to (a) identify whether any client participant is significantly
distracted from focusing on the work (i.e. whether they have significant
physical discomfort and/or are controlled by a false self), and (b) to raise
clients' awareness of their inner state and the importance of acknowledging and
reducing any distractions (needs) when sustained concentration is required.
Participants - one or more clients, in person or on the phone.
Preparations - the clinician
should scan for and attend any significant personal distractions (needs) first.
Options - (a) it may be useful to have discussed...
inner and outer
and personality subselves, to provide context;
the mutual value of the client not trying to
the clinician by pretending to be focused when they're significantly
distracted (denial), and the clinician has...
framed "distractions" - including all emotions - as useful signals that one
or more subselves and/or their body needs the client's attention now;
that any planned session focus must be secondary to respecting and
reducing current distractions ("first things first"); and...
that the clinician and clinical process are reliable and safe enough for the
client, and s/he can stop the process if and when s/he needs to without
shame or guilt.
to do this - at the start of any client session or strategic
- ask "Are you aware of any physical, mental, or emotional distraction now that
might defocus you from what we're about to do together?" Option - if
prior interactions have revealed a frequent notable distraction, ask about it
specifically ("On a scale of 1 to 10, how is your chronic pain / anxiety / inner
client says something like "No, I'm fine," don't assume that's true. Option
- ask "Who do you feel is guiding your (subselves) now?" This requires that the
client understands the common
and behavioral symptoms of
control of their "inner family" of subselves.
client reports one or more distractions, separate and rank them, and work to
respectfully define one at a time( a) what the distraction is (e.g. "I feel
kinda tight in my stomach."), and (b) what the client's body and/or ruling
subselves need right now. ("OK, good. If the tightness could speak, what would
it say it needs now?"; and/or "Ask the subself who's trying to communicate via
your stomach muscles to give you thoughts, images, or senses of what s/he needs
Option - if you are significantly distracted, consider describing
this to the client/s and modeling what you need to do to attend your own needs
before working together.
that if you are consistent at opening each contact with the clients this way,
they'll anticipate your question and volunteer self-awareness - or better, note
and reduce any distractions - before you start working together.
- If there are no major distractions now, (a) remain comfortably
for any that may occur in you and/or the client/s during the session, and (b)
attend (respect) any that occur, unless you and the client agree they can be
deferred for the time being. Options - ask the client to describe (a) how
often s/he asks herself and/or other people about current distractions that
might defocus himj or her from important conversations or negotiations, and/or (b)
whether s/he feels any minor kids are learning to do the same.
Test the Client's
warmly thank master life-coach Jeanne McLennan, RN, for this useful technique.
Perspective: kids and adults vary in their ability to imagine (picture)
real and imaginary things. Some people "sense" such things with little or no
imagery, and others are able to automatically create and describe vivid inner
(usually color) "pictures." The latter ability is needed for effective
guided-imagery interventions. Perhaps all kids and adults have the innate
ability to form inner images, and those that have trouble with this are unaware
of being ruled by a
that feels inner images are dangerous and/or worthless, and inhibits them.
Goals - to have the client
assess whether s/he is "visual" or not - i.e. is able to "focus inside" and
experience clear inner images, including "picturing" (a) past and current
events, people, and situations, and (b) things that aren't
Participants - an adult or
child client, and the clinician, alone or in a family session.
Best time to do this - when
the clinician needs to assess the clients' ability to benefit from strategic
guided-imagery interventions, and (b) both people are undistracted and guided by
their true Selves.
Preparations - the clinician
needs to (a) be comfortable with intrapsychic and
work, (b) value guided-imagery interventions in promoting desired systemic
and (c) be skilled at providing strategic guided imagery.
Technique - seed awareness by
ask something like "Do you know someone - past or present - who is good at
forming vivid inner images or pictures?" The client will usually say
"Yes." Reassure the client that kids and adults vary in their ability to image, which is not related to being "healthy or "normal."
