Creative Connections & Client Communications

Counseling Insights, June 30, 2005

Filling in the Gaps

How few lines does Picasso need to draw to show us a reclining body? How do those few lines differentiate a fallen classical hero from a waiting classical courtesan?

How can different colored shapes work together within the gestaltof a minimalist, geometric, hard-edged suggestion of a wizened innkeeper?

Our minds add the details. --Our minds respond to the artistry of sparse but telling portrayal and complete the image of hero or courtesan or innkeeper.

Our minds bring together the pointillist dots of color in an impressionist painting. We fill out the harmonies to Erik Satie’s music. We project the end of the road, where we have never traveled before.

We are told that “The divine lives in the details” [Unitarian tracts]; that “perfection lives in the details” [flower treatises, hotel ads]; that “God lives in the details,” [Rabbinical quotes, architects, the first novelist (probably the quote originator) Gustave Flaubert]; “Good history lives in the details,” for the Archivist; and most popular among politicians, criticizing budgets and policies, “The Devil Lives in the Details.”

The point is details are important! They are the stuff with which the mind fills in the gaps, closes the holes in a Henry Moore sculpture; helps us delight in the Moon River rhyme, “Waitin’ round the bend, my Huckleberry friend ... and me”, and establishes the moonlight in Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata movement, Debussy’s Clair de Lune”. Creativity is based upon a storehouse of inter-connected details.

When we give our clients a harmonic structure, a canvas of life-development from a meaningful assessment of the horoscope, we are providing recognition and understanding. But how do we invite the details from the client’s reality into the picture? How do we and the client fill in the blanks? How do we gain perspective of individual problems?

Get two drink coasters, 3 or 4 inches in diameter; usually made of absorptive paper or cork. Or just cut out two circles from cardboard.

During the consultation, we can place one of these coasters onto the desk: “Let’s see this marker as the ideal situation in this matter [marriage relationship; job recognition; etc.] --That ideal situation, the way you’d like to have it, is right there.”

Then give the other marker to your client just as you say, “Now, please take this marker and put it --in relation to the ideal marker-- where you think you are with this matter right now.

--I have had clients throw the second marker onto the floor, since they feel so far removed from any resolution. But usually, they think for a moment, make a few nervous comments, and put it a foot away, or sometimes even slightly overlapping the ideal marker.

Review the meaning of the two markers, and then say, “Fine. Now please share with me ’What’s in between?’” --And as you say this, look at the distance between the markers and even point to it.

This is very strong graphic representation of the space that must be understood and filled in --for harmony, for fulfillment, for meaning. Be patient with the discussion: the client’s response will reveal the strategies that he or she knows will resolve the situation, the details of what should be done to bring the markers together.

This filling in the gaps can be accomplished with artful conversation as well.

**An important note: in counseling discussion like this, we need to work against the tendency of taking sides, making a good-or-bad judgment, right-or-wrong. That’s not the issue; we must avoid this fallacy of dichotomous reasoning; the details are between the extremes.

“You’ve just told me you’re having an affair, even though your marriage is fine and strong. Please tell me as well: just what are you getting out of this affair? What is it doing for you?” [Say this slowly; with great importance.]

--Within the professional context of the one-on-one consultation, these questions are much more powerful than they seem written here, believe me. Perhaps you are talking to someone 50 or 60 years old. Other values are being addressed in the affair beyond hormones, surely. Listen carefully; you will hear very important details about what the affair really means, and then you can address it objectively. Just in the telling of the details, your client and you will hear wisdom. –Why did your client tell you in the first place? [See “Counseling Insights,” Archives, click on February 28, 2005, “Hearing the Answer within the Question.”]

“What could actually bring you and your boss (child, parent, etc.) closer together? [The word “actually” is important; it takes the question away from the perfunctory.]

“What will really please you as you get started in your new location?” [This is a great way to reinforce positive planning to offset transient insecurities.]

“What will it take to stop repeating this same kind of defensive behavior? It’s disruptive; you know that, and I know that. We know where it comes from. We understand it together. --What do you gain when you stop it?” --There are two questions here. The length of the questioning paragraph gives a little more time to the client’s unconscious to formulate a rich answer. And we set up the establishment of support for the client. (‘We understand it together’)

All these questions are exercises in positive planning and healthy cognition. We are helping the client fill in the gap between the reality position and the best position.

Try it. You’ll be pleased.

Please see the Archives immediately following here for access to some 70,000 words of educative essays in this department.


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