Ask clients stuck awaiting change to keep a prospective diary. An explicit account of life after the hoped-for change can help clients unstick themselves and start changing now.
Some clients (and some therapists) get stuck awaiting a single change which will solve all their problems at a stroke. “Once I’m rehoused…”, “Once I get my compensation…”, “Once you start taking your medication consistently…”.
A key feature of these hoped-for changes is that they are usually external to the person holding out for them: the client holds out for change at the Housing department or law court, the therapist holds out for change in the client. The implicit message is “it’s not my fault nothing is happening yet”.
Solution-oriented therapists ask clients to predict how their lives will be different once their problems are resolved. The resulting list of resumed activities, renewed social contacts and abandoned negative habits provides a roadmap which will take the client a long way towards achieving the change they seek.
Stuck clients (and therapists) may have difficulty with such questions, producing answers along the lines of “Once I’m rehoused I’ll be able to get on with my life” or “Once you’re taking your medication you can start taking back your life”. Attempts to clarify “getting on with life” can degenerate rapidly into endless repetitions of “yes, but what does that mean…?”
A prospective diary reverses the idea of a daily journal. Rather than have your client record what they did today, have them record what they will have done on this date next year (ie: after they have been rehoused, after received their compensation, etc)
If today is 18 October 2006, ask for a diary of 15-21 October 2007 (ie: Monday to Sunday), detailing how the client spent each morning, afternoon and evening. You may want to draw the client a 7 x 3 grid in which to enter their notes, to force an explicit consideration of each part of each day.
Seeing a blank week that must be filled can be difficult for clients, so you may wish to keep this exercise within the session rather than setting it as “homework”. Such a challenge to a strongly held beliefâ€”that all will be well once the hoped-for change has occurredâ€”needs a positive outcome, not a shame-faced admission of “not having done my homework”.
As with other forms of the miracle question, the prospective diary should act as a springboard for therapy, identifying changes a stuck client could be making today.