3 Ways of Using Perspective Taking in therapy


two-315913_1280Perspective taking, which relies on deictic framing, is one of the most powerful ways of using language in therapy. When we adopt a different point of view, we can see things differently and also notice new things. For this reason, perceptive taking can help increase clients’ awareness of key elements of their experience. It can also help them become more curious and open to new ways of approaching a given issue. We can invite clients to shift perspective along three dimensions: interpersonal (e.g. “If what happened to you had happened to your best friend, what would you advise her to do?”), spatial (e.g. “If you were sitting there, what would you see?”) and temporal (e.g. “Two weeks from now, looking back at what you have done during this time, what would you like to have accomplished?”).

Here are three examples of using perspective taking in therapy that you can apply in different areas of your clinical work:

1: Increase clients’ awareness of psychological experiences

Clients often have difficulties observing or describing emotions, sensations, and thoughts. You can invite them to take a different perspective on these experiences, which will help them gain insight without feeling pressured to find a right answer. For example, you may ask, “If you were one of the people who saw you have this panic attack, what would you have seen? What facial expressions or gestures would you have noticed, for example?” or “One hour from now, as you remember our session, what do you think you will remember feeling while we were talking about this topic?”

2: Develop clients’ self-compassion

A typical issue therapists often need to address is their clients’ lack of compassion for themselves. For example, people who have been exposed to a highly critical environment in their childhood may have internalized these criticisms, so it becomes difficult for them to experience positive feelings toward themselves. In order to help them develop self-compassion, you can invite them to take the perspective of a person who is kind toward them (e.g. “If you were your best friend, what would you want to say to yourself right now?”). If expressing kindness toward themselves seems impossible at this point, you can invite them instead to imagine a person they care about in the situation they are currently going through (e.g. “If your daughter told you she is a bad person, what would you want to tell her?”).

3: Help clients connect with a meaningful source of satisfaction

Clients can struggle to identify things they care about in their lives, especially if they are depressed. In these cases, simply asking what is important to them might not be effective because these sources of meaningful satisfaction are too distant to be noticed or remembered. You can help clients discover or reconnect with something they care about by inviting them to take a different perspective in time (e.g. “Let’s go back to a time when you found life enjoyable. What were you doing at that time?”) or to adopt the point of view of another person (e.g. “If I asked your partner, how would s/he describe what is important to you?”) . You can also encourage them to observe what other people seem to enjoy as a step toward identifying what might be meaningful to them (e.g. “Who is the most inspiring person you know? What is their life about?” or “Who was a role model for you when you were young? What made this person so special to you? What made you want to be like this person?”).

To learn more about perspective taking in relational frame theory, checkout:

McHugh, L. & Stewart, I. (2012). The Self and Perspective Taking: Contributions from Modern Behavioral Science. Oakland: New Harbinger.