Then ask "Do consider yourself a 'visual' person who can form clear inner
images?" Regardless of the clients answer, ask "For instance, can you
image your favorite cartoon figure / your Mother's childhood face / your own
face in the mirror / your best friend / your (child's face) / last night's
dreams now?" Expect answers to range between "Yes," to "sort of," to "No"
without judgment. Note that some people can remember real things and situations,
but can't picture abstract or fantasy images - or vice versa. Often clients have
never thought about this imaging ability, and underrate their own. This is a
small part of becoming self-aware.
Option - ask if the client experiences day dreams, fantasies, and night
dreams - and if so, if s/he forms images during those normal activities.
Next - Use the observed
outcome of this technique to (a) choose if, how, and when to offer
guided-imagery interventions like the Future Self exercise (below) during the
work, and to (b) decide if, how, and when to identify a protective subself who
distrusts the resident true Self and blocks the client from imaging. Option
- add this to the client's definition of her or his
- "So among your unique qualities, you are (not) a 'visual' person."
"Future Self" Experience
I'm grateful to Nancy Napier for this concept, which she describes in her 1990
book "Recreating Your Self"
- to experientially motivate the client to expand his or her awareness,
and refocus from local problems and immediate gratification to long-term options
and desirable outcomes. The client may be confronted by a difficult choice
now (e.g. whether or not to marry, have a(nother) child, move, change jobs, or
end or shift a key relationship, or may feel unclear about their life direction
and purpose now.
Participants - one adult
client and the clinician, alone or with other family members. Doing this in a
group can help all participants become aware of their long-term outcomes and
Preparations - read this lay
article, and decide if the concept
seems credible and viable to you. Your way of presenting this exercise to the
client may be more effective if you meet with your own Future Self first. A
helpful outcome is most likely if the client (a) is adept at inner imagery and
inner dialogs, (b) acknowledges that at times s/he is guided by her or his
resident true Self, and (c) has some experience at working to build cooperation
among his or her subselves. The latter two are helpful but not required.
Clinical experience at and comfort with non-directive (Ericksonian)
trance-induction techniques is useful also.
Best time to do this - when
(a) you have at least 20" or more, (b) you and the client are locally undistracted and
and (c) you believe the client is able to visualize well and is open to guided
ask the client's opinion on where s/he has been focusing most, recently - the
past, the present, or the future. Propose that s/he may make wiser choices in
the present if s/he clarifies how s/he wants to feel as she approaches old age
Ask him or her something like "How old do you expect to be when you
die?" I've often been surprised by a wounded client's dominant subself replying "Before
I reach (middle age)." Moral - don't assume the client expects to live a
full life and die of old age as I used to do.
As you ask about their death, watch for one or more protective (frightened)
the client's true Self. If that happens, consider...
to have the client's true Self identify, validate, and confidently reassure
those subselves before continuing; or...
deferring this experience until the client is
by her or his
Describing or doing this Future Self exercise may lead to a productive
exploration of the meaning and purpose of the client's life, personal
spirituality, and accepting and
using the inevitability of death to motivate breaking
and living purposely in the present moment. This is unlikely if the client is
often ruled by a false self.
Option promote an experiential reference by asking the client to enjoy
vividly recalling one or more gratifying experiences with wise older people,
like a senior mentor, or trusted grandparen.
Reassure the client that this is a safe, interesting exercise, and suggest that
s/he may or will enjoy some helpful new awarenesses from it. Ask the client to
get physically comfortable, close his or her eyes if s/he wishes, and start by
focusing on her breathing. Use your preferred indirect trance-induction (inner
focusing) technique, and ask the client to imagine her Future Self in bed in a
peaceful surrounding, soon before her or his death.
