Words have this incredible power, and it’s a power that I don’t think we talk about enough as mental health professionals. Words are the tool that we use to have an impact on clients’ life, yet we don’t talk about the tool as much as we talk about the interventions. Today I wanna talk about the tool and talk about this incredible power and how it impacts our work.
The other day, somebody asked me about football, American football specifically. They asked me, growing up, who was my favorite football team. Now those of you know me know that the Detroit Lions are my favorite football team, but what you don’t know is the Denver Broncos were my favorite team originally. And the person asked me that, and I told them the Denver Broncos as a young child was my favorite team, and they were surprised. And they said, why?
I talked about watching John Elway in the 1987 Superbowl, playing against the New York Giants, and how much I loved watching John Elway play quarterback that day. And that was the day that I started liking the Denver Broncos. That was the day I started liking football, actually. I was nine or ten years old and I was just blown away by what I was seeing. And as I answered the question, my brain transported me back to being that ten year old kid watching football. And there was a visceral response.
We’re all familiar with that. Have you ever been in a situation where a young person asks you, what was it like to be in high school? Or when you were a kid, what was your favorite song? What was your first car? In order to answer that question, part of your brain has to time travel. Part of your brain has to go back in time to re-experience that moment so that you can answer the question in present time.
When your brain does that, it brings a little bit of you with it. Did you ever listen to a song from your youth, and even though you’re older and you got a bad back and sore knees, you still wanna dance a little? That’s because words have this ability to transport you in time and space.
Now this is a really important thing to know when you’re using Solution Focused Brief Therapy, or any therapy for that matter. When I work with couples, I often ask them, “How did you meet?” Because I want to transport them back to a time and into a space when the relationship was functioning much better, or at a higher level.
It’s also why we ask clients things like, “In the past, when did you notice yourself being the version of you that you were pleased with?” Because we want to transport them back to a time, and into a space where things were better for them than they are at that current moment. That’s how powerful words are.
People (even therapists) often think that it’s a therapist’s job to solve problems. But I don’t think that’s true. I think part of our job is to reawaken those parts of us that are better for us. I think for human beings, the biggest contributor to us having problems is us forgetting who we really are.
Life is hard, and sometimes it just makes us forget who we really are. And when I say life is hard, I mean, obviously we have traumas and hurts, but we also have complications, distractions.
When I was a kid, I loved, loved playing sports. It was a big part of my life. Now I’m 46 years old and my body can’t do the things that it used to do. But does that mean I still can’t think about sports and watch sports and sit at times and remember what it was like to be a young person playing sports? You should never forget those things.
There’s a movie, it’s one of my favorite movies actually, it’s called The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. In this movie, this character growing up, he was a skateboarder. He had a mohawk as a kid. But then in the movie they talk about his father dying, and the very next day he had to get a job. So he shaved his mohawk and he got a job at Papa John’s. And then he was a worker ever since. And in the movie (I won’t give away the whole plot), the character was a conservative guy and developed hallucinations. And through the way the movie went, he eventually remembers the adventurous kid he was and the rebellious kid he was, and the mohawk skateboarding kid that he was. And he becomes like the adult version of that. And then the hallucinations go away.
Well, that’s not all inaccurate. I know it’s Hollywood and it’s a movie, but that’s kind of how life works. Like when I remember who I really am, and I start living a life in line with that, a lot of my psychological problems and issues go away, they become resolved. So maybe the point of therapy isn’t necessarily to solve problems as much as it is to remember who we are, and for us as professionals to ask the kind of questions that remind our clients who they are.
So when you do this work, I think it’s super important to master the skill of asking questions so that you can help people answer in such a way that puts them in alignment with who they really are. Because when people start living their life from that perspective, they heal, they shine, and they grow. And maybe that’s the whole point of therapy. So I want you guys to remember that.
I want you to remember our calling is much higher than just solving problems. A client might come to your office and say they’ve got depression or anxiety, and we think our job is to solve the depression or the anxiety, but our calling is higher than that. We need to remind them who they really are. So the depression and anxiety can’t exist in their life. So that’s the lesson for today.