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Bob Stahn
Feb 18, 2010

The Miracle List

Some brief therapy techniques have helped my practice to become much more efficient. The one I use the most is the “Miracle” list that I create with my clients in the first or second session. This is how I introduce the concept: “I’d like you to envision a miracle. And the miracle is that suddenly (because you wake up or you sneeze or something) your life has become perfect. It is exactly as you would like it to be. Then, how would you know that the miracle happened? What would be different so that you knew that the miracle indeed happened?”

I then list each item my clients identify. I write each of the “miracle” items, one per line, in the present tense of what would be (as opposed to what wouldn’t be) and in a way that my clients have control over achieving the items (i.e., “I feel happy”). I also mention to them that we can add items to the list anytime they want to do so.

After the list has been made, I ask four rating (1-10 scale, 1 low and 10 high) questions of them: “How much do you want this miracle?” (Not is it feasible or who has to do what or how much time it will take. I am simply asking about “want.”) “How much confidence do you have that this miracle is actually possible?” (Not probability or likelihood, just “possibility.”) “How willing are you to do your part to make this miracle happen?” (Not a guarantee or commitment, just “willingness.”) And finally, “If 1 represents the worst your life has been concerning these items and 10 means that the miracle has been achieved, where are you today?” (After I have received a number from them I then ask them what they have done to bring them from a “1” to where they are today. It helps my clients to realize it was not because of circumstance or what someone else has done—they did it. They have the power to improve themselves and make their lives better.)

Then I ask about who has the control to make each item happen (if I have written them well, nearly all of the items will end up being in the control of my client). I then ask the clients to rate where each item is today in order to give us a baseline from which to work. I then summarize what we have done—where the control lies in order for each item to be accomplished; each of the rating numbers indicating their desire, the possibility of it being accomplished, their willingness, and their progress already. I add my observation of the strengths they possess that they have shown me already and my confidence in them being able to achieve this miracle.

My clients generally leave this session feeling empowered and encouraged knowing that their “miracle” is actually possible to achieve and they are already on their way to getting it.I close the session by giving them homework (to be completed by the next session) of keeping their eyes on the miracle; doing what they know how to do already; and, bring to the next session what they don’t know how to do and most want to learn how to do. (That item will be the focus of our next session.)

This “miracle” list serves several purposes. 1) It identifies very clearly for the clients and for me what the client’s goals of counseling are—it removes the guesswork for us both. Some clients believe they don’t know what they want, but by completing this list, they prove to themselves that they indeed do know very specifically what they want. 2) It empowers my clients so they see that each item is either within their control or it is not something we are going to spend any time on in session because it would be a waste of time. 3) It identifies for them what they want, not just what they don’t want. It helps them to be focused on, and trying to achieve, the positive, not trying to avoid the negative in their lives. 4) The clients can take home with them a copy of the list and post it in a conspicuous place as a reminder to stay focused on their wants. This list gives the clients something tangible to keep in their view, day after day. 5) The list gives us a starting point from which to gauge the clients’ progress. We can rate their progress every few sessions in order to help them see how far they have come since last recording and since the beginning of our time together. 6) If the clients come in without any particular item on which to work, I look at the “miracle” list and refresh their memories of what they initially identified. After reading the list, if there is an item on the list that jumps out at them or one that we have not yet addressed, it is a wonderful option for us to consider for that session. 7) By updating the ratings on this “miracle” list it shows the clients and me when they are nearing completion—there aren’t any surprises for them or for me.

This brief therapy tool has helped me be more efficient and successful. My clients have expressed appreciation for having this concrete device to help them progress and stay focused on their therapy goals. The impact that this one tool has had on my clinical practice has been, nearly, miraculous!

Bob Stahn has a general counseling practice. He specializes in relationship counseling and most recently PTSD and trauma.

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