For counselees who have difficulty standing up for themselves (especially those stuck in the Dependent personality disorder), the book-stacking technique is effective for strengthening a counselee’s courage to say “no” to other people’s undue requests or expectations.
You can help buttress their courage by asking them what they think Paul meant when he said, "I am not seeking to win the approval of people, but of God" (Gal 1:10).
The Book-Stacking Technique
Ask the counselee to stand in front of you with arms extended and palms up. You load them up one by one with several books, saying as you do so, “This represents all the burdens people lay on you without considering how heavy they are.” Once the counselee is loaded to capacity, you say, “Now while you are feeling the weight of these burdens, tell me what you are aware of.”
Compliment them on any descriptions they offer, and if they miss certain obvious qualities, prompt them with, “What about your body? How does it feel right now when you’ve accepted all of these jobs?” Or, “Can you form a plan in your mind to say ‘no’ to the next person who wants to add another book?”
After waiting for another minute so that the impact of the load can sink into the psyche, you reverse the process by saying, “Okay, each time you tell me to remove a book I will. This will represent you standing up to a person and telling them that you can no longer accept assignments that belong to them.”
Here you will hit a temporary therapeutic impasse, because the counselee will not want to disappoint anyone’s hope or risk their ire. But keep coaching them, so they can successfully assert themselves to remove the books. “Go ahead now, and tell me to remove the first book.”
|Learning to Be Assertive|
If the counselee complies in a mousey voice, you stop the technique and say something like, “I noticed that you barely whispered that request for me to take a book away. If I were a manipulative person I wouldn’t respond. Try putting some gusto into your voice and demand that I remove the book.”
The counselee does so, and you remove the book.
“That was good assertion. Now ask again and really mean it.”
The counselee does so with even more firmness and you remove another book.
“Excellent,” you say, “I’m really starting to believe you. Now for the last two books, try actually enjoying your assertion and feeling the relief of not having to carry these books anymore.”
The counselee does so and you remove both books. The two of you laugh and sit back in your seats.
“I want to compliment you for doing a great job asserting your reasonable rights,” you say.
“It was hard at first, but I think I’m getting the idea that the world doesn’t come apart at the seams if I say ‘no.’”
“I wonder if for homework this week you might practice some assertion when you feel it is appropriate? Next week we can talk over what happens.”
“Yes, I’d like to. And I’m saying that because I mean it!”
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