Quick Tips for Therapists

What to Do When a Client is Focusing on Past Poor Choices?

By Melanie Greenberg, PhD

Determine what the client is focusing on specifically:

– Are they regretting past choices that ended up having negative outcomes for themselves?

– Are they unable to forgive themselves for a choice that ended up hurting another person or loved one?

Assess more details about the choice or mistake:

– What were the choices that they regret and why? What are the perceived consequences of those choices? To what extent were those consequences predictable and controllable at the time? What other behavioral options were available, and how might those have turned out? Are they alone responsible, or did fate or other people play a role? What was their mental state at the time they made the choice (e.g., were they in fight, flight, freeze)?

– What harm did they cause to another and by what actions? Was their intent to cause harm? Has the other person forgiven them? What other choices were available at the time? Would they have hurt themselves if they didn’t hurt the other person (e.g., by staying in an unhappy relationship)? What personal values did they violate? Was their behavior affected by an addiction or mental health issue? Did they lack information or life experience?

Based on the client’s answers, reduce unnecessary guilt and shame:

– Help them realize that they didn’t intend to cause harm, that their choices were limited, or they had limited information, etc.

Help them find a more compassionate way to view the situation and judge their own actions.

– Determine whether there are amends to be made, and how they can begin to forgive themselves.

– Help them realize that mistakes are a part of life, and that today is a new day with new choices.

Melanie Greenberg, PhD, is a practicing psychologist, author, speaker, and coach in San Diego and throughout California; an expert on managing stress, health, and relationships using proven techniques from neuroscience, mindfulness, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT); and author of The Stress-Proof Brain. With more than twenty years of experience as a professor, writer, researcher, clinician, and coach, She has delivered workshops and talks to national and international audiences.
 
Greenberg writes the Mindful Self-Express blog for Psychology Today, and is a popular media expert who has been quoted on CNN, Forbes, BBC Radio, ABC News, Yahoo! Shine, and Lifehacker; as well as in SelfRedbookMen’s HealthWomen’s HealthFitnessWoman’s DayCosmopolitan, and HuffPost. She has also appeared on radio shows like Leading with Emotional IntelligenceThe Best People We KnowInner Healers, and Winning Life Through Pain. Greenberg was named one of the thirty most prominent psychologists to follow on Twitter.

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Quick Tips for Therapists