Monday, February 8, 2010

Five Questions to Ask Before You Start Your Journal

A client asked me about starting and keeping a journal to help manage and possibly come to terms with and/or control pain. The client wondered if I had an opinion about how a journal might work and if I thought it would be a worthwhile endeavor. In true coach form I answered that question with a set of my own. Aren't we coaches frustrating?

But really, my job as a coach is to facilitate, not lead... to help my clients lead themselves inside their own sets of norms and values. While I have some pretty strong and dependable values of my own, as well as opinions, it is completely outside of my job as a coach to allow those opinions to be overly influential in how I facilitate each clients' journey with me.

I like to see that facilitation as shining a light on processes that are often already in place, but may be hidden, may be tangled in the thorny briers of the stuff of life that can keep clarity of direction hidden; perhaps to help a client see what exactly needs to be built next, or that the travel along the path is already being undertaken. In clearing away the brambles it can be taken with more purpose and more direction.

That is: my questions are meant to pull that organic and even necessary curtain of diversions and defenses back a bit so the path, a path, can be more clearly detected or plotted.

What is most interesting about this process, to me, is that the task for me is to facilitate an uncovering of innate emotional and intellectual self knowledge that is already there.

So I depend completely on my clients' willingness and ability to allow me to see it, to trust me enough to open a spontaneous and even random exchange that will allow me to shine the light in. They open the doors and the windows to some of their hidden but reverberating rooms so that I can shine a light in. And, as I hold the light, of the two of us, they have the most freedom and vision to see what the light illuminates.

As far as journal writing is concerned: I am serious about the following questions and about the kinds of preparatory work that can and perhaps should be done prior to engaging any kind of self-initiated exploratory therapeutic activity. It would be foolish for me, or any coach, counselor or therapist, to believe that he or she owned the secret cure to the quandaries and life dilemmas a client brings to them. The "solution", remedy or resolution of complex and integrated life change lies primarily in the client themselves.

Apparently there is research that proves that this is true, and though I don't have the name of the particular study/s at my finger tips, it was revealed through the research that up to eighty percent of the success of a session depends upon what the client brings to the table. Even those, like myself, who have been proud to believe that the relationship between a provider and a client is the magic that provides the impetus toward a "cure" or recovery must admit that without the client's willingness to enter into the relationship there is no chance for moving forward, no change.

So, inevitably my advice is to be open to methods and activities proposed to you by your helper, your coach or counselor, but do not be afraid to scrutinize... or to say no... to methods and proposed exercises and plans that do not feel right to you. Feel free to give them a trial run and then reject them, revise them, or run with them if they work for you... or if they just feel good, are FUN, even if you are not sure what the benefit is right away.

One good thing I'll have to say about journaling is that it can be useful for no other purpose than to provide a record of one's progression of thoughts about and around a certain issue. In my work with grief and loss it has been particularly helpful for some people to look back in time through their journals and see that progress, though slow and inconsistent, was being made. They could say: "well... I feel really bad today, but I haven't felt that bad in a while and six months ago I felt that bad EVERY day."

While the following are questions to ask prior to starting a journal about pain, I think they can be easily converted to apply to any subject or quandary. In fact, one might consider these questions, and the writing one might do in response to them, as the way to start the journal!

1) What is it you are hoping a journal might accomplish on the way toward "breaking free"? Or.... what does "breaking free" mean to you and what would it be like if you were able to do that, journal or no journal?

2) How would you know if it were working? How long would it take for you to know?

3) How would you know if wasn't working? How long would it take for you to know?

4) What form of journal do you think would be most helpful in tackling this problem... that is, do you think having a specific format for your entries would be better or having a free form approach?

5) Would you benefit from keeping a journal whatever the outcome? Would giving it a trial period be a way to see if it works, and again, how long would you give it until you could tell if there was benefit?

If you have any further questions about starting a journal feel free to contact me through the comments section on this blog or scroll down to the bottom of the blog and use the contact information there. The same goes if you would like to start a blog but feel you could use a more formalized structure for it. I think I might be able to help.


Iris Arenson-Fuller said...

Good questions but I particularly liked your description of how you work and what coaching "should be" at its best and I can attest to your abilities. I think you should use this description, not just in a dated, time-bounded post, but in a "How I Work" tab to describe your personal way of coaching your clients. Good work!

Bob Vance said...

Good Idea Iris! Thanks! My best to you always.