Suggest pulling up a chair to the bed, greeting this wise, serene, aged person,
and introducing the client's younger (present age) self. Option - if
appropriate, invite the client to ask her or his Higher Power to be present at
this meeting - imaged or not - and to pray for guidance, peace, healing, and
direction. Suggest that the Future Self is at peace with her approaching death,
and needs to use the remaining time to pass on important learnings to his or her
Remind the client that their Future Self already knows the outcome of key
life-choices the client has yet to make, and wants to counsel her or him about
those choices. Suggest the client trust her/his own wisdom to know what general
or specific questions to ask, and be silent as s/he does this. If appropriate,
after a time, ask the client to describe what's happening. let the client pace
the experience, and allow as much time as it takes for some kind of closure to
Test this by asking quietly something like "Is there more you want to learn from
your Future Self now? Know that you can always talk further with him/her
again..." Watch the client's face and body language for clues as to how to
proceed. If at any time you sense distress or loss of focus, ask "Do you wish to
continue? What do you need right now?"
Trust your and the client's true Selves to know the right thing to do at all
times, use the
and let go of expectations about what "ought to" happen.
When you sense the client has reached a stopping point, invite him/her to thank
their Future Self and say goodbye for now. Option - invite the client to
ask Future Self if it would be all right to talk again, and to be open to any response.
Reorient the client by asking her/him to wiggle toes, arms, hands, shoulders,
and head, and breathe well several times as s/he opens her eyes and looks around
the room and at you. Invite the client to "take all the time you need" to
reorient and consolidate this experience, without talking.
If you sense the client is willing to - or needs to - vent about or process the
experience, ask open-ended questions like "What was that like for you?" or "What
are you aware of now?" Let the client lead. If you sense that talking would
distract from the experience, close the session. Options - (a) summarize the
purpose of the experience, (b) invite the client to journal about what s/he
learned, and/or (c) talk about it in another session. Note your own reactions during
and after the client's Future Self interview too - a chance for self-awareness!
- use strategic guided imagery with visual clients as appropriate.
"Triggers" (Strategic Associations)
In this context, a trigger is a reflexive mental association between some
object, sensory event, or action, and a desired thought or image.
- to empower the client to remember something that they otherwise might
Participants - one client adult
or child alone or in a group, and the clinician.
Preparations - you may explain
what a trigger is and demonstrate one, or just do the exercise. Option -
identify and use your client's reflexive mode of sensory reference (tactile,
visual, audible, kinesthetic, or smell) to guide your choice of trigger.
to do this - when you want the client to remember to try a new attitude
or behavior outside the session (e.g. at home or work), alone or with other
people. This technique can be specially helpful for clients doing
("Use this trigger to remind you to check who is
your team of
in important situations") and practicing new communication skills ("Use this to
remind you to notice your
in important or conflictual situations.").
- start by getting the client's agreement that they want to remember to do
something outside the session. They may have already tried this and "failed" -
e.g. "I get nervous and forget to practice good eye contact with my brother when
he gets angry."
Reassure the client this is a safe, useful reflex that they already know how to
do. Reality-check this by asking her or him to describe present triggers - e.g.
"When you see the picture of a turkey or a pumpkin, smell gardenias or wood
smoke, or hear a baby cry, what images and thoughts comes to your mind? How did
you learn to do this?"
If the client hasn't
identified his or
her personality subselves yet, (a) verbally redefine the thing they want
to remember, and (b) suggest several triggers they could use to remind them of
it. Option - first ask if s/he thinks a bodily trigger would work best, a
stimulus outside their body, or both (a double trigger). Examples of the first:
"poking your tongue against your cheek or teeth," "Wiggling your toes inside
your shoe," "rubbing your thumb and forefinger together," "clearing your
throat," "touching part of your body," etc. The advantage of bodily triggers is
that the client has access to them in all situations.
client prefers an external trigger, choose common objects or chronic behaviors
or attributes of another person to illustrate possibilities - e.g. "when you
grasp a doorknob / hear your cell phone / hold a fork / flip a (specific)
light switch / smell his/her aroma / enter a room / brush your teeth / hear him
laugh / say or think her or his name / picture (a target person) / see or hear
your (pet) / see or touch your ring / start to dress / go to the bathroom /..."
etc. Using general examples frees the client to choose his or her own specific
If the client has identified and
validated his or her subselves, you have extra options. For example, you
can suggest that a protective
or other well-meaning
doesn't feel it's safe for you to remember (whatever), and blocks your doing
that "for your own good." This opens up options for reassuring such a subself,
and asking it to trust the true Self's ability to keep (the client) safe enough.
