When I was training, I used to actively try to develop a therapist's vocabulary. You know, the kind of things that counsellors seem to instinctively say at just the right point, unobtrusively nudging the conversation forward. I would hear these phrases from my own therapist, or from a lecturer, and jot them down to memorise, in much the same way I approached Italian A-level vocab. You can probably come up with one or two of these phrases. In fact, I guess some of them border on cliché. But I think that we like and use them because they get straight to the point. And at some level, they are comforting too: familiar scaffolding. I still jot them down.
In the January issue of Thresholds, author and consultant psychiatrist, Sarah Eagger suggests developing our own language to introduce the topic of spirituality and much like a foreign language, practising new questions and turns of phrase until they come naturally.
My favourite bit of therapist vocabulary at the moment is, "What’s that like?"
Author and focusing theorist, Ann Weiser Cornell, who studied linguistics, suggests that questions are not always useful in therapy because they can take a person away into their heads They pause inner sensing and draw someone into an interpersonal interaction, rather than towards their own process.1 I immediately recognised the truth in this and became so taken with this realisation that I’ve since tried to use questions more discerningly.
"What’s that like?" is a favourite because it’s all dressed up as a question but feels, to the recipient (or to this one at least!), more like an invitation to sit down and spend some quiet time with a feeling.
In Keith Duckett’s recent Thresholds article about spirituality in reflective practice he meditates on the act of wondering and the many different shades of curiosity - check out his curiosity spectrum to find out more. Keith offers an opportunity to get really creative with, "What’s that like?" and his prompts have definitely inspired both my practice and self-reflection in recent weeks.
Matthew Cormack writes about being told in training to be curious as a counsellor and he invites readers to bring that open curiosity to exploring gender, sexuality and relationship diversity with some helpful prompts and resources.
In 2022, I’ll be fostering gentle curiosity both towards my inner landscape and within the pages of the journal. I’d like them to contain many therapists’ and writers’ answers to the question, "What’s that like?". Please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to share yours.
1 Weiser Cornell A. Focusing in clinical practice: the essence of change. New York: Norton and Company; 2013.
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