I was talking to a friend who is doing a Counselling Course. They had been working in groups and she remarked that the phrase ‘Are you OK with continuing with this?’ was a really helpful thing to say to a client who was seeming quite tearful and overwhelmed.

And then we started to think of the alternatives. Clearly ‘Do you need to stop for a while?’ was not so good as it offered the option of stopping at a point that might have proved a significant breakthrough. But the Counsellor might have just nodded to show empathy, could have handed the client a tissue, or could have passed her a glass of water. All would have seemed supportive. Or she could have asked ‘Are you alright?’ or said ‘this is making you unhappy’, ‘you’re doing well’, ‘mmmnnn’ – as we were talking it seemed as if there was almost an infinite range of responses, and each might have had a slightly different consequence. And once you have chosen one – you can never be sure that another response might or might not have been better.

It is important to remember this. If I say the word Green – I might have in my head the colour of Grass and you might be thinking of Harrods green. If it really matters, I can check with you exactly what shade you are hinking of. But if I use the word ‘frightened’ or ‘love’ you may not understand it in the way I am saying it. I might mean ‘ frightened ‘ as anything from ‘terrified’ to ‘anxious’ [think of a reaction to snakes or spiders’ ; I could use ‘love’ meaning my reaction to anything from my Dad to chocolate. Unless I am clear and check that we both are talking the same language, we could have problems.

And if this ismportant when talking to adults, it is even more important when talking with children. English particularly has an enormous vocabulary with words that mean similar-but-not-the-same [plump, fat,chubby, bonny, well-rounded are similar but imply slightly different concepts]. During any important conversations, we need to be sure that we say and hear the same things. If not, there is scope for general confusion.

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