Effective triggers may already be associated with some emotional, mental and/or
physiological response - e.g. "When she calls you (something); or interrupts
you; or says "yes but..."; or won't look at you; or gets loud, impatient,
or critical; or "gets a certain facial expression; or ... (etc.)" You
can use an existing response to trigger another one - e.g. "When you feel a
surge of frustration with Norman, it can remind you to get clear on what you
need and feel, and to use a respectful I-message with him."
Once they decide
on a trigger and the response they want it to remind them of, have the client describe
the latter clearly and rehearse it several times. If the client is "visual" (adept at imaging),
have them picture using this trigger in a selected location or situation. It's
important that the client chooses the trigger, not the clinician.
- Tell the clients/he can create triggers for just about anything s/he needs to
remember. Option - after rehearsing the trigger several times, ask the
client something like "Do you expect this will work for you?" Or say "How do you
feel your success with this new trigger will help you?" If the client is
skeptical or pessimistic, suspect a well-meaning Guardian subself like the
is in control.
As with all these techniques, follow up in a future conversation with the client
- e.g. "Did you try your trigger, and did it work for you?" Some situations may
require several iterations of focus and practice to have the trigger "take
Most (all?) kids and adults automatically form mental/emotional/bodily responses
to a wide range of sensory experiences, depending on their life experience so
far. For example, what thoughts and feelings occur if you picture or see a large
snake or spider, or a naked young adult? These responses are called
Goals - use this technique to
reduce or eliminate a client's stressful chronic mental association with some
personal trait, past or present event, and/or thought pattern - i.e. to induce a permanent shift in attitude or belief. "Stressful" means the
triggers significant guilt, shame, anxiety, confusion, anger, blame,
and/or dissociation (i.e. one or more subselves taking over the client's true
Self), and related thought patterns.
Example - if the client is divorced and
thinks or encounters words like "divorce," "split up," or "broken home," her
Child subselves may immediately activate and cause thoughts about personal
"failure" and remorse over hurting his or her children.
Alternatively, on hearing, thinking, or reading "trigger" words like these,
subselves may activate a cycle of intense resentment, disgust, and rage and
related thoughts focused on the client's former partner, parent, or someone else
for "causing" divorce-related losses and pain. This reflex can significantly
hinder (a) grieving progress and/or (b) cooperative co-parenting in divorcing
families and stepfamilies.
Participants - one or more
young or adult clients and the clinician, alone or in a group. The reframe may
be designed for the client person, or one or several of their subselves in doing
Preparation - The clinician
needs to genuinely believe in the reframe, or it may come across as phony or
artificial. New clinicians often need to consciously decide to reframe. With
practice, the technique becomes automatic. An underlying requisite is that
the clinician needs to believe s/he can c/overtly cause the client to use the
innate human ability to perceive something from two (or more) points of view.
It may simplify the work if the client understands and accepts the concept of
working with individual personality subselves, but this is not a requisite. It
can also help to have previously taught the client to distinguish
and how to reduce unwarranted major guilts over
some perceived personal "failure," limitation, or "negative" trait.
Best time to use - when the
clinician feels the client's stressful mental association with something is
significantly slowing or blocking the work.
Technique - Five ways to use
this powerful technique are...
