Another Resource For Decision-making—Part 2

previewIn my last post, I began to describe the process for decision-making that Spencer Johnson develops in his book, Yes Or No. In that first installment, I looked at the elements in the practical question we want to ask ourselves. We use our minds to consider:

    • Am I meeting the real need?
    • Have I informed myself about the options?
    • Have I thought things through?

In this post, I want to look at the other side of the process, focusing on the private question of the heart. The ability to ask this question involves three qualities that a person of character possesses—integrity, Intuition and Insight. Specifically we want to ask ourselves:

    • Does my decision show that I am being honest with myself?
    • Am I trusting my better intuition?
    • Does my decision reflect the belief that I deserve better?

Let’s take a closer look at these three elements in the heart question.

Does my decision show that I am being honest with myself?

A person of integrity is someone who knows how to be honest with himself or herself. Such a person avoids fooling themselves into believing what they want to be true rather than what they know to be true.

previewIt is tempting to base our decisions on the fiction we want to believe instead of the reality that we recognize if we are honest with ourselves. If we base our decisions on illusion, we will have a vague sense that something is wrong. We can identify these illusions when we make sure that our decisions reflect what we truly believe. It is also helpful to ask people that we trust how they see the situation. Often they can see what we have trouble perceiving.

Am I trusting my better intuition?

People who have learned to make good decisions have learned to trust their intuition. In order to do this, we need to stop and ask ourselves, how do I feel about the option I am considering. If I am uneasy about it, I need to pay attention to that feeling. On the other hand, if I have a good feeling about it, I should give that weight in the decision-making process.

Johnson goes on to talk about what he calls our better intuition. This is an intuition that comes from outside ourselves. Listening to our better intuition simply means asking for guidance and then remaining silent in order to hear what comes to us from beyond ourselves. For me, that is what it means to seek guidance from God.

Does my decision reflect the belief that I deserve better?

Johnson insists that the key to better decisions is to believe that we deserve better and to act on that belief. He maintains that we often get the results that we unknowingly believe we deserve.

At this point I want to insert my own modification on what Spencer says. As a person who believes in God’s grace, I would rather talk about what God wants for me, for all of us. I believe God wants what is good for us. Its not a matter of what I deserve, but of what God’s essential desire is for me.

If I believe that God desires to bless me, that the Lord want the best for each of us, I can allow that belief to inform my decisions. That will lead me to choose those options that will yield genuine blessing for me.

Action Decision leads to action

I think that the framework that Johnson offers can be very helpful as we approach important decisions in our lives. Considering the practical question along with the private question of the heart can enable us to make better decisions. Of course, decisions will only be effective if we do have the courage to act.

If you want to know more about Spencer Johnson’s approach to decision-making, I encourage pick up a copy of his book, Yes Or No. It is a helpful resource for making life’s choices.

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Another Resource For Making Decisions

When it comes to making important decisions, most of us can use all the help we can get. We have all made unwise decisions and have rued the consequences that come from such poor choices.

Decision signIn his book, Yes Or No, Spencer Johnson urges us to stop doing those things that lead to poor decisions. In order to make better decisions, we need a process that will foster better decision-making.

Johnson recommends that we adopt a process that focuses on two elements of decision-making. We ask the practical question that uses the rational side of our brain. And we also consult our  hearts listening our feelings and our intuition about a decision.

The practical question involves three elements. We ask ourselves:

  • Am I meeting the real need?
  • Have I informed myself about the options?
  • Have I thought things through?

Am I meeting the real need?

There is a difference between what we want and what we need. I may want a large Dairy Queen blizzard, but what I need is to eat a healthy diet. Allowing myself to have what I want every once in a while is fine. But my primary concern needs to be on whether I am meeting my genuine needs first.

When we face an important decision in our lives, we need to ask ourselves, what do I really need? A want is simply a wish. It may be attractive, but in the end it isn’t fulfilling. By contrast, a need is a necessity, something that is nurtures us and gives us a sense of success and fulfillment. Filling a need gives us life.

As we consider a crucial choice in life, it is important to identify our true needs and what will help us meet those needs. Truly successful people concentrate their efforts on meeting their needs first. They are able to say No to those things that don’t meet their true needs.

