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November 23, 2017

Don't Get Burned

By Dr. Richard Boyum

One of the responsibilities of a counselor is to help a client realize that they really know what they sometimes don't think they know. The exercise "Don't Get Burned" demonstrates that point. I often times find individuals in situations such as dysfunctional relationships, where they keep repeating the same behaviors and getting burned. Very often such clients' theme and variations say I just didn't know any better; I just keep going back. At this point, I often say to a client, "You know more than you know. It's time you learned what you know and put it to use.

Something you do in one situation can be applied to another." I then take a book of matches and I tell the client, "You must do the first thing that I ask, then watch what I do, then you do whatever seems appropriate." I ask the client to hold their hand out like a police officer at arms length, I then light a match and hold it towards their hand. For over 15 years, every person I have done this with moves their hand away from the match. I then repeat the exercise, in which I say, "Now when you put your hand out, you must leave it there, but you can do anything else you want." When I move the match towards their hand, for 15 years, one of two things have happened. Individuals either, get up out of the chair and move to another part of the room, or in most cases, they blow the match out. Problem solved!!!

I help the individual at this point see the obvious. They have alternatives to keeping themselves from being in a painful situation. I then say the following, "Although this is a fairly simple exercise, and less complicated than the relationship issue you find yourself in, you indeed know what to do to take care of yourself. Not letting yourself get burned by a match and not letting yourself get burned in a relationship is a lot more closely related than you realize. I want you to think about this, and the next you are in a situation where something destructive is happening in your relationship, I want you to apply the knowledge that you have in order to not get burned." See if this simple exercise is not something that can help you in your counseling situation as well.