Assess the Childs Existing Abilities

What skills does the child already possess that would help him or her move toward the therapeutic goal? What are the child's capabilities, and how might these be employed to reach his or her desired outcome? My reason for putting these questions first is that it seems useful, pragmatic, and efficient to use the skills and abilities a child already possesses than to start the arduous task of creating new ones from the beginning. This is a process that Milton Erickson described as utilization, and has been expounded upon by Duncan, Miller, and Coleman (2001); Revenstork (2001); and Yapko (2003)—but it is still well summarized in Erickson's own words as, "[e]xploring a patient's individuality to ascertain what life learnings, experiences, and mental skills are available to deal with the problem . . . [and] then utilizing these uniquely personal internal responses to achieve therapeutic goals" (Erickson & Rossi, 1979, p. 1).

Marty was a 10-year-old boy whose mother expressed concern he wasn't eating a sufficient variety of food—takeaways, bread, potatoes, and sweets were his whole diet. When I talked with Marty he said he was scared to try new foods. When I asked what things he liked doing and thought he was good at, he said riding his bike. He had a BMX bike that he rode competitively and did tricks with, so he already possessed an ability to get on top of scary feelings. By metaphorically talking about how he'd overcome previous fear—such as when he first rode a tabletop or jumped a set of whoopee-do's, or when he tried a new trick like sliding his grinders down the bar at the skate park—he learned to generalize that ability to overcoming his fear of eating new or different foods.

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