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  • Doug Nelson

Complex Questions and Simple Answers

At a recent seminar, one of the therapist participants come up during the break and asked a common question.


"Do you have any magic advice for a client who <fill in the blank>?"

"Actually, no I don't," was my reply. I could see that she was a little surprised at my answer.

Here is the reality. Some things are just hard and there are no easy magic answers. I know this because I spend a ton of hours seeing clients each week and have done that for decades. That real-world experience is something that I, and everyone on my teaching staff, bring to the seminar. We know of what we speak because we are doing it every day in the clinic.


The more separated you are from that clinical experience, the easier it is to have really easy answers to very complicated questions. I've seen that in educators who haven't seen clients in a long time or don't have enough clinical experience. Life in the clinic is humbling and some things are hard. It is important for us to convey that in the seminars because we want therapists to embrace the struggle as that is where all the learning resides. If someone who you assume is an authority gives you a simple answer that doesn't work, the recipient often assumes that they themselves have somehow failed. This can then affect their confidence level. If you are correctly informed that the situation is actually difficult and will require maximum effort and attention, people generally rise to the occasion. As a result of this effort, their skill level will increase. When competence increases, confidence follows. (And it should be in that order!)




The struggle that produces new learning gives rise to confident humility. In a way, this is the confidence to fail and still keep going. When I see a client with a challenging presentation, I don't know the answer immediately, but I do have confidence in my ability to problem-solve. I know I'll get lost along the way, but I know I can get unlost when that happens. It is an amazing process.


The other aspect of this journey is the relationship with the client and their appreciation of the process. Many clients have shared with me that this is the first time any healthcare provider opening admitted not knowing the answer and inviting them to the process of discovery. It is a journey that we do together, which is empowering to them as well.


Thank you for being on that learning journey as well.

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