Words and techniques that cause a pause

The following list of items is ordered, to the extent possible, by importance. These items are to be seen as excellent starting points, and nothing more. Your client will determine which, how much, and how these items will be fitted to such a unique person. This list will hopefully enhance your potential to respond to your clients needs. After ten years hard work and constant practice it becomes almost natural.........

While the items are presented as separate and independent they are closely related and many times overlap or supplement each other. They are actually different accents on a complex and indivisible process called talking.

Practically speaking one of the most important techniques a therapist requires for this style of talking is selective ignoring. This concept describes the therapists' ability to avoid responding to information talked about by the client but which is beyond his interest of talking about solutions. Painful events in the clients' life are seen as information that is mainly counterproductive. They should be seen as reasons for necessity of change; indications of aspirations which as of yet have failed; self depreciation, etc.. They are acknowledged as painful and used as springboards to enhance motivation to move on. These negative events are not explored, understood, or given room much space or time in the ongoing dialogue. They are used to form an understanding of what needs to be changed.

By not delving into the pain and failures of the client prevents sidetracking and random wandering from topic to topic. By structuring the helping communication in this particular fashion the therapist also provides leadership and an alternative direction for the conversation. This serves as the basis for creating the sharpness necessary to carry out the helping plan and contributes directly to the rapidity of significant changes. This can be seen as appropriate rigidity.


Ways of talking that help ignore the bad places and spaces.


Is what you are describing reflect 'self respect'?

Knowing what you know now, how would you do it next time?

What did you learn from that experience?

Does that emotion you are now expressing enhance you feeling of

well being?

What would your life look like without that experience? If you could

forget it?

Does what you are talking about now help you lead a better life?

Do you control that memory or does it control you?

Would you like to leave that behind you?


Focusing is the flip side of selective ignoring. While the therapist is ignoring the negative and detrimental information he identifies a positive goal with the client. At this stage it is of highly important that the therapist will not wander from subject to subject, from issue to issue. The central contribution of focusing is defining and consistent work on limited, specific positive content and behaviors. We propose that the wider the area of interest the longer the time necessary to help, and the bigger the change worked on the more difficult it is to achieve. Focusing is absolutely necessary to conduct rapid significant change. The ability to focus on any specific content requires primarily self discipline in the helpers' style of talking. The necessity to focus will also lead the therapist to function much like a traffic cop for the other participants in the conversation. .


Ways of talking that enhance focusing


I'm sorry, I don't understand how what you just said is connected to what we were talking about?

If you were to sum up what you just said in one sentence, what would it be?

If I get off the subject please correct me as soon as possible.

Which subject do you think is the most important? Comes first?

I want to make sure I understand you, .........

Remember that when the client says, 'Yes, but' he is telling you got lost somewhere. Ask him where you went astray.


Cooperation is defined as getting both sides of the conversation to say 'yes'.

Continue talking/questioning/suggesting until he says yes.

Once he says yes, continue doing more of the same.



Ways of talking which enhance cooperation


When he says no, take it as supervision, not resistance.

Am I talking In a way that you find helpful?

How might I say that in a way that is more understandable?

Which of the suggestions would serve your goals best?


Utilization describes the style of talking in which the therapist uses both verbal and non-verbal information presented by the client. The therapist gets the information and reshapes it to fit the unique style of the client. This style of talking forms a growing sense of understanding and intimacy. Utilization also means exploiting the clients latent strengths for use in the solution that will evolve. This is different from finding exceptions to the rule of failure because it focuses on talents and characteristics rather then events.


Relating to personal styles of behavior --

What tempo what best suits your pace of change?

What characteristic do you have that might most helpful to you with this

type of solution?

What have you learned about your style of helping yourself? What works


How might you stubbornness / optimism / obsessiveness / tenderness etc.

help you with this?

Relating to the clients unique style of talking:


Count the number of his words you are using.

His explanations? His metaphors? His tone, tempo, volume?

To what extent are you mirroring his physical behavior? Use of hands,

sitting position, body language? Breathing pattern?

How are you reshaping his information to feed it back to him?

How are you reshaping your regular therapeutic behavior to 'fit' this unique



Metaphor is a type of talking which connects two things that previously have not been connected. I use metaphors in a number of very distinct ways. When taken from the client or co-created it serves as an anchor or sign post to keep the conversation on track. The therapist will always refer back to the metaphor, keeping the conversation focused. A metaphor can also become an intimate style of talking between the therapist and client, a secret language that outsiders would not understand. . It connects between two very different people. A metaphor can also serve as a goal in therapy. It is vague enough to allow for movement in thinking and also clar enough to allow for planning and measuring. The treatment transcript has all three elements in generous proportions. I firmly believe that metaphorical or indirect language of any type (word play, humor, stories, suggestive language) are often the richest and many times the shortest route to brief therapy.

