by Catriona Futter
How impetuous a person are you? How often do you find yourself making an impulsive decision that you later go on to regret? That might be true for you, or it might be an experience you have coached a client through.
What if before you acted, you were able to HALT?
An enticing offer presents itself that you know objectively that you would like to refuse. It might be an extra cake rather than a healthy snack or remaining on the sofa rather than going out for some exercise. Perhaps it is looking up that website that you know is not good for you, but the temptation is so strong. Maybe you open your mouth and yell at one of your family in a moment of frustration triggered by some minor irritation.
Despite your best intentions, you self-sabotage and make a bad decision. We might think of clients who have set themselves action steps that are in line with their values and motivations but continue to self-sabotage. On further questioning, it becomes clear that the bad decision was in fact an attempt to meet an un-met need.
This is where HALT can be a useful tool to help clients stop before making that rash decision and look more objectively at what is really going on. That awareness then creates space to make different choices rather than that impulsive decision.
The acronym HALT stands for Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired.
It is a popular tool used in addiction and recovery work and is thought to have originated from Alcoholics Anonymous. The realm of addiction recovery is one in which I have no experience and therefore am not going to comment. But this little word is a key tool in our own awareness and in encouraging that in our clients.
Imagine you have a client with whom you are working on anger issues. They give an example of a situation where they have yelled at a family member who asked a simple and innocuous question, but triggered a disproportionate anger response in the client, leading to hurt and broken trust in the family member on the receiving end of that outburst. The client cannot understand why this happened and identify that this is a pattern of behavior.
Of course, there might be many issues at play here. But HALT can be a useful starting point to help identify underlying needs. At the point of the angry outburst, how was the client really feeling? Turns out there is underlying anger about an issue that occurred previously that day that is bubbling away unresolved under the surface and was triggered by that innocuous question.
Using HALT as a tool with clients, we are enabling them to become more self-aware in certain situations where they might otherwise make a rash or impulsive decision. HALT enables them to identify some root needs – am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? These needs are valid, and it is important to pay attention to them. We encourage the client to ask questions of themselves: I know something is not right – how am I feeling? What do I actually need? What action can I take now to diffuse this situation and get away from temptation?
We can then coach them through options for addressing their blood sugar lows, or their physical or emotional weariness, or safe ways to vent anger to prevent it from leaking out to others in unhelpful ways.
The same is true for us of course, and how much more so that we pay attention to our basic needs before we go into a client session so that we are not taking any excess baggage in with us.
This is not about being prescriptive – you know what you need and your own areas of temptation better than anyone. This is of course about being self-aware, taking courage to HALT before acting impulsively so you can become aware of what you really need and make a better and more life-giving decision.