Frontiers of Psychotherapist Development

At the Bleeding Edge of Development, Reaping Benefit for Our Clients.

Tag: training

I Get the Goose Bumps…

I get the goose bumps when I hear the type of questions discerning therapists raise at my workshops.

FPD Focused Questions

Participants reflecting on their questions regarding their professional development

It strikes me every time not only because these are the questions I’ve been pondering about for awhile now, but also because of how universal these questions are.

Here’s what I’m discovering: 
When we provide a space for a focused inquiry [1], we create an opportunity to ponder, search, reflect. We step into a deeper sense of focus on the right questions, as we resist the urge for a quick answer.


“You know, if you know the answer, but you don’t know the question you are in a bad way. But if you have questions, you will find answers.”
~ Salvador Minuchin, 2000


Here are some of the examples of actual questions psychotherapists, counsellors, and other mental health professionals like you ask:

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Our Real Work

Our Real Work

“…In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” ~Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, p.32


What is our real work?

It’s easy to think that the role of a psychotherapist is to treat a person or help our clients change. Indeed, that may be the outcome we hope for. But it’s not the work that we need to put in.

Our real work is not to treat a person. We conflate the outcome we desire with the work that we need to put in, in order to get that outcome.

Our real work is more like a gardener than a builder. 

A builder builds, and when that’s done, the work is done. A gardener lays the ground work, and waits for the seeds to grow. A builder’s work is finite. A gardener’s work is never done. She continues to tend to the plants, nurtures and prunes its branches.


Like a gardener, a therapist real work is in the pre-work. 

It’s what we do outside of the therapy hour,

in order to get better at what we do in the ritual of therapy.

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How Do You Get Better at Receiving Feedback?



“How was your meal sir?”

“Fine, thanks.” I lied.

Five minutes into the meal, the waitress comes back to me. She’s wondering why I haven’t touched my pasta one bit since she last enquired.

“Erm, your meal going ok?”

“Yes, it’s fine.” I feel for the leading question. I smiled, and returned to my conversation with my two friends.

The truth is, the pasta was so salty that I couldn’t continue without numbing my mouth. But I couldn’t be bothered. I was planning to wash it down with a cup of coffee later, and continue my conversation.

This time, she’s bold. She stepped into the fire and asked me again, “Sir, is everything ok?”

I thought to myself, man, she’s persistent. I gotta hand it to her. Maybe I should just tell her.

“Actually, since you asked me for the third time. I have to say,  Frankly, I don’t think I’m a fussy eater, but the pasta is so salty I can’t eat anymore of it.”

In a million years, I couldn’t have guessed her reply. She came up with a one-liner. In fact, it was just two letters.

“Oh,” she said.

Bypassing the awkward silence, she stepped one foot back, and inched away. We couldn’t believe what just happened. I’m a hopeful guy. I waited to see if she might return with  a replacement, indulge me in a tiramisu  cake to sweeten my tooth from the numbing sensation in my mouth, or maybe even waive the cost of that half eaten dish.

None of that happened.

If you ask for feedback, you got to learn to receive it. Period.

Another time, at a phone centre in Singapore, this customer service personnel blatantly said to me, “Bro, everything’s good (with the service) right?”

“Erm,” I said.

“Hey, don’t mind, please give me a good feedback rating here (pointing to the form) please.”

For once I manned up, and said no. It just doesn’t make sense. He was asking for my help, not my feedback. He wasn’t very please with me thereafter.


Feedback is tough. In the process of writing their book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most, authors Doug Stone and Bruce Patton realised that most people found it the most difficult giving and receiving critical feedback.

We expect our clients to give us just their honest feedback about the session, and we expect ourselves to enter into potential landmines with open arms. What we really need to learn is the fundamentals of being a good feedback elicitor and receiver, with all the good, the bad and the ugly that comes with it.

Look at your personal library.  Do you own a book that teaches you to be a good receiver of feedback?  I recommend you check out Stone and Patton’s 2014 book “Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well” It’s not a psychotherapy book. In fact, I think therapists should do their best to read outside of the jargon-laden therapy world to widen your lens and speak a common language.

I once heard a therapist say to a client who was mad at her for making her feeling interrogated with a barrage of questions, “Thank you so much for your feedback. It must take so much courage to say what you said.” On the surface, it sounds ok to say that. It’s polite. It’s what we are taught to say.

