Whether you’ve been asked for help by a friend or are being paid by a client, helpfulness is based on being only one step ahead of a person who’s stuck. If you’re seeing way down the road, good for you: you have a gift there ‑ but it may not be helpful. Someone who is stuck only needs to know the immediate next step. Long-range strategies may be overwhelming.
John is a good listener, and an effective therapist. His client Bob trusted him, and they had been making some progress with Bob’s sense of general boredom and chronic depression. Referral didn’t seem indicated. One symptom was chronic over‑sleeping; Bob felt so discouraged by his job situation, that only his wife could get him going in the morning, and she was growing more and more irritable about being locked into this role.
John felt he had located a step for Bob to take: a class at the local community college in computer programming. (The brightest spots in Bob’s otherwise boring workdays were moments when he could solve a problem in the creaky software that plagued the whole office.) But Bob just couldn’t get motivated to act on the idea.
One day, Bob arrived brighter than usual. In the two weeks since their last session, he had been waking up without his wife’s nagging. He was encouraged — but not by registering for a computer class. His wife had bought him a new clock‑radio, and he had programmed it to his favorite radio station.
The Tale Wagged
I don’t know if Bob took further steps out of his malaise. But I do know he took one effective step, and it was a very simple and mundane step indeed.
Sometimes wives, mothers — and even daughters — seem better at sensing The Next Step than most men. Men (like me) are always grasping for the Big Picture, but my wife just takes the next step. And then the next step. And the next.
More than that sometimes looks suspiciously like “playing God”.