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Using Inspirational Quotes in Therapy

How an after-visit summary augments mental health therapy.

Key points

  • Copies of quotes and images from the internet added to a visit summary emphasize what is discussed in therapy.
  • When a patient makes a good observation during therapy, it is added to the visit summary.
  • Younger children can engage with images of their favorite superheroes or cartoon characters.
  • Patients may be more likely to keep illustrated visit summaries for the long-term.
Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock
Source: Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

As part of my counseling practice, I often provide an after-visit summary to my pediatric and adolescent patients, reinforcing the lessons discussed during our sessions (Anbar et al., 2015). For example, when we discuss the importance of positive self-talk during a session, I give my patients a handout with an image of a sign stating, “Think Positive, Be Positive, and Positive Things Will Happen.”

Usually, I cut and paste quotes and images from Google or Bing onto the AVS that emphasize what we have talked about. Also, when the young person makes a good observation during our discussions, I will type it in bold 24-point font into the AVS. With younger children, I include images of their favorite superheroes or cartoon characters. As a result, without any suggestion on my part, many of the AVSs end up on the bedroom walls of my patients or even in binders that the children review over time. Thus, the AVSs can provide ongoing reinforcement of the suggestions given in therapy.

With school-age children, the AVS sometimes turns into a “Deal Sheet,” in which I describe terms of a deal that will help my patients achieve certain goals. For instance, “Each time that Johnny uses slow, deep breathing to calm himself successfully, he will earn a small prize from Dr. Anbar.” Examples of small prizes include mini candies, shark teeth, small toys, or collectible cards (such as those related to sports or Pokemon).

With preschoolers, the AVS often becomes a story that the children help create, including by telling me what elements they would like to include and choosing pictures they would like to paste into their story. Typically, such a story deals with a character who has a struggle like the one experienced by my patient who is helping to compose the story. Through discussions with the patient, we come up with a coping strategy for the struggle, which serves as a therapeutic metaphor for them.

Over the years, I have found that I have used certain inspirational quotes on multiple occasions as they are helpful to many of my patients. In this post, I share the quotes that I cite most frequently.

Being positive

I teach about the importance of a positive attitude and use positive words as a first lesson for most patients. The following quotes emphasize the importance of positivity. When I first introduce them to my patients orally, I repeat them two or three times so that the words can sink in.

  • “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you are right” – Henry Ford
  • “What we think, we become” – Buddha
  • “Leap and the net will appear” – John Burroughs

On facing challenges

Many conversations with my patients involve dealing with psychosocial and/or physical challenges. We discuss that while many things in life are outside of our control, we can be in control of how we react to our challenges.

  • “When one door closes, another door opens; But we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the one that has opened for us” – Alexander Graham Bell. I add to this the idea that sometimes what lies beyond the open door turns out to be even better than what we leave behind the closed door.
  • “Do or do not; There is no try” – Master Yoda. I usually follow up the presentation of this quote by explaining that when we try to do something, we leave room for failure. However, when we act, we usually achieve some measure of success. Further, when we talk about having tried something, it is usually in the context of having failed to achieve our goal. Thus, “try” is a word that implies failure and should be avoided.
  • “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” – Lao Tzu. I often use this quote to suggest a good approach to large projects or life journeys, which can seem overwhelming.
  • “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” – Reinhold Niebuhr. This quote is very apropos for my patients who feel stuck when they persist in working to change something that is not in their control.
  • “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” – Thomas Alva Edison. This is a good quote to give perfectionists who must learn to temper their expectations. I explain that people learn best through trial and error. Along the same veins, I provide this quote: “Your best teacher is your last mistake” – Ralph Nader
  • “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional” – The Dalai Lama. This quote reinforces the idea that we can learn how to better cope with physical and mental discomforts.

For the anxious person

More than half of my patients suffer from anxiety as a primary issue or because of difficulties dealing with a physical or other mental health issue. I have found the following quotes to be especially helpful for these patients.

  • “Whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should” – Max Ehrmann. I explain that learning to accept and embrace the current situation is often the first step towards coping better.
  • “I’ve had many worries in my life, most of which never came true” – Mark Twain. This is a good quote to cite in a conversation with patients with irrational worries.
  • “Those who mind don’t matter; Those who matter don’t mind” – Dr. Seuss. People with social anxiety often worry about what others might think of them. I suggest that a person who is or can become a true friend is not judgmental. The opinion of unhelpful people should be given little weight.
  • “Do the best you can until you know better. Then do better” – Maya Angelou. To the patients worried they are not good enough, I offer the idea that they can take solace in doing their best until they know better.

Life guidance

  • “Life is a journey, not a destination” – Ralph Waldo Emerson. This quote is helpful for patients who are greatly concerned about their ability to reach a particular life goal. I explain that they should appreciate the nature and impact of the work they put into achieving the goal, and thus attainment of the goal is not the only way to achieve success.
  • “The happiest people don’t have the best of everything; they just make the best of everything” – Anonymous. This quote ties in with the importance of a positive attitude, e.g., looking at a cup as half full rather than half empty.
  • Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible” – The Dalai Lama. This quote speaks for itself, as does another sentiment by The Dalai Lama, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”


Giving patients a personalized AVS can help improve their mental health care by allowing them to review what they learned about in therapy over time. Using quotes and images on the AVS allows the lessons to become more memorable and makes it more likely that the AVS will be kept around for the long term. The AVS appears to become even more meaningful and impactful when it contains ideas developed by the patients.


Anbar RD, Anbar, JS, Hashim MA. Use of an after-visit summary to augment mental health of children and adolescents. Clin Pediatr. 2015; 54:1009-1011.

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