Rabbit-holes, Land Mines, and Red Herrings


I just ‘picked up’ (i.e. downloaded) a new book called Principles of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Learning the Essential Domains of Nonlinear Thinking of Master Practitioners by Mozdzierz, Peluso, and  Lisiecki.

I’ve been slowly working away at this text book sized volume.  I bought it because my framework for my previous job does not seem to fit as smoothly as I thought it would.  I need to refocus my understanding and am doing this by returning to basics- but with an emphasis on nonlinear thinking.

I have been in my new role as therapist/case manager for the past 4 months now.  I have to remind myself that in my work with more chronic clients that change is very slow, if not, in a haphazard mix between relapse and realization.

One phrase that really hit home was encountering “rabbit holes, land mines, and red herrings.”   Red Herrings- what may seem like real issues but don’t really have to do with the client’s needs.  Land mines- “so emotionally explosive you will not want to step on it twice”.  Rabbit-holes the long eternal struggles or stories that people extoll that do not produce forward movement.

Many of my clients have indirectly said “no” “I’m not ready” or “not that” by these tried and true human strategies of rabbit-holes, red herrings, and landmines. I’m slowly gaining understanding and experience to navigate these waters.  Landmines are my challenge right now: I feel challenged and frustrated when clients who tell me  the same story each time, with little improvement in resolution.

This book categorizes “rabbit-holes” as situations where you need to listen for absence.   Absence is not only when little is said but also evident when too much is said.

I feel that I have not been that successful in effectively working with “Rabbit-holes”.  To counteract I have asked the client about other stories other than the one described (distraction to focus on building anxiety coping skills, CBT, mindfulness, etc.).

This book later describes using a nonlinear response.  The authors note that sometimes not responding is the best approach, whereas at other times it is a matter of timing in stopping the client to reflect.  When avoidance is brought up it should be done tactfully, and with kind curiosity (Columbo Approach).  For example “I could be wrong but…” , “I’m confused could you help with with this”.  These comments are best placed on the process rather than engaging the content.

This approach requires a lot of patience, understanding, and true curiosity with compassion.  I admit, that I need some more fine-tuning in this department to walk that fine balance between avoiding the avoidance of the client by continuing to listen without intervening, addressing it in a tactful way, and gently changing topic.

What is your experience with rabbit-holes, land mines and red herrings?