Have I informed myself about the options?

color choicesIn my previous posts on the Heath brother’s book Decisive, I noted that expanding the number of options we consider can lead to better decisions. Good decision-making requires us to inform ourselves about the options that are open to us.

Johnson refers to a Japanese saying, “The slower I go, the sooner I arrive.” It actually takes less time to make a good decision that it does to fix a poor one. Others can often give us information we need for making better decisions, but we should always validate what they say for ourselves.

It isn’t necessary to exhaust all the options that are possible. Often it is sufficient for us to gather information we need to generate a several possible courses of action. The more information we gather, the better our options will be. When we start to settle on an option, we can ask ourselves again, is this the best way to meet our real needs?

Have I thought things through?

As I consider a particular option, it can be very helpful to ask myself, “If I act on this option, what will happen next?” Then what will happen? And what will happen after that?

Many of the poor decisions we make in our lives come from the fact that we haven’t thought them through. We may not be able to predict exactly what will happen next, but it can be vital to imagine what will be the most likely outcomes if we take a particular action. Often we fail to think things through because we believe that what we are considering is only a short-term decision. Nevertheless, many so-called short-term decisions have long term consequences. We need to think things through.

Taken together, these elements of the practical question help us move toward the better decision we know we need to make. In my next post, we will look at the private question as we consult our hearts.

If you want to know more about Spencer Johnson’s approach to decision-making, pick up a copy of his book, Yes Or No.  It is a fast read, but is filled with much wisdom.

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Making Better Decisions

One of the obstacles to making good choices that keeps many of us from make the best decisions we can is that we frame our decisions too narrowly. In their new book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, Chip Heath and Dan Heath offer several strategies for broadening the number of options we consider.

We often limit ourselves to considering only two alternatives. I may ask myself, "Should I take my wife out to dinner tonight or not?" By simply increasing the number of options that I consider, I can increase the odds that I will make a better decision.

For instance, I may think about ordering a pizza or picking up some take-out instead of going out to eat. I might even consider cooking a meal for her myself.
Another way to increase the alternatives I consider is to ask myself, what else could I do with the money that I might spend on dinner? Maybe I could spend that money taking my wife to a movie or renting something online. She and I might both enjoy that more.

We don’t need to create a host of options in order to improve our decision-making. In fact, if we have too many possibilities to consider, it tends to paralyze our decision-making. If we can simply add 1–3 more choices to the list, that’s enough to expand our frame and will lead to better decisions. Obviously there are much more important decisions that could be improved by this process.

Another pitfall that the Heath brothers warn us against is being overcome by short–term emotion. If we have a difficult choice to make, we need some distance in order to make a better choice. Often the short-term emotions we experience, either positive or negative, can cloud our thinking.

One technique that they recommend for achieving more distance is to use the 10/10/10 rule. We can employ three different time frames to think about our decisions. I can ask, how will I feel about this decision ten minutes from now? How will I feel about it ten months from now? How will I feel about it ten years from now? These questions force us to get some distance in order to make a better decision.

These devices are just a couple of ways that Decisive coaches us on making better decisions. If I have sparked some interest in you, you might want to pick up a copy of the book yourself.

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Why Don’t We Make Better Choices: Four Obstacles

Why do we often fail to make good decisions? Chip and Dan Heath think that can tell us why and I believe that they are onto something important.

Employing research that they have gleaned from a variety of sources, the Heath brothers identify four ‘villains’ that can prevent us from making good decisions. Together they cloud our thinking in ways that prevent us from making the best choices that might be available to us. Here are the four factors that they identify in their book Decisive, How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

Narrow Framing

Window frame The first obstacle that keeps us from making good decisions is that we tend to limit the options that we consider more than we need to. When faced with a decision, it’s easy for us to see it as a yes or no proposition. Either we choose to do something or we don’t. We decide to buy a new book but we don’t buy. The Heath brothers contend that we will make better decisions if were able to widen the options before us.

Confirmation Bias

We humans have a tendency to take note of the information that confirms our belief and to disregard anything that challenges what we believe. We know it’s important to keep an open mind when making decisions but it’s a challenge for us to really do that. It is easy for us to gather the information that will confirm what we already think. Reality testing our assumptions is a good way to combat confirmation bias.

