The “tea or coffee” bind is a very useful predictor for how well a session may go. Whilst I use an offer of a hot beverage, any bind of alternative choices will do.
Here is how it works. When the client arrives I quickly show them in, point out where the toilet is (many have travelled far) and offer “Tea of coffee?”
This is a bind of comparable choice. I have not asked, “Would you like a drink?” which is a simple “yes or no” question. The bind is to accept a drink, and the choice is either tea or coffee.
Here are the possible answers that a person might give.
- Neither thanks
- No thanks
- Oh, I’ll just have a glass of water, please
- Do you have herbal tea?
- I’ll have whatever you are having
This might sound a bit daft, but the response that is given can be a remarkable predictor on how well the client session is going to go. The person who accepts either tea or coffee will invariably be co-operative and engaging in the therapeutic process. This doesn’t mean that they will be easy to “cure”, but certainly will be easy to work with towards that “cure”.
Not everyone drinks tea or coffee, and some, having travelled far and arrived early, may have just come from the café around the corner, but don’t want to reject what is offered. These are the people who will say something along the lines of, “Oh, I’ll just have a glass of water, thanks.”
Independent thinkers will request an alternative such as “herbal tea.” Nearly always, these are the clients who come to learn rather than be “therapised”, and will actively ask questions, discuss, argue and apply what they learn to themselves.
The people who say, “Oh, I’ll have whatever you are having” have usually come to be therapised and look to be led and directed in their responses.
The client who rejects the offer outright will nearly always be the “difficult” client. Difficulties emerge in their response sets along the lines of:
- Most answers to most questions begin with “I don’t know…”
- When pressed, the client will just sit there silently, as though in deep inner contemplation, and then eventually look up and ask, “What was the question?”
- “Yes, but…” is a common expression for them
- “What if…” is their preferred style of questioning (“What if…” is a way of generating a counterexample to any generalisation that is created)
- Any responses that are given tend to be tangential (basically, they don’t answer the question)
- The client will tend to focus on the performance of their therapists, past and present and offer critical reviews on these performances. They can be very good at not talking about themselves but preferring to discuss the behaviours of others.
- The client will expect the therapist to “fix” them without their own active engagement in any process. This is what my colleague Nick Kemp refers to as “The Magic Wand Mind-Set.”
In younger and more naïve times, I would attempt to do “therapy” in the face of all these behaviours.
It rarely went well. Now, I will actively address these behaviours – address what is happening in the here and now, what is right in front of you.
In my book, “The Rainbow Machine” I give the example of the man with “low self-esteem” who thought he was unlikeable (he was pretty much right about that). What his previous counsellor had missed, or ignored, this man’s ongoing behaviours, his dress sense, his level of hygiene, his haircut (all of which were appalling) and instead chose to focus on the therapeutic goal of raising this unfortunate man’s self-esteem.
Try this in your next client session. Offer tea or coffee. If the client rejects it, do this. Say, “It’s not a choice. Do you want tea or coffee?” and do this dead-pan, don’t be tempted to break the emerging tension. This is difficult to do at first, as it goes against what so many of us do naturally. I like to allow the tension to rise a little and watch how the client handles this.
Either the client will acquiesce, or a standoff will emerge. The standoff takes as long as it takes. Wherever possible, I like to get the stand off out of the way before the session begins proper. It makes things much easier that way.