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Counselling and “the space between”

counselling gambling Yarraville“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” Victor Frankl


We love this statement here at Focus.


This statement from Viktor Frankl teaches us that even if we feel we don’t have a choice, we do. It is in the ‘space’ that growth is acquired. Upon choosing lies responsibility and autonomy. It encapsulates so much of the work that we do as counsellors. When Josette works with children who exhibit challenging behaviours, this is the space she works in. When I work with people battling an addiction, this is the space I work in.


The space may seem brief to those experiencing it, but as counsellors we work with our clients to help them identify that space. When the space is identified, clients can start to slow down their automatic responses.

How does this work in practice?

Consider this example of Roberta, who is battling an addiction to gambling. Although she wants to curb her gambling habit, on her way home from work she finds herself driving to the pokies as if on autopilot. She experiences this as not having a choice; her body has suddenly acted on a desire to gamble. But in examining this with her counsellor, Roberta realised that she had felt angry and frustrated after a run-in with a colleague at work that day and as a result had an unpleasant physical sensation in the pit of her stomach. She realised that whenever she felt that physical sensation in her body she would feel a strong urge to gamble, as it provided her system with a rush of dopamine that made that unpleasant sensation go away. As she had acted on that urge so many times in the past, she had come to experience her reaction as being instant, and she felt as though she was out of control.


Roberta’s awareness grew over the course of counselling. She began to notice the role her body played and became more attuned to her reactions. Where she once felt she acted on autopilot, she now experiences the space between the stimulus and response, and uses her new strategies to resist the urge to gamble.


Next time you feel that you don’t have a choice we invite you to consider the ‘space’ between.