Short-term Emotion

Another factor that can prevent us from coming to a good decision is that we get swayed by emotions that can quickly fade. Emotions may help us determine what’s important to us, but they seldom provide a basis in themselves for making good choices. It is important to get some distance before we make a decision.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Humans are not nearly as good at predicting the future as we think we are. We don’t prepare ourselves to be wrong about what we’ve decided. Since the future is much more uncertain than we often realize, we want to make sure that we give our decisions the best chance to succeed. When we are honest enough to admit that the future is uncertain, that can help us make better decisions.

If you are intrigued by what you’ve heard so far you can find the chapter of Decisive here.

In my next posts I help to say a little more about what I’ve learned from the Heath brothers and also to suggest some other resources and approaches that can lead to better decisions.

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Why Don’t We Make Better Choices

There’s something wrong with the decisions that  many of us make.  The flaw lies in the process we use for decision-making. That’s the foundational premise  in the new book Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work, just published brothers, Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

You might recognize the names of these authors from their previous best-selling books—Switch and Made To Stick. Both books rely on psychological research to  provide practical help to tackle everyday problems. Switch looked at ways to bring about change while Made To Stick  gave readers advice on how to present ideas in a way that would help people retain them in their minds.

In their new book, the Heath brothers report, “If you study the kinds of decisions people make and the outcomes of those decisions, you’ll find that humanity does not have a particularly impressive track record.”  In other words,  we humans aren’t particularly good at decision-making.Decisive

Sometimes we’ve been told to simply trust our gut instincts. Yet, relying on intuition alone often yields poor results. As one example, the authors draw attention to the fact that 61,535 tattoos were removed in the U. S. in one year alone (2009). Apparently the impulse to get a piece of body art doesn’t always turn out to be a good idea.

If we can’t trust our gut instinct, can we trust our minds any better? Often business persons counsel us to rely on careful analysis of the situation. Yet, researchers find that analysis alone is not enough to avoid bad decisions either. What’s even more crucial is the process that’s used for arriving at a decision. Analysis alone often focuses on a narrow set of data and misses things that are essential to make a good decision.

Much of the rest of the book outlines ways to employ a process for decision-making that will yield much better results. But before we can look at that process, we need to investigate four factors that hinder us from making good decisions. We look at those in the next post.

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I’m Back To The Blog

After a long hiatus, I have decided to resume posting to my blog.  The arrival of Easter Monday means that my schedule in the parish is beginning to change. As a result I have decided that Easter is a good time to try to resurrect my blog. It has been virtually a year since my last post.

I had wanted to begin more regular posts once Lent was over last year. Eventually though, I decided to let the blog continue to hibernate. There was just too much to work on in the congregation that I serve and I wanted to use what time I could squeeze out for writing for other projects.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I am hoping this year will be different. One thing that should bring a change is that congregation I serve is allowing me to take three months off beginning in May to devote to time to writing. During those months I want to concentrate on something I have assigned the working title of Pilgrimage To Kidugala. It contains reflections on the trips I have taken to visit our companion congregation in the small village of Kidugala, Tanzania. In future posts, I may print some preliminary drafts of the sections I have produced so far.

Another reason I want to resume this blog is that I am planning to travel back to Tanzania early this summer, taking six other pilgrims with me. Two of our group will be visiting their companion congregation in Mafinga. The rest of us from St. Paul Lutheran, the congregation that I serve, will be spending a considerable amount of time in Kidugala.

The trip will allow me to gather more material for my Kidugala writing project. As we travel, I want to post to this blog when I am able. That’s a challenge, though, since internet connections are hard to come by in southern Tanzania.

Meanwhile, I hope to write about some other things that interest me and hopefully will spark an interest in my readers as well. Up next will be a review of Chip and Dan Heath’s newest book, Decisive: How To Make Better Choices In Life And Work.

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Talking Instead Of Typing: An Easy Way To Write

[Note to my readers. Lent is over and Easter has arrived. As my schedule becomes a bit less crowded, I hope to beginning posting on a regular basis again.]

I am often attracted to new kinds of technology. I really get excited when I discover an application that can help me be more productive. I recently stumbled across a new piece of software that has become very useful to me.

