“How’s Your Day?” and Other Great Questions

“How are you doing?” “What’s going on?” “Can I help you?” “Where are you going?” “How’re you feeling?” Questions are important. They make you think.

Two of my favourite parent-to-child questions are:
“What are you doing?” (this helps the child think about her behaviour); and
“What should you be doing?” (this helps the child think about what ought to be).

The first question requires the child to think and reflect. If asked with affection and gentle touch, the child will probably not defend or deny but ponder and remember. The second question invokes the conscience and requires a value or judgment call. This helps a child decide on what is right and true. Two key questions for growing up well or living well when you are older – one for the mind and one for the conscience.

Here are some questions that I ask my client-friends. If you have been visiting with me, you may be familiar with them.
 What are you doing that is working well?
 What are you doing that is taking you nowhere? (Or, “What are you doing to create your own hell?”)
 What assets do you and your colleagues bring to your shared task? (This is a good question for marriage and family as well. Just change the words a bit.)
 How are you most resourceful when life (or work) is threatening or stressful?
 How do you adapt to pain?
 What are you holding on to that you need to relinquish? (Good question for parents of teenagers or those grieving a loss.)
 What positive changes are you causing (e.g. to your work, your family) by being yourself?
 What are the best things about your relationships within your family or work?
 Describe a circumstance in your marriage, family or work in which you felt loved.

For lots more questions pertaining to marriage and pre-marriage look for Couple Intimacy Questionnaire under “Tools For Change.” And if you hope to grow from where you are to where you want to be, see the paper entitled “Contract for Change.” Great questions.

Attractive Opposites (Guest Blog)

Rory and Lisa Holland are friends with Carole and me. Carole and Lisa regularly meet around “Half the Sky” (advocacy for trafficked women and girls) and I travelled with Rory to Central Africa some years ago. I regularly read Rory’s blog entitled “An Examined Life” where he ponders the issues of his life, where he confronts reality and often with a wonderment about faith. This Valentine’s blog is especially winsome and truthful. And, I too, recommend the Schnarch book that Rory recommends.

Here is the blog.

Lisa and I are not in the same place today. I’m on the East Coast, while she is on the West.. Lisa is among trees, me, buildings. It’s kind of fitting, really.

I remember years ago complaining to a therapist that our relationship felt like two railway tracks that never met stretching into the distance. She thought that was a good thing. What? We never went back. I figured we should have been on the same rail – alike in thought and deed. I mean that’s what all that ‘one flesh’ stuff is about isn’t it?

However, as we worked to make each other in our own image, we lost the best of who we were, what had caused the attraction in the first place. Doubt and frustration eroded our connection to the thinnest of threads. The pursuit of sameness sucked.

After plenty of years thrashing around, the salvation of our marriage finally came in one word from a book Lisa read*: differentiation. What that means is, basically, two railway tracks, side by side, running parallel. Yah, I know.

We replaced the guilt and disappointment with the freedom of not caring about any of that shit. In greater and greater degrees, Lisa is Lisa, I am me, and possibly the twain shall meet. Which we do, frequently, but because we want to, not because we’re supposed to.

I don’t know why it took me so long to clue in to this, but the less Lisa is like me, the more attractive she is. Happy Valentine’s.

*Passionate Marriage, Dr. David Schnarch


A Client Question: “Who don’t you counsel?”

Mostly I ask questions to my clients. But I receive lots of questions as well. Here is one: “Are there some people you don’t counsel because you don’t think you will be successful?”

That’s a good question and with some people I am less capable than others.

I think that I work best with couples and families, though I do see lots of individuals. As a therapist I watch 3 factors – I call them 3M: motivation, match and method.

Motivation is what the client(s) bring to the sessions. Some come to change. Others come for support to stay the same (this is by far the minority). My job is to assess motivation and this is the best indicator of therapy success.

Match is the connection between the therapist and the client. This has a lot to do with shared values and hopes. Mostly I experience empathy for my clients and this is a huge factor in success.

Method is about the particular strategy. Marriage counselling skills are not very helpful with someone experiencing a major depression or recovering from rape trauma. Where I don’t know the method, I ask for training or supervision. Or I may well refer.

So there are some people I don’t counsel because I won’t be the best for them. It is based on the 3Ms. And if I say “not now” to the request, I work to find a best referral for the person asking for help.

Do This in Remembrance – Emotions and Change

Anyone in therapy knows that remembering provokes change. It causes emotional upheaval and it provokes the necessity of some sort of decision.

Sometimes I ask my client friends, who remember few memories of childhood, to bring in pictures, report cards, childhood drawings, stuffed animals they have saved, anything left over and stored from their childhood. I ask them how they feel about these primitive objects knowing they open some primitive memories and feelings. And their remembering opens up long laid-aside emotions. Sometimes sadness, or joy, or grief, or resentment – emotions bubble up from the emotional underground.

I ask couples to bring in wedding pictures, books they treasured over the years, a favourite sweater from years past, and the action of this stirs up feelings and causes memories to revisit and, sometimes, rekindles embers of forgotten affection.

We store emotions and memories in recesses long forgotten. And it is these emotions and memories that cause us to change. We can’t control the long-layered emotions from our unconscious, but we can decide what we will do with them once we visit with them again.

This is one aspect of wisdom I think – to decide to do something good with painful memories. Perhaps a memory of failing in school or being scorned in athletics or feeling ashamed for simply being. It takes courage to live with hard memories. I admire people who make the decision to do well when they remember.

It seems to me that the “this” in “do this in remembrance” is to decide to do something worthwhile with memories.