The Question


There are times in a session when the answer to just one question turns on the light and the darkness flees from comprehended truth. Nothing changes but everything is different.

A beautiful young woman came in for therapy with concerns about tackling the challenges of her college assignments and trying to decide what direction to take after graduation. She was a former model from Europe, in her mid twenties, creative, and academically excellent. During the initial assessment, I heard her life story. She spoke about her childhood, high school years, and modeling career. In the process, some common themes became apparent ~ like her love for children, her passion for art and her struggles in relationships.   Through several sessions, we talked about ways to handle her tendency to procrastinate with assignments and about how to concentrate in class. She also disclosed that she had professional opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic. However she felt that either choice would cost her personally and affect other people’s perspective of her.

While she reflected on her choices, I suggested a simple exercise, to which she agreed. First, I asked her to imagine this was the only time in our lives that we would meet; we would never see each other again. I would have to form a memory of her from what she said and did in this brief moment.

She was intrigued by the idea and said she was ready to proceed.

I then asked, “What would be the one thing about yourself that you would want me to know about who you are?”

Her answer was instantaneous. “That I am not stupid!”

In the following silence I looked at her golden blonde hair and beautiful face and comprehended again the impact that stereotypes can have on a person’s life. This woman’s choices ~ the compelling drive ~ was the concern that how she looked dictated what others thought about her and so in every circumstance or relationship she tried to dispel the myth that she was stupid. It is not that she believed she was stupid; on the contrary, she knew herself to be an intelligent and accomplished human being. Her constant battle was against prejudice, ridicule, and dismissal based solely on her physical appearance.

As we continued to unpack this idea she was able to see that many of her past choices and actions with her family, intimate friends and career were a reaction against public opinion. She was screaming back at the world that she was not who ‘They’ said she was and her actions would prove them wrong. Paradoxically, this need to be seen as an individual and the corresponding need to deny the stereotype had been hindering her from making the choices she genuinely wanted to make. She needed a divorce from ‘public opinion’ and to develop the courage to make choices about her future based upon what she was passionate about.

Nothing of her circumstance actually changed in that moment  but her realization that she did not have to live according to these stereotypes took away the fears that haunted her every choice. That was over ten years ago. From that moment, she started following her own path, making decisions based on her own needs, desires, and inherent abilities.

Society still ogles the outside ‘package’ and makes a snap judgment about a lovely woman, but that woman no longer cares. Her choices are based on what she knows to be true about herself, and about what she decides she needs to be a whole and healthy Self. For a time, that included modeling and the financial gains that accompanied being an ‘animated robot modeling expensive clothes,’ because that opportunity created others. Today she is ‘Mom’ to two beautiful little souls and uses that intelligence she always knew she had to make the world a better place.


What would be your answer to this question? What are your actions and choices saying? Questions like these can help us to learn about ourselves and about the reasons we do things. Sometimes we do the same things over and over even though they cause us pain. Then we need to ask ourselves; ‘Why do I keep doing this again and again?’ Sometimes, a better question is; ‘What am I trying to say by that choice?’

Therapy really works.   By reflective listening, empathy, and unconditional positive regard a therapist can help you see what is going on inside.

(Story used with permission)


Chronic Health Issues and the “Spoon Theory”

This is probably the best explanation I’ve ever read about what it’s like to struggle with chronic health issues. As someone in this situation myself (diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 1996), I understand completely. For those who live with, and love, an individual with a chronic illness it’s sometimes difficult to comprehend how much this changes the parameters of life.

Go ahead – take the time to read Christine’s blog post. It’s worth it.

Stop Punishing. It Doesn’t Work.

One of the best articles I’ve read about the difference between discipline and punishment. Angela Watson is a classroom teacher who gets that punitive responses to a child’s bad behaviour don’t work. In many situations, there is very little that a classroom teacher can do to a child that has not been done (or worse) at home. Punishment humiliates, and makes a child pay for the mistakes of immaturity or neediness.

Discipline, on the other hand, is training. “‘Discipline’ comes from the Latin word disciplina, meaning instruction or teaching to correct, strengthen, or perfect.” That is, to follow.  ‘Disciple’ means “…a follower or student of a teacher, leader, or philosopher.” Therefore, discipline is …the practice of training disciples. Synonyms include control, training, teaching, instruction, regulation, direction, and order. As Ms Watson points out, there is no suggestion that consequences are not a part of this process.

All behaviour has a cause. That is, ALL behaviour. Whether 5 years old or 50, behaviour has a source. It doesn’t develop in a vacuum, meaning that when a behaviour is negative, it comes from a negative source. In the case of the 5 year old, it could be immaturity, lack of teaching/training, unmet needs, trauma, or an inherent disability of some sort. In the case of the 50 year old, the source is likely to be an underlying negative core belief caused by …immaturity, lack of teaching/training, unmet needs, trauma, or an inherent disability of some sort.

Punishment is defined as “…the infliction or imposition of a penalty as retribution for an offence.” Often, in the case of punishment, the penalty has little to do with the nature of the offence. In the classroom example provided by Angela Watson, the teacher’s frustration is evident in her treatment of James’ disruption of the learning process. When we as teachers (whether in a classroom or some other position of authority) resort to punitive, frustrated responses to another’s bad behaviour or poor performance, we lose the opportunity to train, to teach, to model, a better way. Behaviour that is controlled or changed by fear of punishment does not generalise. When the source of the fear is absent, the compliant behaviour disappears, and the negative behaviour returns. Punishment often shames and humiliates, produces little more than resentment or fear, and does nothing to model or teach a better way to handle childish problems.

Let’s not confuse training or discipline with a lack of consequences. Life teaches – often quite harshly – that there are consequences for every behaviour. As my father was fond of saying, “For action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” Nature demonstrates quite ably that choices have consequences, sometimes from which there is no recovery. The micro version is the situation between me and my student. When James misbehaves, a productive response is required. One that will benefit James’ opportunity to learn, allow other children to learn by example, and foster an environment of acceptance and grace. People, particularly children, make mistakes. A lot of them. If the thing that they learn from making mistakes is that they are the problem rather than the lack of learning/experience, they form an internal picture of themselves that may be reflected in the 50 year old’s negative behaviour. When this perspective is reinforced by their home lives, it should be no surprise that the child grows into a dysfunctional adult.

If you haven’t already heard of Discipline by Design, check them out. The techniques provided, and the information found on the website are really helpful. Additionally, I’ve found that distilling the underlying principles and reworking the techniques for use with adults can also be very productive. The goal is training, not punishment. Punishment has no goal other than stopping the offending behaviour. While this might seem fine, unless the behaviour (and underlying causative factors) are addressed and alternatives taught, modelled, and practiced, negative behaviour is only extinguished in the presence of authority. Not a good recipe for a healthy maturing process.

More about discipline & punishment here, here, & here.