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  • Matt M.

What is Holistic Counseling?

Although I’ve already written a little bit about Holistic Counseling on my Working With Me page, I would like to dive into it a little bit more and explain the process and reasoning behind it.

Holistic Counseling is a method of helping person explore their psyche.

When I say “psyche”, I am primarily talking about your thoughts, your beliefs, and the choices that you are making as a result of those beliefs. Keyword here is choices, as it is the choices you make that cause your suffering.

The end goal of Holistic Counseling is essentially to unearth a belief / choice that is causing a person to suffer. This may not sound like much, but don’t underestimate the power of a belief. Your beliefs colour the way you see the world. If one of your deeper beliefs is “I’m not worthy”, then you will see examples confirming this belief in your daily life. It is important to note that beliefs are just that… beliefs… they are not universal truths.

At the heart of Holistic Counseling is the idea that a person is totally ok as they are. I hesitate to use the word “perfect”, as it may suggest that there’s some ideal “perfection” to ascend to. But it is the opposite of that… you are perfect without the need to do anything to make yourself better. Perfect doesn’t mean that you’re always kind, or perfectly good looking, or some sort of ideal human being. It means that all of your flaws and unique intricacies are ok as they are. There is nothing to do to make yourself “better”.

I believe I had such a difficult time with my own anxiety for so many years is because I held a deep fear of the unknown. Not knowing who I was was very scary for me. This fear resulted in a lot of rumination… trying to figure myself out, wondering who I really am. The ironic thing is trying to figure myself out just caused me more confusion and more anxiety. Things snowballed to the point where I was thinking about this almost 24/7 for a few months straight. I absolutely had to know the answers to all my questions.

See the diagram below. At the centre of the diagram we have your core self. It is perhaps the “weird”, different, strange, unique thing that you are at your core. Then on the outside of that we have some beliefs:

“If I’m intelligent then I’m ok”“If I’m a good athlete I’m ok”“I’m not worthy of love”“There’s something wrong with me”“I need my parents’ approval to feel ok with myself”

The list of potential beliefs – and their reason for being – are endless.

In Holistic Counseling we strive to discover what these beliefs are. What are the beliefs you hold (that are inherently choices to believe), and where do they come from? What keeps you holding on to that belief?

In uncovering the belief and realizing it doesn’t need to be there, we are one step closer to connecting closer to that central core of who you are. Just being who you are without needing to be anything to have worth or justify yourself to yourself. It’s where true happiness lies.

As a Holistic Counselor it’s never my job to tell you anything or to give you advice. For one, every patient is different, and advice for one patient may not be well-suited to another patient. Secondly, the advice may be flat out wrong, or may steer the patient in the wrong direction.

Third and most importantly (I believe at least), is that when I tell a patient something – even though it may seem crystal clear to me – I m robbing the patient of discovering this truth for themselves. I can tell you a million times that you’re “good enough” and it goes in one ear and out the other. Reassurance is temporary.

A quiet mind is a mind that doesn’t require reassurance. I can reassure you of one thing one day and yay you feel great. But tomorrow something hits you and the reassuring words I’ve said disappear, and you need to be reassured all over again. I went through this process myself with psychologists for years and in the end it didn’t really help one bit.

But, when I help you understand yourself, your beliefs, and where they come from and you see discover them on your own it’s a million times more powerful. I like to call these “light bulb moments”.

They’re amazing when they happen and you can see and feel them occur in patients. Something just finally clicks. “Ohhhhh I see now… I see that I don’t need that anymore… I see the choice I’ve been making”.

I’ve had a number of these myself over the years and they’re always amazing when they happen.

To explain further let’s start with an example. Why not start with the belief “I’m not worthy”.

We start the Holistic Counseling session with very open-ended questions. “What brings you in today?”. “What can I help you with today?”. In Holistic Counseling we always start in the present to see how it connects to underlying belief. It greatly helps when a patient can see that how they feel in the present is connected to a deeper belief. Therefore we start in the present, and trace our way back to whatever the root cause is.

