page47_11 - Bill O`Hanlon

Using the Future as a
Catalyst for Change
Bill O’Hanlon, M.S., LMFT
Santa Fe, NM USA
[email protected]
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Most of our treatment
approaches focus on
the problematic past or
troubled present
“All pasts are like
poems; you can derive
a thousand things, but
you can’t live in them.”
–John Fowles
Elspeth McAdam-Future Pull
. . . A young girl I was working with had
experienced abuse. She walked into my office
as a very large girl with shaved hair, tattoos on
her head, and I don't think she had showered in
a week. I had been asked to see her because
she was so angry. She clearly didn't want to
come and see an expletive expletive shrink.
She was very angry at being there. I just said to
her, 'You've talked to everybody about your
past. Let's talk about your dreams for the
future.' And her whole face just lit up when she
said her dream was to become a princess. In
my mind I could not think of two more opposite
visions–but I took her very seriously. I asked
Elspeth McAdam-Future Pull
She started talking about being a people's princess who
would do things for other people, who would be caring
and generous and a beautiful ambassador. She
described a princess who was slender and well
dressed. Over the next few months, we started talking
about what this princess would be doing. I discovered
that, while this girl was 14 and hadn't been attending
school for a long time, the princess was a social
worker. I said, 'Okay it is now ten year's time and you
have trained as a social worker. What university did
you go to?' She mentioned one in the north of
England. I asked, 'What did you read [study] there?'
She said, 'I don't know, psychology and sociology and
a few other things like that.' Then I said, 'Do you
Elspeth McAdam-Future Pull
She said, 'I had this psychiatrist who helped me.'
I said, 'How did she help you?' And she started
talking about how we made a phone call to the
school. I said, "Who spoke? Did you or her?'
She replied, 'The psychiatrist spoke but she
arranged a meeting for us to go to the school.' I
said, 'Do you remember how you shook hands
with the head teacher when you went in? And
how you looked and what you wore?' We went
into these minute details about what that
particular meeting was like–looking from the
future back. And she was able to describe the
conversations we had had, how confident she
had been, how well she had spoken, and the
About a month after this conversation
she said to me, 'I think it's about time
we went to the school, don't you? Can
you ring and make an appointment?' I
asked if she needed to talk about it
anymore and she said no, that she
knew how to behave. When we went
into the school she was just brilliant. I
first met that girl ten years ago. Now
she is a qualified social worker. She
fulfilled her dream–although she didn't
Adolescents sometimes
don’t conside the future
(and think they might be
“I’ll be dead by the
time I’m 18.”
Many people get
through difficulties by
finding hope and a
positive future
“There is a reason the the
rearview mirror is smaller
than the windhield.” –Sign on
a church in Winnipeg
Some people prefer a
future orientation
Howard Lutnick, CEO Cantor Fitzgerald
Lost his brother, his best friend and 658 of his employees
in the 9/11 attacks
We always thought we’d fall apart at some
point. I’d tell people it was like surfing in front
of a very large wave and as long as I kept
going forward as fast as I possibly could, the
wave would never get me. But if I ever
stopped, and took a moment to look back . .
.Whoosh, the wave would crash over me,
and I’d get crushed. But if I kept moving
forward, the wave would get smaller and
smaller, and that’s what happened. (Fall
future enters into us,
in order to transform
itself into us, long before
it happens.”
—Rainer Maria Rilke
There is some research
to support this future
orientation and
Future-Orientation Research
 Participants in a study were asked to write down
their ideal future, in which all had gone well and
they had met their desired hopes and goals, for a
few minutes on 4 consecutive days
 Control groups were asked to write about a
traumatic event that had happened to them for
those minutes on 4 days; another was asked to
write about life goals as well as a trauma; another
control group was asked to write about their plans
for the day on those 4 days
 Results: The “future-oriented” group reported
more subjective well-being after the experiment
than the controls; the trauma and “futureoriented” groups both had less illness when
followed up 5 months later
King, L.A. (2001). “The health benefits of writing
The Victor Frankl
Find the
longing and
Problems into
Rephrase from what is
unwanted to what is
Reflections: Not
questions but
restatements (with a
Redirect from the past
to the future
Suggest small
increments instead of
big leaps
Mention the presence of
something rather than
just the absence of the
Positive expectancy
Nonverbal and verbal
methods of seeding a
positive and hopeful
Positive expectancy
Verbal is easier to teach
and speak about
Positive expectancy Talk
Yet, so far
How quickly?
A letter from
your future
Letter From Your Future
 Write a letter from your future self to
your current self
From five years from now
Describe where you are, what you are
doing, what you have gone through to
get there, and so on
Tell yourself the crucial things you
realized or did to get there
Give yourself some sage and
compassionate advice from the future
Letter From Your Future
Use these questions to guide their letter writing:
 What have you learned and gained perspective on since back in
[fill in the present date/year]?
 What things were you worried or frightened about in those days
that seem trivial or far away for you today?
 What problems seemed overwhelming or insurmountable in
those days that you did eventually resolve or overcome?
 What sage advice would your future self give to that present
 What comfort or reassurance would your future self give to your
present self?
 Who were you troubled by, frightened by or concerned with that
now doesn’t matter as much?
Letter to Me (Brad Paisley)
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Future without
the problem
• What is your sense of a future you
would prefer (vs. problem-determined or
problem-continued future)?
• What would you do or focus on or think
in the near future if you were committed
to or moving toward that future?
•Could you do any small part of that right
now or in the near future?
Future Pull
“The best thing about the future
is that comes only one day at a
time.” –Abraham Lincoln
• How will you (or me or anyone else)
know that treatment has been
•How will we know that you no longer
need help?
•What will your teacher, parent, friend,
spouse, partner, psychiatrist, etc. see
that will convince them things are better
enough for you to stop treament?
The Miracle Question
 Say: “Imagine that as you were asleep tonight, a
miracle occurred and the problem or concern that
brought you to therapy was resolved.” Make
certain that the client is experientially involved in
the scenario.
 Ask: “When you first open your eyes, what the first
thing you will notice that will let you know that this
miracle has occurred?”
 Ask: “How would other people know the miracle
had occurred? What would they notice that is
different about you or what you are doing?”
 Keep tracking the changes through the day, the
Other Future Metaphors
Crystal ball
Time machine
Other Future Metaphors
Rainbow bridge
• If your problem disappeared, what
would be different?
•In your daily actions?
•In your relationships?
•In your work?
•In your thinking?
•That others would notice?
•What aprt of that future without a
problem could you start doing right
Smallest signs
of change
•What is the first sign that you (or your
parent, teacher, probation officer) would
see that would let you know that things
are going in the right direction?
Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Fanny McCullough
Dear Fanny
It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your
kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is
affecting your young heart beyond what is common in
such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to
all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony,
because it takes them unawares. The older have
learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some
alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not
possible, except with time. You can not now realize
that you will ever feel better. Is this not so? And yet it is
a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know
this, which is certainly true, will make you some less
miserable now. I have had experience enough to know
what I say; and you need only believe it to feel better
Acknowledgment and
Transitioning between past, problem
and possibilities
Carl Rogers with a twist
3 methods
Reflecting in the past tense
Reflecting from total to partial
Reflecting from truth/reality claims
to validating perceptions
Future Pull
"You have to go fetch the
future. It's not coming
towards you, it's running
away." –Zulu proverb
Future Pull Methods
1. Future pull
2. Problems into
3. Positive expectancy talk
4. A letter from your future
5. Future without the
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Bill O’Hanlon, M.S., LMFT
223 N. Guadalupe #278
Santa Fe, NM 87501 USA
[email protected]

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