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Wired magazine has a video series where they get experts from various domains to explain complicated concepts—from blockchain to machine learning, music harmony to sleep—in 5 different levels:

Musician Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty ft. Jacob Collier & Herbie Hancock | WIRED

23-year-old musician, composer and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier explains the concept of harmony to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college stud…

Scientist Explains Sleep in 5 Levels of Difficulty | WIRED

Sleep scientist Aric A. Prather, PhD, is challenged to explain the topic of sleep to 5 different people; a child, a teen, a college student, a grad student, …

Computer Scientist Explains Machine Learning in 5 Levels of Difficulty | WIRED

WIRED has challenged computer scientist and Hidden Door cofounder and CEO Hilary Mason to explain machine learning to 5 different people; a child, teen, a co…

What’s really interesting is to listen carefully how they explain these concepts at varying degrees of complexity. For example:

  1. To an expert
  2. To a grad
  3. To a college student
  4. To a teen, and
  5. To a child.

The ability to explain things in both succinct and elarboative ways is a real skill, not just in terms of the depth of knowledge, but also a sense of clarity and empathy for who the listener is.

Why is this important for therapists?

What has this got to do with you? Why is this important for your work in the helping profession?

  1. Clarity:
    Besides the practice of brevity, it’s also an exercise of clarity. If you are not clear on what you are doing, how would you expect your clients to be?
    Bruce Wampold provides a useful thought experiment. “If someone walks into the room in the middle of therapy and asks the client, ‘what are you doing? How is this helping you?” Would the client be able to respond?” Wampold asks. ” Would the therapist be able to articulate what he’s doing?”

  2. Elaboration:
    There is a skill of being able to not only explain things clearly and concisely, but elaborating on the nesting of ideas within your mental models is just as important.
    A kind of mental blueprint represented in your mind would be helpful when you need to covey a sense of direction of where therapy is going, and the types of challenges that might be up ahead.
    This is not a crystal ball prediction. Rather, it is an exercise of getting clear your mental blueprint.

  3. Teach It to Learn It
    This adage is helpful. Often, the one person in training that learns the most is the one teaching the class.


Here’s some exercises to get you going on improving your ability to have clarity of intentions and development of the mental models that guide you as a practitioner of the healing endeavor:

  1. “What is Your Intent?”
    My clinical supervisor used to stop our group midway watching a therapy recording and she would turn to the therapist and say, “What’s your intent?”
    “Erm… my what?”
    “(Smiles) What made you ask that about her past experience?”
    “I see… I asked about that because…” (I started to fill in “my intent” after the fact.) “Actually, the truth was that I was just filing up the gaps in our conversation. I didn’t know where else to go?”We need to get clear on our intent, moment-by-moment, as well as the larger theme of therapy.In order to be therapeutic, we have to be intentional. It is not just waht you say, but where you are coming from.The exercise here is in the moment-by-moment dialogical exchange with your client. Ask yourself,
    “Where am I going with this?”
    “Is this a shared intention?”As a post-hoc exercise, watch your therapy recordings. Pause at regular intervals and ask yourself, where was I going? What was my intent at asking that question earlier?

  2. Explain What You Do in Therapy
    Like the videos above, explain what you do
    i. to a colleague
    ii. to a lay person
    iii. to a child.Don’t just reply on what the textbook says about CBT, Schema or mindfulness. Use your own words. Rely on analogies and metaphors, as they are bridges for common understanding.
    Vary your lengths of explanation.
    In each of the 3 versions, try to do one with rich elaboration, and one that is in 2-3 sentences.

  3. Your Blueprint
    Finally, sit down and design a blueprint explaining how you do what you do. Write, draw, mindmap it, and talk it out loud. Your aim here is to communicate as clearly as possible to someone who is wanting to be your apprentice.
    Even if you are a rookie in this profession, it is an important exercise. This “Teach It” exercise is more for you and less about getting someone under your wing.

Participants in our Deliberate Practice Web-Based Workshop find this exercise of developing their therapy blueprint a challenging and also highly rewarding. My suggestion for you to keep a few pages in your digital or analog notebook for this, and keep revisiting it from time to time to flesh it out. There are large hints from Exercise #2. above that can be added into your blueprint.

Figuring out ways to explain what you do in therapy requires skill. A clarity of intent, varying the depths of elaboration and the ability to convey the message meaningfulness is something worth harnessing.

p/s: Learn to explain your intent, but don’t become an explainoholic.

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