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"I am ..."

When introducing the concept of Self as Context, clients often start to ask, ‘well, if I’m not my thoughts and I’m not my feelings, who am I?’. It can be useful at this moment in therapy to introduce the ‘who are you?’ exercise.

The exercise is based around a repeating a question of ‘who are you’, aiming to elicit from the client all the roles and characteristics that he or she holds. Each time we ask the question ‘who are you?’ the client should respond with ‘I am …’ followed with a role or characteristic they hold.. The client’s answer should be different each time. 


  • First, ask the question ‘who are you?’

  • When the client has responded with ‘I am… smart’, or ‘I am… a mechanic’, for example, you then respond with ‘thank you’. 

  • Then repeat the process for a number of minutes. Answer ‘thank you’ each time.

It is likely that the client tends to run out of nouns or roles that they hold. We can trigger this response earlier by saying after 20 or 30 times, and with an attitude of curiosity, ‘so, who are you?’.

What is likely to happen is that clients become stuck and can give no more than ‘I am’ as an answer. This is the desired place – a place at which it is all right just to be. There doesn’t have to be a story, a noun, or a descriptor. The answer to the question ‘who am I?’ is ‘I am’ or ‘I just am’. 

When we have finished this exercise we need to check in with our clients on how they experienced the exercise and how they got to the last point. We are not trying to denigrate anything or eradicate any of the descriptors, but rather highlight that we have lots of roles and descriptors. These roles and descriptors are stories and nouns about us.

This exercise is a good way of introducing Self as Context and the Observing Self. We remind our clients that their thoughts and feelings are part of them – but just as the Physical Self is not the whole ‘self’, neither are the thoughts and comments of the Thinking Self.


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