Your client has low motivation. It’s difficult because they don’t feel like doing anything. Any attempts to improve life go nowhere because they don’t feel energetic enough to take action. They (and you) can feel stuck by it.
So what to do?
Here’s an approach that works with a lot of my clients. It comes from solution-focused brief therapy. It is unlikely to trigger memory reconsolidation in itself. But it will get them on the path to some initial imaginal work, and is effective at boosting motivation.
Crucially, it doesn’t ask them how. The “how” question often freezes a stuck person into more stuckness.
“How” tends to be most useful when looking back at what has already been achieved. Asking future “how” questions to someone who feels stuck tends to make them more stuck.
Instead, simply ask the client to suppose their motivation did return and have them riff gently on what they’d be noticing. As you can see, this is very gentle imaginal work. It invites the client to imagine how things will look when things are better.
Here’s a good question to start with:
“So you’d like your motivation back. Well, suppose it did come back, how would you know it was back? What would you be noticing?”
It’s a gentle invite to describe how they’d know it was back. Not how they’d get there.
Exploring The ‘Room’
Treat this question as a room to explore rather than as a one-off question. Gently dig deeper into some details. The details matter. Follow the client.
Therapist: So you’d like your motivation back. Well, suppose it did come back, how will you know it is back? What would you be noticing?
Client: I don’t know really. I’d just feel like doing something.
Therapist: I see, so you’d feel like doing something again?
Client: Yeah I suppose.
Therapist: So if your motivation was back, what are the kind of things you think you’d feel like doing?
Client: I dunno. I mean, I used to paint.
Therapist: Ah ok, so if your motivation was back, you might notice yourself painting again?
Therapist: What kind of things would you notice yourself painting?
Client: Well I used to do portraits of celebrities.
Therapist: Oh wow. So if you noticed yourself, with your paints out, painting a portrait of a celebrity, then that would be a sign that your motivation was back?
Client: Yeah, that would definitely be a sign!
Therapist: So what kind of celebrities would you be painting?
Client: Musicians mainly. I did one of Hendrix and a local music venue has it on their wall!
Notice that this is just dream scaping here. The language is gentle and invitational. It follows the client. Its aim is not to say “do that then.” There is no push to it. It’s just a riff that gets crispy and specific, and usually fun!
The aim is to help them reconnect to their motivated self in a way that is gentle and easy. As the conversation progresses you may see them becoming more engaged and motivated, like in this example.
A good way to keep the dreamscaping going into new areas is to simply ask : “What else might you be noticing if your motivation had come back?”
As the client talks, you may hear them saying that some of this is already happening a little. This is your chance to amplify that.
Therapist: So what else might you be noticing.
Client: I’d probably be walking the dog out every day instead of letting him into the garden.
Therapist: Ah ok, so you’d be walking the dog every day?
Client: Yeah, I mean, I do take him for a walk sometimes.
Therapy: Oh really?
Client: Yeah, I took him out for a walk yesterday.
Therapy: Oh wow, so some of this is already happening then?
Client: Yeah I guess so!
This gives you an opportunity to dig into how they managed to do that.
It can be motivating in itself for them to realise that some of their motivation is already present.
It also connects them to strategies that are already working for them. It links the picture of the life they want with their ability to already get it, at least to an extent.
If you have a client that is low on motivation, try this dream scaping exercise and watch their interest start to switch back on.
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