The text came through as I was sitting at a table outside the café with my latte, on an otherwise beautifully sunny day in early August. I stared at it in confusion and disbelief for several minutes before calling my wife to deliver the awful news. Anna immediately burst into tears on the phone, and we spent a few moments vainly trying to console one another. The message could not have been more brief, or final. But I could only guess at the suffering behind these few words.
‘This is to let you know that —— took his own life this morning. Thank you for all you tried to do for him.’
It was from the young man’s mother. She had contacted me a little while before to explain something of his troubles and I had readily agreed to talk to her son and try to help him resolve the problem. He had only to make contact with me, or one of my team, and we would schedule a time and place to meet. I had actually spoken with him a week previously, when he reassured me that he was in good shape. However he couldn’t, or wouldn’t commit to a meeting, so that’s how the phone call ended. Anna had had a similar experience with him and we both felt frustrated that the boy seemed so reluctant to help himself out. Our reaction to his death was predictable enough. Like so many affected by a suicide our sadness was tinged with feelings of guilt. How could we have missed seeing the seriousness of the situation? Surely there was something that could have been done, some simple intervention that could have saved him from himself? We had been waiting for his call. If we had only taken the initiative and called him instead, maybe we could have prevented this tragedy.
It’s something of a cliché or truism in all branches of therapy that the first step towards resolving a problem is to recognize that you have one. It’s the reason why all AA members must stand before the group and admit they are alcoholics before saying another word on the subject of how they got to this point in their lives. In NLP the strategy is a little different. To avoid validating a client’s negative self-belief the practitioner first tries to undermine it, pointing out the deletions, distortions and generalizations in the client’s thinking. To offer sympathy and a ‘shoulder to cry on’ is simply to reinforce in the person’s mind the reality of their situation – their ‘victimhood’ as they see it. This immediately makes the task of re-programming their neurology that much harder. Similarly with the Three Principles my task is to raise my clients’ awareness of the extent to which they are creating their own experience through the power of Universal Thought. To get them to recognize that they can use this power, this gift from Mind, to change every aspect of their lives for the better, that is the goal.
But how easy it is to explain all this to you; how impossible to reach out to that young man, now gone.
Like all of us, I am learning all the time. And it seems the more I learn about life through my understanding of the Principles, the more compassion I have for my fellow human beings. With that, inevitably I suppose, comes a desire to ‘fix’ people wherever I see that they are suffering. But is that really my responsibility? As a friend pointed out to me humorously: if Batman takes a night off, exhausted from his many nocturnal battles with the forces of evil, and on that one night some poor innocent is randomly murdered, can the blame really be laid at the feet of the Caped Crusader?
I am not a crusader, and I’m certainly no superhero, but I want to make a difference to people’s lives. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between the two differing therapeutic strategies. In future I may change my approach a little. I won’t immediately ‘anchor’ a client’s view of their situation by supporting and therefore validating their negative thoughts, agreeing that there is a serious problem to be addressed, but neither will I appear to dismiss or make light of their suffering. I truly believe that I could have helped that young man, and the fact that we were too late to offer him help and advice causes me sadness. One small consolation: I was later able to help his mother with her grief, and she responded well to our discussions.
How do you see your responsibility?