The Power of The Clinical Compliment

We all like to receive compliments. That makes them powerful.

When Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer developed solution focused therapy, they molded compliments into a potent clinical intervention. Let me tell you how the clinical compliment is different from the social compliment. A social compliment is a comment about a general fact or quality of another person. “What a pretty blouse.” Or, “You’re so smart.”

A clinical compliment is:

(1) a statement to another person

(2) about a specific action they took that was

(3) new and better than past actions and

(4) caused or represented a change in their personality that

(5) made them more well.

The way to make sure your compliment refers to a specific action is to mention the time and place it occurred. So rather than saying, “You are getting much stronger with your parents,” you would say, “Remember that time three weeks ago out of the marina when you told your mother you wouldn’t come over any more if she ignored your girlfriend?” This statement is about a specific action that took place in the specific place on a specific date. We call this making the compliment concrete instead of abstract.

Next, we established that it is new and better. You might say, “You’ve been in therapy for a year and in that time I’ve only known you to be submissive to your mother. But that time, you were a lion. You roared.” This statement also states that the action caused or represented change in the personality. It told the person they had been “submissive” in the past but now we’re big and bold as a lion.

But, does this make them more well?

To ensure the power of the compliment to help your patient’s wellness, you would say something like this: “Since you stood up to her I’ve been watching you. I feel that you’re carrying yourself with more confidence.” To have more confidence is to be more well. 

Finally, we bring in the compliment itself. We stated our respect and esteem for the action. This makes it personal. This helps it travel to the heart. To do this we must make it personal.

Therapists have a real problem stating personal feelings as our objective fact. This is assuming the role of expert which is far less effective than a statement of personal feelings. 

So instead of saying in an authoritative way, “You did very well with your mother,” you would say, “I’m very impressed with the way you stood up to your mother; it makes me feel very excited about your future.” 

And finally you would ask the person if they let the compliment “into their heart.” That is where it can help the person to continue to change by raising their self-esteem and identifying with their strength rather than their past failures.