Saturday, November 17, 2007

Courage and Heroes

When I'm providing psychotherapy, my client can talk about anything he or she wants. At the same time, I have a host of questions I like to ask from the very first meeting, and by the end of the third session I usually have at least some idea of a broad range of categories that help me understand that person at a deep level. Many of these are questions I've asked for decades, but every now and then a new line of inquiry presents itself to me as an extremely valuable topic to explore, and I incorporate it into my assessment process.

Within the past year I've begun regularly asking clients to tell me about a time in their life when they acted bravely or courageously. I've come to appreciate how unaccustomed many people are to applying these words to themselves. 'Bravery' and 'courage' have an almost archaic ring and they can seem to apply only to larger-than-life figures or situation. But I've found that most people are generally able, upon reflection, to come up with times when they acted in truly courageous ways, generally by taking a principled stand in the face of external opposition or inner fear.

I often take this "bravery history" after inquiring about the difficult or traumatic events my client has experienced over the course of a lifetime. Everybody suffers the "slings and arrows of life's discontent", as Shakespeare noted, and sometimes these events can leave a pretty big footprint on a person's self-esteem or general outlook on life. Inviting my client to identify instances of courage often results in the healthy realization that these traumatic life events required character and courage to withstand.

I was thinking about this because just this week I added another new question to my assessment process. I've now started to ask clients to tell me about what they admire in two or three of their heroes, whether real or imaginary. Again, the concept of having a hero can seem outdated, irrelevant or terribly uncool in our jaded world. But the ability to identify the qualities in a hero you admire provides a guidepost that can point to the very qualities worth discovering and developing within yourself.

I anticipate that new questions will continue to present themselves as the years go by. Since each client is unique, no interaction with me is the same for any two people, but having a set of really good questions can elevate the quality of therapeutic conversation to an unprecedented level.

If you like this post (and I hope you do) please visit my primary professional website for related articles on emotional growth and development, individual and couples counseling, successful living tips, counseling, essays and observations about psychotherapy and change, recovery from sex addiction and many other interesting and useful topics.

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