There’s something we health professionals do sometimes that I now notice myself doing less often.
It’s talking about our clients characteristics, beliefs and habits with apparent certainty that these things exist right now, in the current moment, even though we can’t possibly know whether that is the case because they aren’t in the room, and we maybe haven’t even seen them for days!
“They’re avoiding”, “they’re overwhelmed”, “they talk really quickly and quietly”, “they’re fairly high risk because they’re impulsive and they dissociate”, “they’re probably going to need something longer term, more specialist, more intensive”.
All of these statements use present tense to describe past observations, present formulations, and future expectations. This implies consistency, continuity and predictability.
I’m tending to provide a clearer distinction between tenses now: “They were really struggling”, “they’ve had some really difficult stuff to deal with”, “they talked about their strength”, “they’ve got what it takes”, “they can definitely do this”, “they really inspired me”, “they described in detail how they’ve got through in spite of everything, and how they can stay safe going forwards”.
This implies movement through past, present and future, and therefore acknowledgement of dynamism, capacity for change and multiple possibilities.
I’m generalising in both cases, of course. There are always exceptions in the way we all talk. Even so, this is what I’m noticing more and more.
I think the difference in the way I’m talking reflects the way I’m thinking, which is that change is not only possible but certain, inevitable and constant, and also the way I’m feeling; an absolute unshakeable, consistent belief and confidence in every client’s capacity to steer this change in the direction they hope to.
When talking about specific clients, I’m simply giving a factual account of what I heard them say, as that is all I know.
My use of present tense is tending to be reserved more to describe my own perspective, rather than to attempt a description of theirs.
I tend not to talk about them in the future tense at all, except perhaps to recount the future tense phrases I heard them construct whilst describing what they would be pleased to notice themselves doing.
This is for the simple reason that I don’t believe any of us have a reliable way to predict the future, whilst I do believe that we are all continuously building the future together.
I think all of this reflects a move away from theorising, interpreting and predicting, towards investigating, evidencing and co-constructing.
I spent years talking about clients in a way that now feels unnatural, so I now talk about them in another way.
What’s more, I’ve changed to become even more the way I’ve always hoped to be as a professional, and that is simply to be myself.
The only catch here (there’s always a catch, right?!) is that being so different in the way I’m talking might sometimes lead to seeming ‘out of step’ or even isolated. It’s fine though, because I’m also noticing that, as time passes, more and more professionals seem to be talking the same way as me.
During a particularly touching moment with some colleagues recently, I commented that “I think I’m just on a different planet”. One replied “well we like your planet!”. Another added “yeah I think I’d like to visit it!”
I responded with an invitation, “you’re all very welcome any time!”, which I’d now like to extend to anyone reading this.
You’re very welcome to visit this other world, filled with hope, love, peace, optimism, pragmatism, inspiration and belief any time you like.
Stay as long as you want.
Come and go as you please.
The population is growing all the time and there’s unlimited space for everyone.
It may take a little time to leave the past behind and adapt to the way everyone’s talking, so the bridge is always open for everyone to travel backwards and forwards as necessary.
If you do pop back, feel free to mention some of the inspiring things you heard people say about how they know they have everything they need and can achieve whatever they hope to.
And might I also suggest trying, as far as possible, not to guess what the future might hold for this planet, but instead simply hold on to hope and believe it’s population can definitely do this, whatever this is.
After all, it’s changing, adapting and getting so much better all the time!