After asking the patient how they feel, they respond by saying they’re depressed.

“Tell me about being depressed… what does it feel like?”. “Are there any particular times when it is worse or better?”. “When did it start for you?”

These questions wouldn’t all be asked in succession… they are all just examples of follow-up questions. Notice that one question is “what does it feel like?”. As the counselor I should never assume that your depression is the same as someone else’s. Sure there may be a common or shared feeling amongst people with depression, but you will get vastly different answers asking different people that same question.

Often it takes a while going through this process to get down to the actual belief, which is why sessions usually last about 1.5 hours or so. Patients generally don’t just come in and say “I believe I’m worthless”. It takes some time and skill by the practitioner to safely bring the patients down the rabbit hole of their mind, navigating the winding roads until we settle at the bottom.

Patients will talk and talk without actually answering the question, or will go off on different tangents which aren’t helpful. That’s no fault of the patient at all, but it’s my job to keep things on track and choose my questions carefully so we go down the right path to get to the bottom of things.

While we go down the rabbit hole, questions will often be very specific. What is it specifically about THIS that makes you feel THAT? The word why is never used. Asking people why gets them theorizing. Maybe this, maybe that. I think it’s because, etc. What is a much more concrete question.

For example “I feel nervous talking to more than two people at once”. Asking “why” may get an ok answer, but asking “what” is much better, e.g. “What is it about talking to two or more people at once that makes you nervous?”

Questions are always very specific. I will repeat exactly what you’ve said as you’ve said it.

Asking “what is it about this that makes you feel that” serves to bridge that gap between the feeling and what is beneath that feeling. There is always something there, and we want to tease that out of the patient.

Sometimes a patient will say in response to this “good question”… and that’s always a good sign we’re on the right track. We have gotten the patient thinking which may serve to reveal a belief or thought that wasn’t previously in their conscious awareness. Bringing anything to the light of your consciousness is always a good thing.

As I mentioned in my Working With Me page, Holistic Counseling always goes through the negative. We don’t want to skirt around the truth or beat around the bush… we want to dive right to the bottom of things. A person feels a certain way because there is something beneath that feeling (usually a belief, or a choice) that is causing them to feel that way.

If someone says “I feel insecure around attractive people” we can’t just stop there. We can’t reassure that person that they are also attractive and that everything is ok. Reassurance is temporary and doesn’t lead anywhere meaningful in the long term. If you come in and I just reassure you that you’re ok, then we haven’t gotten anywhere at all.

Rather we go that negative feeling… “what is it like for you to be around attactive people?”, or “what is it about attractive people that makes you feel insecure”, or “tell me about being insecure”, etc. etc. Perhaps after a little digging we find out that this man or woman was praised as a child for their looks and they have come to put all of their self-worth on their looks. If they don’t feel like they’re the most attractive person in the room then they feel worthless. Ah… now we’re getting somewhere.

In going through the negative I may what seem like incredibly stupid question. A patient says “I was constantly scolded by my mother for being different… she would constantly make me cry”. I reply with “What was that like for you?”. Well of course this was an unpleasant and hurtful time for the patient, but it’s my job to tease out the specifics of those feelings from the patient.

In probing further the patient may say “well it made me feel self-conscious, and I pushed the different part of myself away and hid it”. Ok now we’ve hit something huge.

A favourite question, or continuation of mine is “So what…”. “I have bad acne and people always look at it”. I reply with “So what?”. It may sound cold, but it’s a challenge to the patient. So what? So they look at you, so what’s that to you? What does it bring up for you? It’s a good question kind of say… so what’s behind that?

Ok so continuing… when the bottom line belief has been revealed, we change to “transition questions”. Transition questions serve to challenge the patient’s belief. Not only to challenge it, but to make them see that it is only a belief, it is not the truth. It simply feels true because you believe it.

We as people often feel that our truth is the truth. “This is my belief and this how everyone sees it”. It’s difficult to separate yourself from that because it’s the way you experience the world and you’ve been living this way sometimes for many many years. However a belief is just that… a belief, and once we see that we can be free of it.

