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Why we're secretly terrified of amazing therapists

Skills of an effective counselor pt. 13

1/3 Clever or Manipulative?


"I don't want tooo." My 4 year old bawled.

"Just. Take. One. Bite." I gritted through my teeth.

"I did!" Tears filled his eyes. He'd just barely touched the tip of his tongue to the tip of his grilled chicken.

"A real bite." I snapped.

"Whaha," He hopped down from his seat and sprinted to his room, leaving me feeling like a failure of a father.

My 4 year old is a picky eater [1].

My wife and I have been pretty intentional in our parenting. We've read the books on sleep training, taken classes on attachment parenting, and bought online courses about potty training.

For the most part it's helped. But one area where we still struggle is food.

When our 4 year old was little he'd eat almost anything we'd put on his plate, but then about two years ago he began restricting what he was eating.

Now we have a full blown picky eater. If his cheese is warm, he won't eat it. If his banana has a brown spot, he won't eat it. If he's offered food on a Monday he won't eat it.

We've been at a loss about what to do. Actually that's not true. We have three kids, and our oldest is 4. We've been too tired to do anything.

So the other day I'm sitting at the dinner table and I decide to do something about this.

I turned to my middle child, the 2 year old.

“Hey kid, did you eat all the food on your plate?” I asked playfully “Cause I have a treat for you!”

“I want a treat!” My 4 year old says.

“Well, the treat is for your brother because he tasted all of his food. Did you try all the food on your plate?”

“I will,” he says, and tasted everything on his plate.

"Okay, well then you both get a little treat."

I go to the freezer and pull out an ice cream sandwich and cut a fourth off and hand it to my 2 year old. Then I cut a fourth and hand it to my 4 year old.

They then run outside dancing and singing, “Ice cream! I got ice cream!”

Later my 4 year old comes up to me and says, “Dad, can I have some more ice cream?”

“Well, you get ice cream by trying new foods. So what are you going to do?”

“Maybe I can taste something else.”

And so he tried something else new.

“You know, I thought that was quite clever.” I said to my wife a little later, when the boys where playing.

“Clever?” She smiled, “You mean manipulative?”


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2/3 What happens if our field advances?

Sometimes I worry about manipulation in therapy.

I actually don't think it's a real threat right now. I don't think most therapists have the type of power over clients that parents have over kids.

I remember going to an ethics training a while ago. The trainer was ranting about how therapists need to be careful how we wield our power.

I just rolled my eyes.

I couldn't get my clients to complete their homework. So the idea of having power over clients seemed ridiculous.

Still, I often think about what would happen if our field advances.

Like think about John Gottman. He's created a mathematical equation that can predict when couples will divorce. Doesn't that mean he's invented a math that can predict the future [2]? If his disciples keep moving his work forward, what else might they be able to predict? When couples will have their first kid? When a partner would die? Which children will succumb to drug addiction?

Or think about Motivational Interviewing. It's a model specifically designed to get addicts to convince themselves they want to change. If that model kept developing wouldn't they be able to convince all sorts of people to break all sorts of habits? And all of these people would think it's their idea. Right?

And doesn't that mean, that in 20 years if you get certified in Gottman Therapy and Motivational Interviewing, that you could predict the future for your couples and get them to convince themselves to make all sorts of changes?

Doesn't that mean, that you'd have the sort of power over clients that parents have over kids?

I know that sounds ridiculous.

Also, it seems like the inevitable conclusion if our field keeps developing. And a part of me thinks that on some unconscious level this is why our field has stagnated.

I mean if you look at the outcome research for therapy, it's really evident that our field is full of massive holes.

These are huge problems. And no one seems to be talking about them. Why is that?

I don't know, but I wonder if on some level we don't want a group of amazing therapists. I wonder if maybe, we don't want our field to grow. Because if it did we'd have a class of individuals who could predict our future and manipulate us into doing all sort of things.

And all the while we'd think it was our idea.

3/3 I don't understand why we ignore outcome research...

Maybe I'm crazy. I'm just trying to figure out why we're ignoring what the research really says about our effectiveness. So this is where my mind goes.

If this where to happen, if therapist were to ever gain this power, well, I've no idea what we should do.

All I can think about is what it means to have that sort of power over my kids.

I'm not embarrassed that I influenced my kid to taste his food by slyly offering him ice-cream. I'm the guy that hypnotized him into having dry beds. My role as dad is to help him be the best version of himself he can be.

However, I am embarrassed that I made him cry when I tried to force him to taste his grilled chicken. I think that was a poor use of my power.

I'd rather treat him with respect and kindness. I'd rather treat him in such a way that one day, when I'm toothless and he's got to feed me mush through a straw, I’m not afraid of him having the power.

I want to treat him well enough now, so that when he has the power, I can rest completely in the fact that he has my good in mind.


Jordan (the Counselor)

-You Finished! Congrats! Thanks for reading! 10 points!-


[1] We've tried a few other things to help my son be a less picky eater. If you want a good book on this try Dina Rose's It's Not About the Broccoli. It's a fantastic read.

[2] John Gottman effectively says as much. In his paper General Systems Theory of Marriages- Nonlinear Difference Equation Modeling of Marital Interaction p. 339. He says

"The work we have done is reminiscent of Isaac Asimov’s science fiction classic series of books, called the Foundation series. In that series of books, a fictional mathematician named Hari Seldon creates a set of equations for predicting the future of the entire human species, a new branch of study he calls “psychohistory.” Considered much harder to accomplish, later in the books another mathematician creates a new set of equations for predicting the future of smaller social units, which he calls “micro-psychohistory.” We believe that it is that latter field that we have created."

[3] You can find a full list as well as summaries of the resoruces here.


If you liked this post, consider reading this next. I think you'll like it ;) It's about how to be more persuasive.


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