‘Unpacking the Baggage’ questions are perhaps the most common questions we ask each other.
‘How are you?’ is a universal greeting.
We use it and other related questions all the time to check on how others are journeying.
Often ‘How are you’? is merely a token question, another way of making an introduction and we are surprised, sometimes shocked and even dismayed when our superficial question provokes anything but a superficial response.
But there are many other times when checking on someone’s state is important and for many workers in human services ‘unpacking the baggage’ to elicit honest and truthful answers is critical.
In our work we can ask ‘unpacking the baggage’ questions in countless ways. For the teacher of a child whose parents have separated and who has just had a weekend with the non-custodial parent, it might be important to ask about the weekend early on the Monday morning.
If you are seeing a client for the first time you might ask: ‘What has changed since you rang up to make the appointment?’
If we want to go beneath the superficial we need to provide an appropriate respectful context to allow the ‘baggage’ to be ‘put on the table’. If someone is in pain it is important that we offer a way for this to be expressed and if change has occurred we need to ensure that we notice any significant elements of the change.
‘Comfort in expressing your emotions will allow you to share the best of yourself with others, but not being able to control your emotions will reveal your worst.’
– Bryant H. McGill
Because emotions and feelings are often difficult to put into words, the simple representation of these by The Bears makes them a great tool for unpacking the baggage in ways that words alone may not:
- Is there a Bear that expresses how you are feeling now?
- Is it the same Bear that was you yesterday or when we last met?
- I have kept a record of the Bears that you said were you each time we met. Which is you today? Can you see any patterns emerging?
- Can you tell me about the Bear you have chosen today? What words accompany this Bear? How would you describe what your Bear is feeling?
The Bears have proved to be a great ‘unpacking the baggage’ resource for group leaders and facilitators. At the start of many group events it can be useful, even vital, to check how people are travelling. Spreading the cards out and asking group members to choose one or more that reflect their feelings can provide a gentle way to ascertain the recent experiences that may impact on the group.
To encourage storytelling and interaction in any group, whether it be a therapeutic group, a staff meeting or even a family meal time, you can introduce The Bears into the ‘BWF’ ritual – that is, each member is asked to tell a story about the Best, Worst and Funniest thing that has happened that day with the choice of a Bear to match each story.
From The Bears, new edition booklet, 2010 published by St Luke’s Innovative Resources