A Question That Will Change Your Life

I was sitting with a teenage client of mine supporting him through a tough situation at home that will likely not change in the near future.

I find one of the most frustrating things about having teens and children for clients is that as much work we do in the therapy room, their life situation usually doesn’t change much without significant parental involvement. And that doesn’t happen often.

So, I see my job with my teen clients as teaching them skills that they can use to handle their situations now in a way that supports them in healing and growing into caring and self-reflective adults.

In most cases the teen wants his outer situation to change – it won’t. He wants to move out – he can’t right now. He wants things to be different than they are – not going to happen any time soon.

Knowing this, my only leverage is with him. The leverage always exists inside of my client.

I used to ask my clients, “What’s the lesson for you here.” This sometimes leads teens to say things like, “Not to trust anyone” or “That my parents suck.” Not really the direction I’m wanting to guide them in.

So instead, I recently asked one of my teen clients, “How can you use this situation to make you a better person?

(I use the phrase “better person” here intentionally. Some people reading this won’t like the word “better” because it may imply that this teen is not fine the way he is now. I believe we all seek to improve ourselves in some way, and I want him to see clearly that he has choices to lead a life full of positive possibilities if  he wants. He has a choice. I want him to know that he can take this really crappy situation and learn something useful from it.

He stared at me and didn’t know what to say. There was no room for him to be dismissive about what I’ve asked, and my question prevents us from going into a negative spiral that isn’t supportive to healing.

I know how I’d answer this question for him. I see all kinds of ways that he can use what he’s going through to learn, grow, and heal himself. But I stay quiet.

He responds after thinking about this for a long while, and we proceed to have a very rich and meaningful conversation about his responsibility for his life and his feelings.

How can you use this situation to make you a better person?

A variation on this question is “What can you learn from this situation to make you a better person?”

Going forward, whatever happens in my life, I’m going to ask this question of myself and move ahead with healing.

This is my challenge for you as well.

11 thoughts on “A Question That Will Change Your Life

  1. This is so powerful, Elana! We grow humanity and human consciousness through our healing, one person at a time. If a child can begin this process early with a question that offers them the opportunity to shift their context even slightly this is a tremendous life skill that will serve them throughout their life. I am deeply touched at the possibility of this for the teen(s) you are working with and for the greater expansion of mankind. Thank you for the work that you do.

    • Jennifer, thank you. Teens can be quite insightful and really open to looking at their behavior and their options. It’s fulfilling work!

  2. I LOVE this! What a wonderful question for this teen to let him know you care, yet you are teaching so much by allowing him to reflect and answer this question himself. So powerful and a wonderful way to teach him to move forward in a healthy way.

  3. How inspiring Elana! I love that a simple shift in how the question is asked can open up such abundant territory for healing and growth!!

  4. I need help. I have been hurting and in a big-time rut for over two years. My fiancé was killed in a fire March 10, 2012. I feel like a huge part of me also died. I have not worked, have become extremely anti-social…I cry too much, still dream about him. Too make matters worse I drink daily, then stop for a few week & go to AA- then start again, punishing myself.. over & over & over again. I come from a wonderful family, have hidden this from them, they would not understand and are sick of my alcoholism… I am so incredibly lonely at the awkward age of 44, damn. I need friends, a future, would so be happy to fall in love again… As I stated in the beginning of this post, I am in a horrible rut, don’t know where to start …

    • Hi Kate, Thanks for your post here. I just sent you an email. Let’s connect and see if we can find you some help. Elana

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