When I first started working as a therapist, at the end of a session I would ask clients, “What will you be taking with you from this session?” or “What changes will you be making in the next week based on the work that we have done here today?”
Now I say, “What was useful about today’s session?” I would have never used that word in my youth, it is not a word that I liked or would have related to. However, as I am aging and understanding more and more about what real change is, I feel warmth with the utility and plainness of that word. Useful. Is this conversation, art or focusing session of use and if so what use? There is something real and close to the bone about the word useful. I want my therapy work to help inspire, enlighten and enrich my clients, but most of all I want it to be useful and in a very practical everyday workable way.
Let me explain. When I was a little girl my sister and I were alone on our family farm and in charge of cooking, cleaning and other chores. Dad and Mom were away for a week and we felt burdened with the big farm meals that we had to prepare. Grandma Bell showed up one night with a kettle of peeled potatoes ready to cook. It was the kindest, most thoughtful and useful gift anyone had given me. Peeling potatoes every night was a daunting task and Grandma understood this. This is the gift that affected me the most in my life. I want my clients to feel that they are getting something out of their sessions that is as useful and tangible as that pot of potatoes. It was a gift that neither my sister nor I would have ever thought to ask for or even be aware of how much it would lighten our daily work load. Grandma didn’t need to ask or talk about what we needed, she just knew.
The definition of useful is to be of practical use, supply common needs and to be helpful or of good effect. I strive to provide my clients with that kind of knowing and giving. It may be in the form of a right word at the right time, an exercise that really fits or the right book to read. I want to provide my clients with something as useful, heartfelt, and ‘right’ as those potatoes were.
What is useful in your life right now?