Lets face it. Is it easy to take negative feedback from you client? No. Is is pleasant? Hell no. Then I think we should be honest and simple say that. “You know, I must admit, this is hard to take in. I’m trying to digest what you are saying… because this is important… What you are saying is that I’ve interrogated you, bombing you with questions after questions. It’s hard for me to admit… but you are right. Instead of helping you,  I’ve made you feel like a criminal, when you have don’t nothing wrong…. I’m sorry. I’ve let you down today. Again, it’s tough to hear this, but thanks for telling me.”

Supervisors can also highly benefit from digging deep into learning about how to elicit and receive feedback. It’s easy to take for granted the collegial bond, and expect supervisees to vocalise their concerns when the need arises. I argue, that because of the relationship, it can be even harder in a supervisory context than in a therapy.

The authors of Thanks for the Feedback points out three key triggers that can set us off when we receive critical feedback:

  1. Truth Triggers: When something we deny or disagree with. It makes us feel indignant;
  2. Relationship Triggers: Think about how your dad can say something that makes you explode, but when your trusted coach say the exact same thing you take it as good advice. Who matters more than the What, and
  3. Identity Triggers: This gets personal. It shakes the core of you. “We feel overwhelmed, threatened, ashamed, or off balance” by the feedback. (Has that happened to you before? I’m no stranger to this. It hurts.)

Stone and Patton offers some suggestions of dealing with such triggers. For truth triggers, they suggest learning to separate appreciation, coaching, and learning to see your blindspots. For Relationship triggers, they suggest separating the We from What. Finally, for identity trigger, they suggest learning to challenge our pre-existing assumptions and cultivating a growth (vs. fixed) mindset (ala Carol Dweck’s philosophy). (See their book for further elaboration)

That’s all well and good. I think what matters most is not just having these content knowledge, but we need to learn how to explicitly receive and respond to critical feedback.

To whet your appetite, check out Doug Stone’s interview about the book on The Art of Manliness podcast (Ladies, I assure you that you’d find is not an exclusive gender bias podcast). Around the last 10mins of the interview with Brett Mckay, listen to an example Doug gives about men’s lack of attention to women.)

Doug rightly points out,

“One of the most difficult conversations people have is to give and receive negative feedback “

Maybe someone should have taught the waitress on how to follow-through after asking for feedback. She missed a huge opportunity. I don’t blame her. She had the courage but not the skills yet.

Ask, and be ready to receive.

Stay tuned for the next post on the why the difference between performance feedback and learning feedback matters to your development.


Daryl Chow, Ph.D.

Guess who’s the king of feedback?



Three Types of Knowledge, and Why This Matters in Psychotherapy

Card trick (smaller)

Information does not equal to transformation.

When I was in secondary school, I had a good friend who seem to morph every time we return from our month-long school holidays. For the rest of us, we came back with grandiose updates about girlfriends – factitious or not – the latest music we’ve heard, and other raving topics. Every cycle of return to school in January and July, most of us were pimple-ridden with awkwardness. Herman had the acne, but was focused and hard-pressed for an audience.

Herman was different. He wasn’t the coolest kid. In fact, he was scrawny, somewhat of an oddball, and didn’t quite fit in. Every holiday that he came back from, he would use us as guinea pigs to test out his latest magic trick. And it was usually a flop. Cards fall of his hands, coins did not reappear as it should. And of course, this was met with testosterone mockery. At least for the start.

But after a few more vacations, we were floored. He almost seemed like he came from an apprenticeship with Houdini. His close-up card tricks became seemingly flawless. He even had our teachers pop in between classes, gasped in amazement.

As it seems, in every class, they would always be at least one smart Alec. This person repeatedly tried to call our Herman’s bluff. “Ah ha!! I saw that. You are cheating!”

What do you expect, smart Alec? Real Magic?

Here’s the thing: as noted by Seth Godin in his book Tribe, citing the great magician Jamy Ian Swiss, it’s easy to figure out how a trick is done, but the real difficult part is to develop the art of doing it. Knowing how a magic trick is done does not make you a magician. (For a good example on this, check out the magic competition TV program, Penn & Teller: Fool Us show).

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