So moving onto transition questions…

Examples of transition questions are “is that true?”, or “how is that working out for you?”, i.e. how is living your life this way, or how is believing this belief working out for you? The purpose of these questions is to challenge the patient on their beliefs, and to help them realize that they are only beliefs.

Lets go back to our original example of “I’m worthless”. We’ve done some digging and we’ve come to the belief “If I’m not attractive then I’m worthless”. Oftentimes patients’ won’t outright state their beliefs like this, however it will be clear to me (or another counselor) that this is the case, and I will state the belief back to the patient (called reflecting).

Once the patient’s words are reflected back to them, I will ask them if this is accurate. “So in other words your belief is ‘If I’m not attractive then I’m worthless’… is this accurate?”.

When reflecting the patient’s words back to them I will almost always confirm that I’m being accurate. It’s important to have pin point accuracy so both the counselor and the patient are on the same page. As I stated above it’s never my job to assume. If I have something wrong you should correct me. Maybe I’ll be 80% right and you say “no no, it’s more like this”. My reflection has helped to clarify things for you, but you clarify the details. In doing so you may realize yourself some of the intricacies of your belief.

Any details that are clarified are always important… especially if the patient has not been aware of them before. Simply bringing awareness to a previously sub-conscious thought/belief/way of thinking/etc. helps to untangle the sometimes convoluted web in a patient’s mind. Things can be confusing, and when they’re confusing and mysterious they’re more stressful. Now we’ve understood it (or a part of it at least) which helps to release some of the tension in the mind. Nothing further necessarily has to be done… a previous mystery simply entering the conscious mind can be enough for a patient to let things go.

So getting back to the belief: “If I’m not attractive then I’m worthless”.

We ask the patient if that’s true and she says that consciously she knows it’s not true, but she’s not sure what to do about it. So we explore further with some closing questions. Closing questions are designed to finalize what has just been clarified with the patient… to put the nail in the coffin so to speak. As opposed to the more exploratory questions during most of the Holistic Counseling session, these questions are more black and white, finite.

Some examples of closing questions are:

Do you want to keep living that way? Answer = yes or no

Are you ready to let that go? Answer = yes or no

If no:

What’s stopping you from letting that go?OrWhat’s stopping you from changing that idea or pattern?

Answers here can get interesting, but these questions are good at teasing out the final details. The patient may be fearful of a number of things that are holding them back from letting go, and in figuring those out we can finalize the session. Often here it’s because there is a desire to hold on to what is not good for them, even though at this point they know it’s not good for them. Discovering the desire is important to closing the case.

Another question…

What is life going to look like for you now, without that belief?

This helps the patient visualize how their life might look now. If it’s a positive visualization it may help the patient make the decision to move on. If it’s negative it could help to clarify what the road blocks are.

Finalizing things with this patient helps her to understand what’s keeping her hanging on. She doesn’t know who she will be if she’s not attractive. She decides that she’s ok with that… going into the unknown is scary for her, but also exciting and she’s ready to embrace what life will bring on next. It’s a huge release for her to let go of the need to always feel attractive.

I feel like this article is long enough at this point. I wish I could fully explain everything to do with Holistic Counseling, but that would probably take an entire novel to go through. There are many different questions and types of questions we can go through, and many different avenues a Holistic Counseling session can take. But this is at least a good start.

As for what you can expect from an Holistic Counseling session… it’s all on a case to case basis. Some people can have huge breakthroughs in the first session. Some people it takes a little bit longer to untangle the story. Some people are quick at letting go, while others like to take their time… the belief seems more embedded in them, it’s more “sclerotic” and tough to move on from.

I would say at the least you should come out of your first session having a better understanding of yourself, whether there are any major breakthroughs or not. From there I usually give patients 3 to 4 weeks to process what we’ve discussed and then we have a follow up session.

Also I always send you the notes I’ve made during a session for you to review them if you wish. It will have our conversation typed out as well as I am able, with highlights at the important bits.

So long,


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