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  • Reverend James Squire

Nudge Theory and Lever Therapy

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

A new innovation from the world of psychology and economics has provided an approach to helping people in their decision making as well as in the process to help an individual become a more whole person.

Over time I developed an approach that could be used by anyone who wants to help another person. My desire was to take the mystery out the counseling process based on my experience of how effective faculty could be in helping others. I call this simple approach “Lever Therapy” I believe it is a tool that can be used with the other modalities of counseling. In counseling we deal with the ultimate challenge facing people struggling with barriers in their lives. If the person comes to know the right thing to do, why don’t they act on that insight and do it? Or in the words of Saint Paul, “The good that I want to do, I don’t. That which I don’t want to do, I do.” (Romans 7:19) This is the important question that led me to identify Lever raise and seek to answer. There are three ingredients in Lever Therapy. One is to identify the strengths of a person, and the second is to nudge them to seek help and move in the direction they have identified as their desired goal.. Between these two aspects is a consideration of how past, present and future considerations inform the development or lack thereof of the person seeking help. Issues such as self esteem, a sense of belonging as well as their experience with avoiding the emotions of rejection, embarrassment, and vulnerability are also part of the mix.

When a person comes to me for help, I initially listen carefully to their concerns, but I also identify their strengths and positive personality traits. These are not always evident at first, but if you stay with the person or situation long enough, you will find something to work with. Everyone has strengths. I build on that strength to establish a positive foundation for self-actualization and action.

Once I know what strengths and personality traits, I have to work with I bring “Nudge Theory” into the process. Nudge Theory is a system of thought with practical implications. The theory was developed by Richard Thaler, Professor of Behavioral Economics and Finance at the University of Chicago, and Cass Sunstein, Professor at Harvard Law School and Director of the Center for Behavior Economics and Public Policy. They worked for five years on this theory and articulated it through the publication of their book simply titled Nudge. (Sunstein and Thaler 2008) Their theory relates to every aspect of life from getting people to slow down on a highway, to collecting taxes from people who don’t want to pay them, to the latest approach to effective fundraising. On October 12, 2017 Richard Thaler won the Nobel Prize for his work on nudge theory. I think their theory can be applied to creating forward movement in the counseling process.

A typical example of “Nudge Theory” at work is the flashing speed signs placed along highways. When I am driving too fast and see one of these flashing signs, I am “nudged” to slow down to the legal speed limit. There are various ways in which counseling can nudge a person in need of help to begin to go in the positive direction that they themselves have identified. Alcoholics Anonymous employs Nudge Theory by simply having their members gather in groups to nudge each other in the right direction to attain sobriety.

As clients are responding to nudges to move toward healing, I employ the integration of how a person’s past, present, and future work together as well as the issues mentioned earlier. I have used this approach with many people in crisis and feel it it moves the client toward healing in less time a traditional approach does.

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