Updated: Sep 13
I spent a decade striving to become the world's greatest counselor.
For long-time readers, that won't come as a surprise. I've said it often. In fact, back in March, I published a blog about how emotionally trying the experience was and how I'd given up on the quest.
What I didn't tell you was that back in January, Alex Vaz reached out to me and asked if I wanted 1-on-1 coaching.
Alex Vaz is the co-author of literally dozens of books on deliberate practice, has written academic papers on therapeutic change, has trained with the best trainers in half a dozen different models, is now the Director of Training at Sentio, ran a popular YouTube series interviewing therapy experts, and at one point had some of the highest clinical outcomes of any therapist on record.
He is, without exaggeration, the therapy world's greatest secret.
So when he reached out to me for 1-on-1 coaching, I, of course, said yes.
But I didn't say yes just because it was a great opportunity.
While the business side of my practice was thriving, I was finally making the kind of money I'd always wanted to make. The clinical side of my practice had left me burnt out.
Over time, with the work I'd already put in, I'd seen my clinical outcomes improve. My dropout rate had plummeted to below zero, and clients were staying in therapy for much longer than they had in the past.
However, some sessions still felt stagnant. Sometimes clients would come into therapy and just complain about their lives for an hour. At times, clients seemed to want to chit-chat and talk about politics and new trends.
Sometimes that was acceptable, but when I looked at my weekly schedule, I found myself growing increasingly dreading about seeing these clients. I felt used, like I was selling an hour of my life so someone could talk at me. And I felt bored. I wanted to help clients transform their trauma and reclaim their stories, not engage in small talk about the latest trends.
I had hoped working with Alex would rejuvenate my practice.
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1/3 My first meeting with Alex Vaz
In our first meeting, Alex went over what's called the Experiencing Scale.
One of the things researchers have noticed is that across various therapeutic models, clients are more likely to benefit from therapy when they can speak from their experience rather than about their experience.
Understanding this researchers created a 1-7 scale which therapists can use to rank how much clients are speaking from their experience or about their experience.
At level 1, clients are discussing something that holds absolutely no relevance to their inner world. Think of a weatherman talking about... well, the weather. There's no emotion and no personal connection.
On the other hand, at level 7, you have clients who, post-change, are speaking from the other side of a completely new emotional experience of themselves.
In the middle, you find level 4. Level 4 is the most critical stage because it's where clients first start discussing their inner world. This level is exceptionally important as it marks the initiation of the change process in therapy.
Alex was going to train me in the Experiencing Scale so that I'd have a better understanding of where clients were in the process of change. I have recorded every session.
2/3 Let's play a game.
Of course, reading about the Experiencing Scale is one thing, but being able to see it in real time is something totally different so, over the course of an hour Alex showed me 7 videos and asked me to rank them on the Experiencing Scale.
Let's play a game. Watch the following clip, rank the client on the Experiencing Scale then watch the second clip to see if you ranked the client correctly.
* Make sure to click "See All Options"*
Yeah, anyone else just totally miss the mark on that one? Let's hear Alex's explanation.
Did you catch that? Client experiencing is different than emotional arousal. This floored me. I was trained, especially in my EFT training, to look for more and more emotion. The more a client cries the better. Turns out I was looking in the wrong direction.
When I heard Alex make the distinction between emotion and experiencing I didn't get it. So I asked Alex to make the difference between emotion and experiencing more clear.
So I kind of got it, but I was still a little cloudy. So I asked Alex to break down what a different level of responding would be. I wanted the contrast.
So there you have it.
As we went through the rest of the coaching hour Alex fine tuned my understanding of what it meant to speak from your experience, because clearly I had no idea. As we talked Alex gave me some rules of thumb to identify how much a person was speaking from their experience:
The more a person speaks about a present experience, rather than a past experience...
and the more they speak about a specific experience, rather than a vague experience...
and the more they speak about their internal experience, rather than an external experience...
the more they're speaking from their experience.
(as opposed to about their experience)
3/3 How Alex Vaz has helped me with burnout
Learning the Experiencing Scale has helped me identify where I get stuck with clients.
A client just wants to vent? They talk about what other people did with no indication of how it made them feel? We're probably stuck at level 2, discussing things personally relevant but leaving out the client's emotional experience.
A client just wants to complain? Their words are always focused on how wronged they feel by others? Even if they are correct and it truly is someone else's fault, the client is likely stuck at level 3, talking about their reactions but not their deeper inner world.
So, has working with Alex helped my burnout?
For me, the Experiencing Scale and the other insights I've gained from Alex provide clarity in my work with clients. This clarity has been tremendously beneficial.
When experiencing burnout, the worst part is feeling that it will never end, like there's no way out. However, clarity brings hope and a potential path forward, which I believe is exactly what we all need when facing burnout.
Jordan (the counselor)
Want coaching with Alex?
If you want 1-1 coaching with Alex, he's actually looking to take on a coachee. He's super nice. Just send him an email at : alexmagvaz [at] gmail.com
If you liked this post, consider reading this next. I think you'll like it ;) It's about gamifying deliberate practice to make it more engaging.
Jordan Harris, Ph.D., LMFT-S, LPC-S, received his Doctor of Philosophy in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Louisiana Monroe. He is a licensed professional counselor and a licensed marriage and family therapist in the state of Arkansas, USA. In his clinical work, he enjoys working with couples. He also runs a blog on deliberate practice for therapists and counselors at Jordanthecounselor.com.