separation of church and state, that no professional boundaries be maintained or enforced, and we see where that has gotten us. All you have to do is to look for the news stories of clerics in compromising positions for not maintaining boundaries to make you think twice.

The ACA code of ethics is an accepted guideline which sets forth a prescribed set of boundaries to protect both the therapist and the client. It helps to maintain a positive therapeutic environment for effective counsel and reduce the risk of compromise.

Of course, the first thought that comes to mind it that of sexual conduct. The agreed standard that intimacy or any sexual conduct in nature not be engaged in at any time during the therapeutic environment, nor for a period of five years following the completion of a therapeutic relationship.

There are other boundaries which help maintain a professional relationship between therapist and client, like not going to the movies, out to lunch, exchanging gifts, attending birthday parties, or other social events.

Yet, as in all things, these boundaries which should be enforced by all people helping other people, whether regulated or not, are amidst a spectrum, left to the interpretation of the therapist or the company they keep.

On one end of the spectrum your therapist might meet with you in an office with no amenities, there is no physical contact between counselor and client, not even a handshake. If you meet your counselor in the aisle in a supermarket, you will find him or her unapproachable. Even if you’re amidst a serious emotional outpouring, when your time is up, the session is over. If you can’t pay, the fee is non-negotiable, and there is no out of office or after-hours support.

On the other end of the spectrum, your counselor may offer you tea, may begin your session with a handshake and conclude with a cursory hug. If you meet this counselor in public, he or she may smile, stop, and engage in conversation with you for a while. You may run over your assigned time limit if reasonable or necessary, and there may be some flexibility in making payments and/or additional connection methods or support outside office hours.

There is no right or wrong way to do this as different modalities and schools of therapeutic thought interpret these boundaries differently. There is no judgment here, but the primary goal is to unequivocally protect and support the client.

Transference is a normal occurrence within the therapeutic relationship and it’s up to you to find the boundaries which work best for you, preserving this sacred, safe space.

If you are sitting in the seat of the coach, consultant, or counselor it is up to you to make clear your boundaries at the beginning of the therapeutic relationship and remind your client periodically when it appears, he or she might be approaching a boundary.

If you are the patient, it is on you to adhere to these boundaries and be certain to tell your counselor if you have boundaries of your own which need to be respected. If you feel like any boundary is unreasonable, talk it through with your counselor.

Talk to your counselor about your feelings and don’t keep them bottled up lest they explode. Negotiate your therapeutic relationship and make it work for both of you, or it may be time for a change.