Parsimony refers to the economical use of means. This is closely related to the term 'elegant' that describes some aesthetically attractive object that is characterized by its simplicity. The therapist should aspire to remain clear and simple in his style of talking. When in doubt do less. This idea stands in contrast to the all too common phenomenon that when we don't know what to say we go on talking -- -- hoping to stumble on something important. The whole style of talking proposed in this book is based on the idea of self discipline -- for the therapist and his positive selective style of talking. For the client this style of talking is also meant for him to regain control of some aspect of his life. The client starts that journey by talking differently to the therapist.


Exceptions: The clients' story of one of inability or of failure. This is only the dominate theme. There are sub-plots or minor themes not emphasized in the primary presentation of the client. If one listens closely enough obscure information that contradicts the opening theme appears. The client is not hiding this information, but rather it is thematically inappropriate. The therapist must remember a major principle: every failure is fathered by an aspiration. Three different types of excepts can be identified: 1. Is the clients' in-therapy behavior anr exception - - is he acting differently than the story would predict? 2. Is there some overlooked success that the client can use as a blueprint for planning similar activities - or someting to replicated. This approach focuses on behavior and doing something different (de Shazar). 3. Another use of exceptions focuses their utilization for reauthoring the story of failure. The meaning of success and ownership of the exception leads to a new perspective and the necessity to redefine self and personal enfranchisement. This new understanding of life is used as a springboard for new activities. Where and what exactly will be done is unknown to both the client and the therapist. The new meaning is the blueprint -- and not the exception itself (White and Epston).


I have found that there are two types of clients: those who see the telling of their personal failures and pains as an act of courage and the beginning of change . And there are those who deride themselves. Which group are you in?

In spite of all the pain and failures that you have told me about, what have you been aspiring to?

What personal characteristics have allowed you to continue the struggle?

Did you inherit those characteristics, or did you develop them yourself?

Have you ever beaten the problem -- even for a moment?

Who would be most surprised to hear that you are in this type of trouble?

If you were to do more of that (success) how do you think it would effect

the problem?


Taking a Stand: The client is invited to evaluate what he is describing. He is then asked to explain how the given value is assigned and to 'justify' that position and to relate that evaluation to the necessity of a new solution. Norms and statistical averages are not used as criteria unless they are of positive assistance. There is usually a myriad of internal voices, opinions, and "shoulds" evaluating any desire for action or evaluating any event. It is a major goal of the conversation to identify which type of evaluation, voice, or 'should' represents the best interest of the client as unique person. More often than not the status quo is closely guarded by a voice or opinion not belonging to the client. Rather this guards' voice represents 'should', 'have to', and 'must not'. This voice often appears as "I" -- even though the "I" is not served by this style of evaluation. Talking in this fashion requires that the client 'take a stand' for or against any given voice or situation. This helps separate the client from the negative self description. In its' place comes "I don't like that..." From victim to combatant.


Ways of talking which help take a stand:


Do you think that particular style of self evaluation is in you best interests?

Will that type of internal dialogue might help you achieve your new goals?

Do you think if you were to evaluate yourself in a different fashion it might

be of some help to your new direction?

Who first sold you on that fashion of self evaluation? When did you first

adopt this style of evaluation?

Have you ever tried to change it?

What style would be of greater assistance to you?

Is that style congruent with you need for self respect?

Please tell me some good things about yourself?

Do you have freedom of choice in determining which voice to use?

What would you like to answer back to that opinion?


Enfranchisement: The process by which people supply explanations or justifications why a certain voice should be heard or is superior to others. Methods of enfranchisement are: 1. Knowing: Expert knowledge is probably the most common source of enfranchisement. 2. Observation: Must of us learn from watching and observing things. After we do that we "know" something. 3. Logic: We figure it out and then we 'know it'. 'You can't argue with logic.' 4. Intentions and emotions: Both decisions and emotions (internal processes that motivate us) and enfranchise us to move and control our environment. 5. Moral values: Our beliefs and ideas like justice enfranchise our voices.

Enfranchisement must include in it not only the ability to "know that" (content), but also "know how" (the ability to talk convincingly about any given subject). Not only to talk about something but to get others to listen and agree!!!.


Ways of talking which enhance enfranchising:


Quote the following statement, "Every act of self discipline is an act of self worth." Quote it often. Then ask the client to say it. Ask him if it fits


Talk about character. Define character as the connection between intention

and action.

Define the presenting symptoms as an expression of health (a revolt against the clients constant disrespect toward his own best interests).

Remember emotional problems are incomplete acts that we don't stop talking or feeling about. Hook it up to character.

Ask the client if his style of self criticism is helpful and/or self respectful.

Whose voice is it anyway? Who is he talking to?

How will the new ideas/decisions/desires influence your behavior?

Which word would best reflect your state of mind concerning the desired change?

