Ken is a fantastic psychotherapist and life coach. At 77, I’ve been humbled to sit at the feet of this masterful, kind, and compassionate man, learning a trick or two of his along the way. Ken has helped people “Get to the bottom of themselves,” he says, for over fifty years.
“When someone sits down with me,” he says “I generally ask them to tell me about themselves. And, invariably, almost every person asks the question, ‘Well, what would you like to know?’
“This is a very reasonable response. And it’s a hard question to answer. ‘Please tell me about yourself’ is often the first question in a job interview. I don’t wish to make them uncomfortable or defensive. So when I ask this question of my clients, although it’s my attempt at finding out who they are, I leave it open ended. I don’t ask for specifics.
“What I find is people are, at first, very vague, but they initially tell me about their faults or areas of life where they don’t feel they measure up. I sometimes chalk this up to their trying to be humble. But when they continue to be self-critical, I interrupt the process and ask them, ‘Would you tell me three things about yourself you truly like, three things that stand out either in your character or in the things you’re proud of?’ I’m not doing this to get them to brag about themselves, rather to balance out descriptive scales of interpersonal assessment. If a person is going to tell me who they are, the good points are often harder to reach.
“Now,” Ken continued, “if they’re still unable to expand on their good points, I ask for some history, things like ‘Who is your greatest influence, and especially, whom do you consider having been the most kind to you?’
“When I find out the answer to that last question, I ask them, ‘How would that person, the one who has been so good to you, describe you to me? What would they say about you to me if they were sitting right here?’
“That always helps them see the best of who they are.
“But to get to this point,” Ken said, “like I mentioned, at first I ask general things. I ask what brought them to my office, then expand into more personal things to get an autobiographical look into who they are, and who they think they are.
“I’ll give you an example,” said Ken. “One time, a guy came into my office and, after he told me why he was there, I asked him to tell me a little bit about himself. He said, ‘Why do you want to know about me? Sooner or later you’re to find out that I’m just a big nobody, and that whatever I tell you will evoke the same reaction as everybody else. I’m just a cog in the wheel of the universe. I’m a big nothing.’
“Well, I immediately understood why he came to see me, and I couldn’t help but feel badly for this man. So I asked a second question, hoping I would elicit a better response. ‘Can you tell me one person that you know that really loves you or appreciates you?’
‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘my Mom.’
“I then asked him, ‘Could you describe yourself as if your mother was describing you? I mean, on a day that you haven’t gotten in trouble?’ That brought a smile to his face. After apologizing profusely over the words he was about to say, making sure I knew that these were words his mother would say, not necessarily how he would describe himself, he embarked on a fifteen minute description about who he was, beginning in his childhood, bringing himself to the past year.
“At the end of this description, he stopped for at least a minute. He looked out my window, looked back at me and said, ‘You know, I didn’t realize I knew all that stuff about me. I mean, I think I’m better than I thought.’ ”
Ken looked at me and said, “To know yourself will translate into loving yourself. So, to learn to know yourself, refer to those who have known you with affection. Your opinion of yourself will improve.”
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