The Counseling Use of Spontaneous or "Flash" Answers

While being a counselor one can often glimpse the tremendous ability of a client's mind to bring to focus exactly the distress and the point of view about that distress which makes it possible for the client to discharge. You can observe this by listening to a client talk in response to any general, invitational question such as "What do you think I should know about you?" or "What are you really like?" or "Will you tell me the story of your life?" Listened to well, the client inevitably arrives at a point in the narrative where discharge spontaneously occurs.

There are also other means of allowing the client's mind the freedom to "guide" the session accurately and spontaneously. The "decisions" which the client's mind reaches under these conditions seem to be very complex and profound although the client will often be unaware of all the factors considered until later. The client's estimate of the counselor's condition and ability are clearly taken into account and the same client will decide on different topics with different counselors.

Using "flash" questions and answers is one such situation. The human mind naturally has tremendous ability to come up with accurate information on a nearly instantaneous basis. Profound calculations and correct judgments and analyses can be elicited this way. The flash answer in a counseling situation, however, is much more precisely what the client needs to say or think at that point in order to discharge.

Almost all of us have used these in some form. "What do you need to say to me? Flash?" "What incident do you need to begin to work on?" "What scene comes to mind?" "What do you need to say to begin getting rid of your cancer?"

An instantaneous response always occurs, but many of us, as clients, have been inhibited and trained to suppress our spontaneous thoughts until we can check them out to see whether they are socially approved or acceptable to the listener. Often patterned censoring circuits have been set up so that we sincerely insist that "we didn't get a thought." As far as the client can tell, he or she didn't, because the censoring pattern occluded it before the person could become aware of it. Sometimes an alternate form of the question will allow the answer to come to awareness.

I don't think there's any question at all that there always is an answer. I have worked for an hour with a client who quite sincerely insisted he did not get any answer to my question and then at the end of the hour heard him say, without any trace of embarrassment, "Well, what I was really thinking was...." This simply meant that he had finally become able to notice what he had been thinking and remember it and talk about it.

The ability to give flash answers improves with practice. Some of the fear which charges up the censoring patterns can abate if the person is first asked a series of unimportant questions. When he or she has become relaxed about saying the first thing that comes to mind and free to say it "no matter how silly," then the answers to important questions have more chances of being noticed.

I find it helpful to eagerly anticipate the answer. I say, "Yes, yes, what was it? What was it? What was that thought? Don't censor it. Don't occlude it." (I'm trying to rush the answer out of the client before the censoring pattern can act.) When the client is able to say the first thought, discharge almost always occurs at once. Sessions can begin productively and run to the end with continuous discharge if this kind of start can be made at the beginning of a session.

There are many variations possible. With clients I am close to I ask them to repeatedly say my name, "Harvey_____," as if they were asking for my attention to something they are going to say and then ask them to go on, saying whatever comes to their mind without any prior preparation. Generally, within two or three tries, what they say is exactly what will begin good discharge on the topic that the client most wishes to discharge on. It's very effective.

It's so very effective because, of course, we're tapping into the client's own enormous ability to know what's going on, to know where the distress is, to know what will make it possible to do something about it.

It will be good as counselor to remember, however, that the "meaning" of the spontaneous or "flash" answer itself is not necessarily any profound truth about the universe, but is "what the client needs to say in order to discharge."

Harvey Jackins



Last modified: 2016-12-20 06:43:20-08