Getting it all wrong and hurting clients

Today, a bit of a rant.

I was contacted by someone in a fair bit of distress yesterday.  They were stuck and struggling.  Although I had a full program, I made some time (admin tasks got delayed until evening!) to see them and do some work.  After seeing them, it reminded me about the old adage “first, do no harm!”.


This particular client had been going really well.  The brief therapeutic approach we had used was successful, they were demonstrating new patterns of behavior, and being successful where they were not before.  I honestly did not expect to see this client again for this issue.

In tears, they related the story of how a ‘coach’ had ‘helped’ them recently.  In fact, the coach had done SIGNIFICANT harm to this particular person by asking a TERRIBLE question.

Language is such a powerful thing.  Regardless of this ‘coach’s’ intent (I use the term coach loosely here…), the way they interacted with this person was the single cause of several weeks of upset, hurt, self doubt and overwhelm.  I will share the question with you and see what you think of it – then deconstruct it so you can see the problems:

“So what do you get out of still being angry with your mother”?

How do you interpret that question?  Pretty innocuous?  Here is how it fits into the context:

1. Pre-supposition:  The client is continuing a pattern of behaviour for a particular benefit.  What if they want to do something different but don’t have the skills or experience to do otherwise?

2.  Pre-supposition:  The client is ‘angry’ (this was never mentioned or discussed).  

3. Injunction:  You haven’t let go of it.

4. Injunction:  You should have let go of it.

5. Injunction:  As the coach, I can see what you are doing. (Even if you don’t know what you are doing)

All the client had said was that they were feeling emotional and saw an image of their mother.

The ‘coach’, by asking this question (and not doing anything of value with it) may have thought they were being clever.  However, their ‘PROJECTION’ of what they thought was going on in the client’s situation caused the client to doubt their own truth:  Am I angry?  What am I angry about?  Why can’t I let it go?  What DO I get out of it?  Why can’t I move on?

The quality of outcome that you get is directly related to the quality of the language that you use and the questions that you ask.  This is an example of a typical ‘coaching’ cookie cutter question.  Full of injunction, presupposition and projection.  A bad question that injured the client.

If you want to help someone, learn how to ask quality questions.  Learn how to use quality language.  Don’t do some weekend course and believe you can work with serious issues.

Rant over.

And the client?  Felt massive relief and release after a short (15 minute) hypnotic session where we focused on her experience, skills and capabilities, rather than on the projections of the ‘coach’.

How do you decide which question you should ask?

When do you determine you ‘know’ what is going on for someone else?

How do you determine if your efforts have been helpful, neutral, or harmful?

Live well,