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February 20, 2018

Get Me an Obituary

By Dr. Richard Boyum

Sometimes I am working with a client who was really struggling with an age appropriate normal developmental problem. For example, my client may be a 19-year-old college sophomore who is struggling with her first college relationship breakup. She is devastated, unable to sleep, has a difficult time studying and is skipping classes. This is actually a description of someone I worked with recently. At one point, after listening carefully to her problem, I handed her fifty cents and told her to please go over to the newspaper rack and pick me up a copy of the local newspaper. I asked her to trust me in doing this. When she returned, five minutes later with the paper, I asked her to open the page to the city regional section to page two. This is where our local obituaries are posted. I then simply said to her, please pick out an obituary and read it out loud carefully. After she had finished, I asked her, "Would you rather be in that person's shoes, or in your own?" I also asked her, "Do you think the person on that page would rather be in your shoes, or in their current situation?" My client got it immediately. She was able to see that she had a good problem and that is was something that she could deal with within the context of a life, and that hopefully had many things that she could look forward to. While this kind of strategy or technique is unusual, it is short and to the point. More importantly, it worked and got the client back into the life that she was meant to live. She was able to normalize her problem. Everyday experiences in our culture are filled with opportunities to help our clients learn how to better function in their lives. It is our job as counselors to sometimes point those experiences out to clients.