Predict/guess it will happen?

Prefer it will happen?

Obligate yourself that it will happen?

I think you are right.

'Ownership' as a type of enfranchisement Most of our clients are more than ready to own their failures and pain. Few are open to the fact that they have, on occasion, succeeded. Even when the do admit it, they usually qualify it as not relevant to the presenting story of pain and failure. The therapist should talk it a way that helps the client also 'own' his successes. This owning enhances the clients' sense of self worth and brings marginal strengths into the realm of the present discussion. Identifying "exceptions" (an event) is one important step, but the expression of ownership is of the ultimate test. Without an expression of ownership the event is an orphan or a product of outside forces beyond control.


Ways of talking that enhance 'ownership'


Is the voice used by the client a legitimate authority that can authorize that type of behavior?

What voices counsel against the proposed action?

How long have you known that this type of behavior is in you own best


Was that success a random event or did you do it on purpose?

How long did you plan that, or was it just intuitive?

To what extent were you surprised by your ability?

When you talk about that success how do you feel?

Knowing that you are the owner and creator of that behavior -- how will

that influence you future behavior?

Have you ever thought of yourself as an authority of the subject of ....?

If you were to think that way, what would you suggest?


Future oriented talking: The basic rule of talking is that the past is usually pretty bleak, the present is problematical, but the future is open to alternatives. It is therefore much easier to talk about the wide open spaces and opportunities that always exist in the future -- at least as fantasies. After all, there is no obligation in just talking.


I light of what you have learned/experienced how do you think it will

influence you?

What steps will you take in order not to forget what you have learned?

How will you pace yourself so that the changes will implemented in a way

that expresses self respect and your own pace for change?

Who will be the first to notice the changes in you?

How will they respond?

How will you respond to their response?

Who do you want to impress first with your new abilities?

If you were to write a postcard to your grandchildren (especially if he has

none) what would you write them about what you have learned from

the problem? What would you like them to know for their own







The miracle question is designed to get the client into

mood that allows him to safely explore the possible

alternatives that exist beyond the problem story.

His report of these alternative styles of living without the problem are not only

new information but also represent probable goals for therapy. After the client has described in video talk life after the miracle it is important to help him translate the abstract talk

into small doable behaviors.

If there were to be a miracle tonight - while you are asleep - and you were to wake up tomorrow without the problem -- how would you know that the problem was gone? What would you do first?

If someone were watching you after the miracle had happened what would they actually see you do that is different?

What might be the first small step you could take to achieve that aspiration?

A variation of the Miracle question is the 'Let's Pretend' style of talking.

The therapist asks the client to pretend that the problem

doesn't exist. This is done for short periods

of time, at certain places, and within certain social contexts.

Problem behavior is usually imbedded into time/place elements.

Pretending usually, but not always, is tested outside of these contexts.


Have you ever pretended that the problem didn't exist and you were a free person to act as you desired? What would you do? How did people react to


If you were to try that tomorrow, what/where/how long would you do


Would you like to have these behaviors without pretending?

How do you think you would feel after you succeed?

Have you ever felt down and out but keep it to yourself? Do you find that

type of self discipline attractive/helpful?


Miracles, Pretending and ‘Obligations’


As we stated earlier 'just talking' does not really obligate anyone. How does the therapist help the client move from describing abstract possibilities into meaningful obligations? What style of talking by the therapist would move in that direction? We suggest the use of three very diverse words that represents three very different worlds. The words/worlds are - - predict - - prefer - - obligate.

Clients often talk about their predictions of what might be in the future. They are guessing. This reveals nothing whatsoever about what they want or prefer.

After we identify that they are predicting the future, we should ask them what they would prefer to happen -- express a desire or preference. They are asked to take personal stand on this issue. They are to express in words a preference and not a statistical estimation of possible events.

After they express a preference the therapist asks to what extent that express obligates them to do something. It is important to note that we are talking about attempting to gain control -- and not talking about succeeding. The therapeutic measure is investment and not outcome. We are all obligated to try, but not to succeed. The therapist can assess the clients' degree of self obligation my attempting to scale that strength of that self commitment. This is closely connected to the issue of enfranchisement talked about above.


Ways of talking about obligations


Is the voice used by the client a legitimate authority that can authorize that type of behavior? What voices counsel against the proposed action?

How do you measure the strength of your obligation?

When you talk about future options, are you expressing a guess about what might happen? A preference? Or are you obligating yourself that it,

if fact, will happen?

How might you enhance that sense of obligation? How might I help you?

How long have you known that this type of behavior is in you own best


On a scale of one to ten, how strong is you obligation?

What preparatory steps might you take to succeed?

How much time or energy are you going to invest in this project?

How many times will you attempt to achieve you present goal?

Are you open to the idea that even attempting is a new direction?


