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February 20, 2018

Watch Your Language - A Counseling Thought

By Dr. Richard Boyum

One of the major characteristics that separates us from other mammals is our ability to communicate in a wide variety of ways. A significant characteristic is our ability to use language. In cognitive psychology, we know that behavior and emotions can create thoughts, but likewise, thoughts in the form of words can also create behavior and emotions.

One of the experiences we may choose to provide for our clients is teaching them how to watch their language. In American culture, we tend to do things in a big way. For example, we use the word "hate" much to frequently. We "hate" the weather, we "hate" certain types of food, and we "hate" it when people treat us in certain types of ways. In this example, there are situations where it may be appropriate to teach a client to "strongly dislike" rather than "hate". Emotions and feelings can be expressed in mild, moderate, or intense forms. We may find time in our sessions to make sure clients are using language that is appropriate to both the feelings and situations they are talking about.

The elegant use of language provides a way to effectively create appropriate and positive changes in our clients. One aspect that requires examination is whether language tends to be judgmental or accepting. This aspect of language-examination is important because judgmental language often creates road blocks to change where language of acceptance creates openness to behavioral changes.

One way of using language is to challenge a client to use as few words as possible to describe a situation. Often, too many words cause the client to become lost and forgetful of what really is important. On the other hand, too few words can be a form of passive/aggressive behavior and/or denial. Sometimes it is important to challenge a client to fill-in more of a story by asking them if they have left anything out, or to ask them if the story was told by someone else, would they tell it in a different way?

By using these alternatives a counselor and client may get a clearer word picture. Think of ways of how you can find that watching language can become an effective way of using the time that you have with your clients.