Every time we ask a question, we’re generating a possible version of a life.
– David Epston
There is a transformation that happens – not in 8.1 Richter scale avalanche style, but slowly, like a time-lapse film of an apple growing – in therapy. This blossoming, this evolving happens through conversations, drawings, journaling, letter writing, experimentation and challenges to beliefs about the world and our lives. Epston and White both argue that by asking a question, we are not only seeking knowledge, but setting into motion a whole series of potential outcomes that didn’t exist until we – the therapists – ask the questions.
Here’s an example:
A successful entrepreneur in her mid-thirties, considering whether to remain in a marriage with her partner of 9 years has sought out therapy before voicing the word ‘divorce’ to her family. Through conversations, the counselor learns that the client started drawing pictures of her wedding dress when she was 11, decided on her honeymoon location when she was 15 and had her entire wedding planned before ever beginning a serious relationship.
One day, the therapist asks “what does your marriage need to be for you?” Over the next several sessions, the client realizes she has mapped out her relationship to her partner much like she’d designed her wedding; the reality didn’t line up with her expectations, therefore, it must be a failure. Possibilities blossomed: with a fresh approach, she evaluated her relationship and found that marriage, to her, meant something completely different than the static set of rules and plans she’d kept close all these years. A reliable primary bread winner with good hair who loves dogs felt ideal when she was seventeen, but didn’t ‘jive’ with her needs now.
Counselors will push their clients to constantly assess: not only their situations but their truths. In fact, some early sessions can feel like a Mythbusters Episode! Those conversations create possible outcomes that can result in real change.
What stories do you tell yourself so often they become truth? Are they helping you or inhibiting your growth? Like that apple growing in time lapse, what if, by re-evaluating, you are really growing oranges?