This originally appeared in the book, The First Kiss: Undoing the Intake Model and Igniting First Sessions in Psychotherapy, Chapter 19. “What is Your View of the Problem?”
“Curiosity never killed the cat.” ~ Journalist and writer, Studs Terkel
Perspective taking is never as powerful as perspective getting. Too often we ask questions that fuel our perspective taking, and then we formulate some abstract conceptualisation of the person and the problem. Our perspective taking is often limited. Here’s what Nicholas Epley, author of Mindwise has to say:
The weakness of perspective taking is obvious: it relies on your ability to imagine, or take, the other person’s perspective accurately. If you don’t really know what it’s like to be poor, in pain, suicidally depressed, at the bottom of your corporate ladder, on the receiving end of waterboarding, in the throes of solitary confinement, or to have your source of income soaked in oil, then the mental gymnastics of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes isn’t going to make you any more accurate. In fact, it might even decrease your accuracy.
Ask your clients, “What is your view of the problem?” “From your perspective, how do you think the problem developed? What do you think caused it?” “What is that like for you?”
(For a related topic, see the previous blog, It’s Not about You.)
For this to work, put down your therapist hat. Think like a journalist. Our clinical training might be to blame. We tend to equate training our empathy skills with learning to “put yourself in the person’s shoes.” Instead, as Roman Krzanaric wrote in his book Empathy, the most potent form of empathic introspection is outrospection. And to have outrospection, we need to learn perspective getting. Never fail to ask clients perspective getting questions at the first session.
 “The weakness of perspective taking is obvious…” from the Mindwise book, p. 168. Epley, N. (2014). Mindwise: How we understand what others think, believe, feel, and want. Great Britain: Penguin Group.
 Krznaric, R. (2014). Empathy: Why it matters, and how to get it. Great Britain: Random House Group.
Thanks to Bud Helisson for the image.