Deframing is a style of talking that focuses on creating doubts and more attractive alternative positive explanations for the clients rigid story of failure. These doubts are seen as open spaces -- places where there is no present idea or explanation with the title "only". This open space can practically be seen during the conversation as the response to a good question or alternative explanation when the client is left "speechless" even for a split second. This pause is one of the most significant signs of successful therapeutic intervention. The pause indicates that the present rigid thinking/talking rules are forced to 're-think or re-talk' their automatic responses because they have heard new information. This open space should be understood by the therapist as indicating this particular type of intervention should be expanded. This style of talking is greatly facilitated by the basic attitudes of curiosity and respect for the uniqueness of the client. These attitudes of the therapist put him in the position of 'not knowing' and lead him to explore rather then saying, 'Yes, I understand.....' They also prevent him from reaching a rapid professional diagnosis of the problem/solution. Any professional diagnosis by definition closes off alternatives. Once the therapist reaches a diagnosis he then is much like the client in that he has only one way of thinking/talking. This can be seen as professional impotency raised to a virtue.

Ways of talking that enhance doubts

I'm sorry, I don't understand how that happens?

How do you make a connection between those events/ideas and your

present behavior?

That is a very common and respected explanation in psychology. I'm not

sure how any explanation controls behavior. How do you

understand it?

Would another explanation more accurately fit your new goals?

If you were to think differently might you act differently?

Why do you obey those commands?

What is the difference between a request and a command?

If you were to serve your own best interests like to serve others, how would your life look?

Have you ever met someone who has overcome these types of problems?

What do you think I appreciate most about you?

Have you had the feeling that you respect other peoples' opinions more than your own?

Who influenced you most to start to think this way?

To what extent does you style of self evaluation effect your creativity or

risk taking?

If you were to find out that you were mistaken about that how might that

change you actions in the future?


Verb--alizing: The static noun (problem) becomes a verb and its' location moves from an internal process anchored in "I" to an external process that bothers "me". This distancing allows for the clients personal energy and complaints to be re-focused from one style of talking -- -- self criticism and pain to another style of talking - - fed up and wanting to fight. From incapable to exploited. From not knowing to knowing.


Ways of talking which enhance verb--alizing:

When did you first realize that you were not being self respectful (by

obeying the problems advise)?

Have you ever beat it? Have you ever been able to delay its' control of


What would your life be like without the problem?

The problem is not that you are so self critical, but rather that you agree

with it.

Why don't you answer back? What would you like to answer back?

When you say 'I' and then are so critical --- is that your voice or someone


If you were to recapture that word ‘I’ - could you say something

nicer about yourself - maybe disobey the that voice.

You know the highest order of repression is when the victim talks

for the oppressor......


Homework: Assignments that are given to be done outside the therapeutic conversation. Homework often represents the most significant part of the change process. They can be vague provocative statements about what might be or clear behavioral directives. They can be suggestions or challenges. The style of homework, just like the talking, will be determined by the actual ongoing circumstances rather than predetermined theories or models. The focus will be on small, doable, starts rather than big 'meaningful' goals. They will be structured in such a way as to allow for the greatest possible chance for success. When tailoring homework it is important to remember the issue of stability and change messages - - Too big is frightening, and too small is disappointing. The homework is tailored to the clients' style and is given only when there is a clear statement of cooperation. Always follow up the homework assignment.

Ways of talking that enhance the significance of the homework

client: "It went really well, better than I thought...."

If the assignment went well talk about taking a stand; ownership; self discipline; character; exceptions; future talk.

But if the client reports, "I forgot to do it." "I tried but it didn't

work." "I decided to wasn't worth it."

If it didn't go well selectively ignore the failure part of the report and ask the following questions (which are on a continuum of minimal successes). This, hopefully, will get the client to say something positive. Then we have something to work on again.

When you left after our last session what did you hope would happen?

What did you expect to happen?

What did you do instead of the homework?

When did you first realize that the task was inappropriate and you decided

to reserve you strength for something more suitable?

What can we learn from improper planning?


Embodiment is the style of talking in which the therapist uses the first person singular as the basic form of expression. The therapist presents himself as an equal to the client. Just has the client can - and should - express his personal opinions, so it is with the therapist. The therapist's experience and personal style should be exploited, shown and share with the client. It is both morally questionable and practically impossible to hide over time your personal preferences, beliefs, and life experiences. Both participants have what to offer. The word and actions that continue sharing are more appropriate than hiding when we are trying to enhance creativity and assist in risk taking.

Ways of talking that enhance embodiment

Use 'I' rather the faceless language of science, norms and professional psychotherapy.

Tell how you did it.

Tell him what you learned from others.

Disagree strongly and directly when you don't agree.

When you think the client is lying - tell him so. It might also be worth while to apologize for threatening him --- if he wasn't threatened he wouldn't lie.



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