Photo on 3-12-12 at 9.48 PM The software I’m referring to Dragon Dictate. This software can take spoken words and turned them into text. It can also be used to give commands to your computer. Included with the software is a microphone with a USB adapter that can be plugged into a Mac. There’s also a Windows version, but since I’m not a Windows user I haven’t tried it out. It’s my understanding that the Windows version has been judged to be even better than the Mac version. If that’s the case, it must be pretty good because I’m quite impressed with my initial experience with the software.

When I first installed the software I did need to do a bit of setup. After installing it on my computer I needed to train the software to respond to my way of speaking. To do that I needed to read some text that was provided for the training. I don’t think that took much more than 5 minutes. Once that was done I could start dictating right away.

I am amazed at how accurately the software recognizes my dictation. I am using it right now to write this review. There are very few corrections that I need to make. If the software does make a mistake, I can train it to recognize a word or phrase that I intended. I can also quickly go to the keyboard and make corrections as well.

Keyboard 2 The program does seem to be able to learn some of the unique vocabulary that I use. For instance, when I 1st started dictating it misspelled my 1st name. But I’ve been able to teach it to spell my name correctly. However, I’ve not been able to teach it to recognize my daughter-in-law’s name which is Flor de Liz. No matter how many times I try to correct its mistake it keeps transcribing her name  as "for the lease" or  "Florida lease." It’s not very difficult for me to correct any mistakes using the keyboard, but I do wish I could train it to recognize a word that I use frequently. Perhaps if I work with the program more I will be able to correct mistakes like that.

So far I am having less success in mastering all the commands that the program is supposed to recognize. Besides the dictation mode there are modes for spelling, numbers, and issuing commands to the computer. I plan to keep working with the program to see if I can increase my skill at using it. If there are any significant new discovers that I make, I’ll be sure to post them about them later. In the meantime, if you do a lot of keyboarding, you might want to check it out. Overall, I think that using Dragon Dictate can be a significant time-saver.

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The Press Of Lent

Cross 3 Once again I am forced by circumstances to issue an apology to my readers. I am afraid that the demands of Lent have completely thrown off my schedule for posting to this blog. As a parish pastor, the regular demands of parish life continue unabated at this time of year. Like most Lutherans (and many other churches as well), we add a midweek Lenten worship service to our normal schedule during these weeks before Easter. In addition, I decided to write a series of daily devotions for members of my congregation and to lead a weekly spiritual guidance group during Lent.

All of these extra activities are well worth doing, but they make it difficult for me to keep up with my regular blogging. I don’t think that will change until Easter arrives. By then, I hope to return to my regular blogging schedule. I do have several topics that I’d like to use for a series of posts.

In the meantime, I ask my readers to have some patience with me. Thanks for your understanding.

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The Final Phase: Coping With The Crisis

stress “I just don’t know what to do.” That’s what a person often says when they find they find themselves plunged into a crisis situation. In order to help individuals and families deal effectively with a crisis they are facing, we need to help them evaluation the crisis, mobilize resources and develop a plan of action. That is the ultimate goal of crisis counseling.

Thus far, we talked about the need to establish a relationship of care and concern with the individual in crisis. Next it is important to boil down the problem to its basic elements. These are essential phases in helping someone handle a crisis. Nevertheless, we need to help them come to a point where they can deal effectively with the crisis in order to arrive at a resolution of the crisis.

The action that a person takes may be to simply make a decision, accept a loss, learn a new skill or find a new job. Taking decisive action that has been thought through carefully is what can lead to personal growth.

Establishing Goals

Once a pastor or other church minister has established a relationship, facilitated the expression of feelings, and helped a person boil down and define the problem, the next task is to establish goals. Since crisis counseling only aims at alleviating symptoms and helping the individual to return to at least their previous level of functioning, setting goals is often relatively simple task.

butterfly2 The aim in crisis counseling is to shift the focus from negative to positive, from problems to goals. Once some overall goals are established, it is important to develop some easy-to-achieve objectives that will move the individual toward problem-solving. If possible, it is good before the first contact ends, to help the person choose at least one specific action that he or she can take. It needs to be something simple such as making an appointment with a doctor for a physical or attending an Al-anon meeting. Having something they can do in order to start moving toward a resolution, can give people a sense of hope.