("I suspect it would help if you choose to see 'divorce' in a new way."); or
indirectly - e.g. by suggestion ("Some people come to see 'divorce'
as an important learning opportunity, rather than a failure.") or telling a
real story or strategic fable;
didactically (teach the client what reframing is, why it's helpful,
and how to do it); and/or experientially (no explanation);
(e.g. "Some people find major relief by shifting some key attitudes about
certain things"), or specifically ("Your well-intentioned Inner Critic is
abusing your inner children by constantly judging and blaming you for their
internally with specific subselves or not; and...
several or all members of a client family - i.e. reframe several
peoples' common stressful association with something.
Situations where this technique can be effective are beyond generalizing.
common themes with typical divorcing-family and stepfamily clients and trauma
reframing human needs and neediness
from indicating weakness and childishness to normal, healthy
emotional, physical, spiritual, and mental discomforts.
reframing problems, conflicts, issues,
fights, arguing, and frustrations from being negative
or bad to helpful signs of normal
reframing clashing needs, opinions, and/or
values from being right or wrong, and good or bad to
different and equally valid.
reframing normal emotions like anger, guilt,
shame, regret, anxiety, confusion, and sadness from being positive or
negative to each and all emotions being natural, useful
symptom of one or more needs to be filled.
reframing an obnoxious, floundering, selfish, or
inept child or adult from being "bad, sick, no good, or weak" to
unhappy, and helpless."
(toxic compulsion) from being a weakness, illness, disease,
or sickness to "an unconscious attempt to reduce relentless,
- i.e. to self-medicate."
reframing denial and/or procrastination from
being a weakness, character defect, bad habit, and/or cowardly
to "protective subselves distrusting the Self to keep the host person safe
from perceived danger, loss, or injury."
reframing a marital affair from "a moral
failing, betrayal, sin, and a disgusting, selfish, insensitive,
irresponsible, shameful choice," to "a result of of unwise
and/or (b) the mates never learning how to do effective win-win
reframing the pejorative term abuse to
the less provocative aggression, unless
are clearly present. When they are, an option is to reframe the abuser as
"dominated by a false self, and not knowing that or what to do about it,"
rather than being evil, bad, criminal, or perverted.
reframing dishonesty ("lying") from being "a
despicable weakness, choice, and character flaw (or equivalent) " to "being
in a relationship where it feels too unsafe to tell the truth, and not
knowing how to fix that."
reframing "marital problems" from being the
other partner's fault to the couple's wounds and inability to (a)
and fill them using effective communication
reframing a hostile stepchild from selfish,
arrogant, and ungrateful, to "an overwhelmed, wounded, shame-based girl/boy
who hasn't been taught to grieve major losses and adapt to major changes
reframing stepfamilies from second best,
abnormal, unnatural, and inferior to a common, normal type of family
with the same potential to provide high nurturance (fill members' needs)
as any other type of family.
reframing stepchildren from damaged,
disadvantaged, inferior, and/or abnormal persons to young people
facing a complex mix of normal development and alien family-adjustment needs
which often their wounded, unaware adults can't help them fill effectively.
what, when, and how to reframe depends on the
clinician's style, beliefs, and experience, and the client's needs, personality, and situation.
Notice that the theme of all the examples above is to shift stressful blame of self or another person
toward compassion, empathy, and realistic optimism.
consistently effective at this technique (have the client make stable
attitude shifts), it may be necessary to do
- i.e. to persuade the well-meaning
to trust the
reliable skill at keeping them all safe enough in most or all situations.
Next - after reframing, watch
to see if the client demonstrates s/he is trying out the new view, in and outside
clinical sessions. Option - ask if s/he is doing so, and
- if so - what that feels like. If the reframe is successful at reducing
stress, clients often report something like "That feels better." Option
- repeat (reinforce) the reframe in the flow of the work ("Sounds like your
partner / parent / coworker / friend is burdened by a false self, rather than
insensitive and selfish.")
to the techniques index, or continue
with guided imagery and xxx
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