#180 Getting Out of the Way: Part Two

This Tip is a continuation of a theme begun in Tip #173. Here we take a slightly different perspective.

The more one lets go,
the stronger the presence of the Spirit becomes.
Father Thomas Keating

True intelligence operates silently.
Stillness is where creativity and
solutions to problems are found.
Eckhart Tolle

People come to us for nutrition advice. For example, they may need:

  • A professional assessment of their nutritional status.
  • Perspective on how their diet fits into their overall health.
  • Information on which foods will improve or worsen their health or symptoms.
  • To be listened to about how hard behavior change is.
  • Coaching or accountability when making changes.
  • Someone who understands that sometimes their food choices have nothing to do with health, nutrition, or even appetite; they have more to do with coping with emotions.

Some of these skills we are taught in school and internships. Others we learn by experience over time. We appropriately incorporate this professional experience in our work. Because we are human, we also bring our other life experiences and characteristics along. Some aspects of our history enhance our work. For example, your year of food insecurity while in college may boost your empathy for some of your clients.  Other experiences, especially if held too tightly, cause us to be less available for our clients in the way they need at a given time. A few examples:

  • We may have the need to feel knowledgeable/competent. When this part takes charge, we may provide more information than the client is ready for or needs right now.
  • The client’s troubled relationship with food may seem so close to our own that we are unable to tolerate hearing about this complexity.
  • We may care so much about this person that we get angry when they don’t eat well. Our anger makes it difficult to help the client in the ways that fit best for him/her.
  • Our fascination with a particular perspective may blind us to a different viewpoint that would help this client.
  • Our own success with a certain diet or behavior-change strategy can make it tough to see that this will not fit every client.
  • Our inner foodie part may want to spend much of a session on recipe ideas and menu planning and not notice that the client does not need or want this.
  • We take on responsibility for the client’s making changes as if that is our job. This belief that client success reflects directly on us gets in the way of being an effective behavior-change counselor.

It’s not easy to become aware of these interfering parts of us. There may be clues:

  • Wanting to interrupt the client to put in your opinion.
  • Missing a few things the person says because you are planning what you will say next.
  • Arguing with the client about what he/she needs from you.
  • Feeling uncomfortable working with a certain client.
  • Working harder than the client.
  • Feeling very excited about what you are telling the client.

Ways to get out of the way:

  • Any time you sense one of the above clues, take a deep breath and attend carefully to what the client is telling you. Perhaps ask the client what he or she needs right now.
  • After a particularly difficult session, settle down and ask yourself, “What part of me was in charge during the session?” Get in touch with that part. Ask it, “What is the fear of what will happen if you let go of your agenda, if you step back and are not so much in charge?” Perhaps you can find out what that part of you needs in order to allow more space for all of you to be present with your client.
  • When you notice your excitement about a particular diet or recipe, take a deep breath. Remind yourself that the client’s excitement and commitment is what matters, not yours. In a truly client-centered session, the client’s energy level is a bit higher than yours.
  • Finally, one of the best ways to notice when you are getting in the way is to attend to the client carefully. Especially tune into how the client is responding to your advice. Tips #59 and #147.

The more we get out of our own way, the more we help our clients. When we hold our expertise and our agenda lightly, using it only when it’s called for, our clients have more space to explore their process of making healthy changes. It’s our job to continually examine and adjust our interactions with our clients and to be what they most need.

Many counselors find that the cultivation of a mindfulness practice increases awareness of what is going on inside. It can help us step back with openness to observe the ways in which we may be getting in the way of the client’s process. Check out Tip #19 for more on developing a mindfulness practice.

Posted in Tips