Taking An Inventory Of Resources

Frequently, people in crisis have difficulty recognizing both the internal and external resources that are available to them to help them deal with a crisis. A pastor can ask individuals what has helped them cope with a crisis in the past? What have they learned from previous experience that they could put to use in the present situation?

External resources can also be helpful to a person in crisis. These include family, friends, church, and community groups. Often people in crisis pull away from those relationships that could give them needed support. There may also be other persons and groups that can provide needed help. It may be necessary to help mobilize people who can provide care for someone in trouble. On many occasions, an individual in crisis may be reluctant to ask others for help or to believe that others would be willing to provide assistance. The person counseling the individual in crisis may need to offer encouragement in this regard.

Formulating Alternatives

checklist Once goals are developed and resources are identified, the minister and the individual or family in crisis can brainstorm alternative ways to deal with the crisis. These alternatives will be geared to achieve the goals that have been established. This process needs to begin with the person, but often the minister will need to suggest actions the person has never considered. Being outside the crisis often enables us to see alternatives that the person in crisis won’t see.

When a list of alternatives has been formulated, its time to weigh each course of action. At this point, it might even be helpful to have a prayer asking for God’s guidance. Actions that are irrelevant or unworkable need to be crossed off the list. Each action is evaluated in terms of it potential effectiveness. After the person has considered the effectiveness of an alternative, the minister might want to offer information from his or her own experience or the experience of others who have faced similar circumstances.

Once the list of alternatives is reviewed, it is important for the person to choose one or two things that will be tried. It is good to press for a commitment to begin doing what has been chosen before the next visit takes place.

Commitment To Action

Arrow After a commitment to a course of action is made, it is crucial that the individual or family follows through on that commitment. This is vital to prevent increased dependency on the helper. Action counters the sense of immobilization that persons in crisis often experience.

A pastor or minister needs to be ready to confront with patience and firmness the resistance that often occurs at this point . Excuses such as “forgetting” or “not having time” are commonly offered. When such resistance is encountered, it must be identified and addressed as soon as it appears. People often need to be reminded that they are free to do something about their problem or not. The counselor can provide assistance in achieving goals, but he or she can’t do it for them.


Rather than being kept to the end, evaluation that reviews and refines goals and action plans is an ongoing process. In the final sessions of crisis counseling it can be very helpful to review what has been learned from dealing with the crisis. Individuals and families can be encouraged to put to use newly-discovered strengths and coping skills when future crises occur.

Follow Up

It is important to follow up on a person or family in crisis. This has the effect of deepening the relationship between the minister and those in crisis and reaffirms the helper’s concern for them. Such follow up can provide an opportunity to deal with the fallout from a crisis. The crisis event may reveal problems that need longer term counseling. Many pastors will use that as an occasion to refer people to someone who offers more long term counseling.


There are three aspects of a situation that may prompt a pastor or other minister to refer someone in crisis right away. They include:

  • Time—The care giver may not have adequate time to deal with a particular person’s crises. For instance, if someone in crises comes to us that day before we are leaving on vacation, we may need to hand them off to someone who can help them while we are gone. Waiting until we return may not provide the immediate response that is required.
  • Skill—We may find ourselves confronted with a situational crisis that goes beyond our level of skill and experience. For instance, dealing with a meth-addict requires an approach that most pastors won’t be able to effectively offer.
  • Emotional Objectivity—We need to honestly access our own emotional objectivity. Our personal experiences may get in the way of our being able to provide that objectivity. If that’s the case, it is best for us to refer the individual or family to someone who can be more objective.

Chess2When making a referral, there are several things to remember:

  • Not everyone will accept the suggestion of referral.
  • Referrals need to be offered in a tactful and concrete way.
  • When uncertain where to refer, contact a mental health professional, a local crisis line or a referral agency.
  • Suggest several referral sources if possible.
  • Except in an emergency, don’t make a referral call on behalf of the person in crisis. It is important that the individual needs to initiate the call.
  • Remember that referral isn’t the first step. First, establish the relationship, listen carefully and then gently and slowly nudge the person toward doing something, including contacting a suggested referral resource.
  • After referring, follow up.

