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Bored in session? It might be a lack of progress. Here's how I use the experiencing scale to get unstuck.

Updated: Feb 20

Series: I get weekly coaching with Alex Vaz. Here's what I learned on 02/03/23.

1/ 4 Bored? It might be a lack of progress.

One thing which often goes untalked about in our field is how sometimes therapists get frustrated with clients. A second is how we sometimes get bored.


I think we don't talk about this because it stirs up conflicting feelings in us. We think, "what does it say about me that I don't want to listen to this person complain, again, about the same issues? Does that mean I'm uncaring? I should be grateful. I'm talking with people all day, not digging ditches."


Oftentimes when we have negative feelings about our clients we blame ourselves. Our feelings about our clients might be about us, but I'm coming to believe that our feelings actually aren't a personal problem to be worked through. Our feelings are often about the lack of progress in therapy.


The Experiencing Scale, for me, has been a helpful tool to nudge progress along.

 

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2/4 What is the Experiencing Scale?

One of the things researchers have learned 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.

The experiencing scale

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.


The most important level is level 4, because level 4 is where clients begin to talk about their specific internal feelings in the present.


Most sessions get stuck in levels 2 or 3. In these levels, clients are often complaining about external events, or talking about why a past painful experience happened. The trouble with this is we therapists can't typically can't change external circumstances and we certainty can't change the past. Hence our time is usually best spent working on specific, internal feelings in the present.


3/4 Test your Experiencing Scale skills!

To learn the experiencing scale I hired Dr. Alex Vaz as my coach.


Alex Vaz head shot

Vaz is the co-author of literally dozens of books on deliberate practice, has written academic papers on therapeutic change, rubs elbows with the developers of a dozen different models, hosted the popular  YouTube series "Psychotherapy Expert Talks".


Oh, and of course, he's a phenomenal therapists. He actively sought out borderline clients so he could work with the hardest patients and become the best therapist.


In our training sessions, Vaz didn't want me to only understand the Experiencing Scale, he wanted me to be able to see it in real time. So our first two meetings were us watching tape and me trying to rate the clients level of experience.


I'm going to offer you the same opportunity.


Watch the following clip, rank the client on the Experiencing Scale then watch the second clip to see if you ranked the client correctly.


Ready?


Let's go!


Watch this clip. 👇👇👇


Rank the client on the experience scale.👇👇👇

* Make sure to click "See All Options"*

What level is this client speaking from?

  • She's a 1

  • She's a 2

  • She's a 3

  • She's a 4


Now watch this clip for the big reveal 👇👇👇


Just like before, I totally missed the mark. Let's hear Alex's explanation.



According to the research on client experiencing, a client can be both highly aroused and detached. The question is can they link their heightened/emotional/aroused experience to their personal inner world.


Honestly, at this point even though Alex was explaining it to me, I still didn't get it. I think he knew this, so he gave me an example of what this same clip might look like, but connected to her internal experience.


In his example, Alex uses a lot of somatic language (It's like a tightness in my chest, and I can feel my lungs getting clamped up), but it's not simply about using somatic language. What clarified it for me what what he said right after that:


"...instead of elaborating on what you can't do or what she would like to be able to do..."


This client is struggling to describe her experience, and because it's so difficult for her, she's defaulted to talking about what she can't do. That's why she's at a two.


4/4 The Experiencing Scale is important because it tells you where you're stuck.

I actually think when we get frustrated or bored in session, we're actually deeply empathically resonating with clients.


They too, oftentimes, are frustrated with the lack of change or bored with stalled progress.


The experiencing scale, for me, has been a helpful tool to nudge clients back into more helpful conversations.


For instance if a client is talking about a past problem I'll often say, "so you're talking about something that happened in the past. As you talk about it, what are you feeling right now?"


Many times it's the first time, in a long time that clients begin, again, to see progress and actually feel better. It's been a beautiful win-win. I feel more effective, our sessions feel more engaging, and the client feels better.


Which is why we do therapy in the first place.


Best,


Jordan (the counselor)


-Fin-


 

Late last year my new book Deliberate Practice in Multicultural Therapy was published through the APA.


The APA is hosting a free webinar about the book March 6th. When you come you'll get to ask questions about the book, meet me and the other authors, and talk about working with diverse clients. Would love to see you there!


Click below for more details.


Photo of APA Webinar on Deliberate Practice in Multicultural Therapy


 

If you liked this post, consider reading this next. I think you'll like it ;) It's another exercise on the experiencing scale.

 

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.

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