From our experience, it seems like many of the health issues that our clients present to us – dietary habits, struggles with body weight, smoking behaviours, oral health behaviours etc – are less about those particular manifestations than they are about deeper issues. We would offer that these are more symptomatic behaviours that stem from clients relationships to themselves or some aspect of themselves. For example, struggles with body weight might be about a client’s relationship to his or her body and/or to her or his relationship to food. Often, we spend a lot of time working on these transparent symptoms without really getting at the root of or behind the veil of the symptomatic behaviour. How might we ferret out the root causes of these behavioural manifestations? One way is to explore client values by asking derivatives of the all-important question, ‘what’s important to you about your body weight?’ or ‘what’s important to you about the way you eat?’ What is being sought by these kinds of questions is the value-tag or what’s attached to the symptomatic behaviour patterns clients exhibit – what it is like to be them. Another way to probe more deeply is to see what can be ignited by finding out a client’s relationship with some aspect of her/himself. Consider these sets of questions: What is your current relationship to _____ (food etc)? Let them respond, talk about their emotional attachments; get them to ‘say more’ about their sense of stuckness, the whole territory of that relationship with which they are so familiar, that is, invite them to be seen fully. If you feel that they are ready to change (ask them, on a scale of 1-10, how ready do you feel to make a change in this relationship?), then ask: What is the relationship you want to have with _______ (food etc)?
We have found that the contrast in these two questions (current relationship to the relationship clients want) holds huge action potential for clients. Often, they ‘suddenly’ realize that they actually have a choice to make in how they want to be in relationship to some aspect of themselves and that they can begin a change process toward the relationship they want to have with that particular aspect. To use a visual, comparative image: clients are often, from a behavioural perspective, much like the fulcrum of a teeter-totter. At one end of the teeter-totter is status quo, the way it’s always been, the ‘beast’ the client knows; at the other end is change potential; clients spend a lot of time either in status quo land and/or they drain energy holding the balance. By asking these two sets of relationship questions, we get to explore the status quo aspect with the client and then metaphorically walk along the teeter totter with the client to help tip the person toward the change s/he wants in some aspect of life. From here, it’s a matter of inhabiting this new place and working with clients to begin shifting their behaviour and committing to the shift for the sake of the relationship/s they want to have with themselves.