Helping individuals who find themselves overwhelmed by a personal crisis can be a challenging, but rewarding effort. Having a framework to use when dealing with a situational crisis can give us the confidence to offer help to someone who comes to us and can make that chances of successfully negotiating a path through a crisis more likely. When this happens, individuals and families can come out of a crisis stronger that they were before. That’s the hope and the promise of crisis counseling.

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Boiling A Crisis Down To The Essentials

boiling pot The previous post explored what is necessary as we begin to deal with a situational crisis in someone else’s life. It is important make that initial contact where we are able to establish rapport with someone who is seeking help.

The second phase in helping someone deal with a situational crisis is to reduce the problem to its essential elements. We do this by responding and focusing.


In his book, Crisis Counseling, Howard Stone lists several types of response to a crisis that aren’t helpful. Anyone with experience in counseling will recognize these. They include’:

  • Giving Quick Advice—We need to establish a relationship and make sure that we have a good idea of the problem. Furthermore, the individual needs to feel that we have heard them before we begin to even suggest new ways to cope. Most quick advice will go unheeded.
  • Offering False Assurance—Telling people that things will be just fine when we don’t really know that will be the case is not helpful. We want to reassure people, but we need to make sure our reassurances are realistic.
  • Questions—Since questions tend to put people on the spot and can narrow the range of expression, they need to be kept to a minimum. Open-ended questions are normally more helpful than close-ended questions.
  • Judgmental pronouncements—Judgment can often overlook the complexity of a person’s problems. It is only after considerable listening and the establishment of relationship with someone that we may chose to voice our understanding of the ethics of a situation. Even then, what we say needs to be phrased in a tentative manner that communicates gentleness and caring for the person we address.
  • Psychoanalysis—This is best left to those who have that sort of training.
  • Debating Or Arguing—When a person is in crisis, we need to respect their views even when they differ from our own. Getting into an argument will only create distance and will make it unlikely that we can be of help.

girl in window lightEffective responses usually involve active listening. Most pastors have been trained in the skill of offering the simple mirroring response in which the listener tries to put into their own words what they have heard the other person saying. This involves identifying feelings as well as reflecting the content of what has been communicated. This simple skill helps the other person know that we have heard them and that we understand what they are saying. It is also a way to make sure that our understandings are indeed correct. If we have misinterpreted, the person will hear that and will usually give us a needed correction. We need to listen for that as well.

There are several features of an effective response that Stone identifies. They include:

  • Specificity—Avoid being vague or general. Telling someone that they are too emotional isn’t as helpful as to say, “You constant weeping gets in the way of your ability to communicate clearly.”
  • Use Open-ended Questions. Try to frame questions that will require more that a yes or no answer. For instance, “Can you tell me more about what’s been happening in your life lately?”
  • Describe Rather Than Evaluate—Instead of labeling something as “stupid” or “stubborn” for instance, simply stick to describing the feeling that person has expressed.
  • Respond With Immediacy–Try to give immediate feedback, rather than waiting to summarize everything at conclusion of the conversation. Look for openings to offer responses as the conversation unfolds.
  • Brevity—Even as you look for the chance to respond often, keep responses brief. A sentence or two is usually enough.
  • Check For Understanding—By rephrasing what the other person has said, we can let them know we have heard them and allow them to confirm our understanding or correct it if necessary.
  • Pauses—Pauses in the conversation need to be respected. We shouldn’t feel what we need to make sure the conversation flows on without interruptions. A pause can allow a person to reflect on what has been said and allows time to formulate an effective response.


Focus Frequently, individuals will not grasp the impact that the precipitating incident has had on them or others. For this reason the counseling conversation involves an exploration and identification of the threat. Focusing includes: 1) identifying the precipitating event; 2) determining the loss that has occurred or is threatened; 3) becoming aware of the methods and resources the individual has used to try to cope; and 4) recognizing new factors that may have lead to the failure of traditional methods of coping.

As these four elements are explored, the goal is to set aside extraneous data and to work with the person in crisis to  put into words an understanding of what has happened. The crisis is examined from all angles to help the individual grasp the important aspects of the crisis. Once this understanding has developed the person will be ready to move on to the next phase which is to examine alternative methods of dealing with the crisis and choosing one to pursue. In the next post, we look at that phase in more detail.

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