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How to Stop Asking ‘Why?’: Answering the Hardest Question

why? (G Gawne-Kelnar)

Driving around the city the other day, I saw this stick figure being cornered in a doorway by a gang of question marks. It was an unfair match – the figure was outnumbered, and the questions were life-sized. They were headed-up by their favourite ringleader: ‘Why?

What’s a person to do when surrounded like this?

What do you do when ‘Why?’ darkens your doorway?
When it hangs around and perhaps bullies you into searching relentlessly for answers?

Sometimes, it can be tempting to just go along with it and start asking ‘why?’ too – perhaps silently asking it morning, noon and night (after all, if you can’t beat them…).

But maybe there are other ways…

For example, in many therapy rooms you’ll hear the slightly longer question of ‘why now?’

Why did you come to therapy now?
Why did you reach the limit of what you could bear now?
Why did you quit that job or end that relationship now? (and not last year, or next year, or never?)

It’s amazing how often that subtle shift of focus can throw a whole lot of new light into previously dark corners. Perhaps this ‘why now?’ question might work for you, too?

Another different query which also opens up new territory is one which solution-focused therapy often centres around: ‘how?

How did you know when you ran off-course?
How will you know when you’re back on track?
(What will the signs be? How will you recognise them?)

will you feel once that happens?
How will other people notice that about you?

In the company of these other little words – ‘now’ and ‘how’ – the question of ‘why?’ can sometimes lose some of its power. And maybe you can regain some.

Yet there will probably still be times in all our lives when even the best words, the best thoughts, the best reasoning just can’t touch the sides of the cavernous question of ‘why?’ Sometimes life delivers situations and challenges and tragedies that just seem bigger than any answers might match.

And in those times (to paraphrase Rilke), perhaps all we can do is learn to live with that question of ‘why?’ Maybe even learn to start a conversation with it, and all of its other curious friends, so we might just sit in the doorway together and talk for a while…

(It’s got to be better than trying to fight all those question marks off, like that outnumbered little stick figure).

Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy, the author of a private practice blog, and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

How to Stop Asking ‘Why?’: Answering the Hardest Question

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2016). How to Stop Asking ‘Why?’: Answering the Hardest Question. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 8, 2020, from


Last updated: 17 Aug 2016
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