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Egan’s skilled helper is a problem-management approach to helping, which provides counsellors, psychotherapists and hypnotherapists with a structured and solution focused basis. The model has three stages which are Story, possibilities and possible actions. The purpose of this assignment is to critically evaluate the model’s strengths and weakness, then move on to focusing on one particular aspect to analyse in depth and finish with focusing on myself, this will include an explanation of how I use particular skills and personal barriers I have experienced.
The model is a client centred approach that drives problem-managing and opportunity-developing. The client should lead and have control throughout. When using this model it is important to remember that although the client is in control of the content, you as a helper are in control of the process. Stage 1 to 3 does not need to be followed in order, it is in fact possible to skip a certain stage and visit them at a later time, and it is also possible to re-visit certain stages if it is necessary. (Egan, 1998).
Before a client can progress they need to be able to identify and understand the situation. Stage 1 of this model focuses on “what is going on?” which is when the client can tell their story, identify and clarify blind spots and search for leverage. One of the strength’s for this stage is that this is often when a trusted relationship is formed between the helper and client, this can be done by using active listening and demonstrating Roger’s core conditions. (Egan, 1998). The core conditions are empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard. Roger says that when these three conditions are present the client will grow, learn and move on. (Roger, 1967, 61-63) Providing a safe place for the client to tell their story and know that they are being listened to but for them to also understand their own story is vital. If this stage is successful the client will be able to see the wider picture, new perspective’s and see a point that they hope to get to. This can be done by the helper summarising the information the client has given, paraphrasing and checking their understanding is correct throughout. Open questions such as “how do/did you feel” can be used. One of the disadvantages to this stage is that not everyone likes to revisit the past or to be challenged, it can often be hard for the client to see things clearly when they are in a difficult situation and progress to see that they are capable of change and have the strength to move forward. It can take anywhere from a day to a year to progress. (Egan, 1998, 27).
Stage 2 is about reflection, it helps the client consider what they really want and think about how things could be better. The most important outcome for this stage is that the client has hope after setting realistic and achievable goals which is one of the strengths of this stage. With encouragement from the helper the client will be able to brainstorm what their ideal situation would be, this could be done by asking open questions such as “ What is your ideal situation right now?”. However, as Val Wosket says asking questions like this can often result in the client staring blankly, finding it hard to think of a response. It can also be difficult for the helper to ask questions like this in a meaningful way. (Wosket, 2006).
The downside of this stage is that it can be difficult for the client to come to terms with the changes and costs they may need to make to achieve their goal which can hold the client back. The helper may ask “Is there any disadvantages to doing this?” or “is it worth it?”. A common approach used to test the realism of goals is the simplistic acronym SMART:
(Wosket, 2006, 55)
Stage 3 is when possible strategies and actions are considered to help the client move towards the goals they have set in stage 2. Many possible strategies may be taken into consideration whilst also considering who or what might help this goal become possible and what strategy is going to fit best with the situation. The helper should continue encouraging the client to think widely and aim to get out of old mindsets. Egan says “Stimulating clients to think of different ways of achieving their goals is usually an excellent investment of time”. (Egan, 1998, 30). A question that could be asked is “Which Is most likely to work?”. At this stage of the model, it is important as a helper to be encouraging but not take control and tell the client what actions they need to make. Although it is positive that goals have been considered and set, the downside to the stage is that the use of SMART collapses during stage 3 it may result in the client having to go backwards and think of new goals which will hinder the process.
This part will focus on 1a of Egan’s model which is storytelling. Egan suggests that the “importance of helping clients tell their stories should not be underestimated and that from the point of view of problem management and opportunity development, client self-disclosure has two benefits. First it can and often does have a cathartic effect, and second it provides the grist for the mill of problem-solving”. (Egan, 1998, 120).
For a client to be willing to talk about their story it is vital for them to feel comfortable, therefore it is important that the helper encourages the development of a respected and trustworthy relationship. Paraphrasing also builds empathy, the client may feel like someone is finally understanding and listening to them. The aim of this is to create a safe place where the client can hear and understand their story. Skills that may be used during this stage are active listening, paraphrasing which can avoid to many questions but the use of open questions can be effective, summarising and reflecting.
This topic is quite broad therefore the specific focus will be on analysing paraphrasing in more depth.
A good paraphrase will mirror what the client said but in a clearer way than the original statement, without changing the meaning. This is effective because the paraphrase will be more to the point so when the client hears what they said in other words, the reality of the situation may sink in. It will also let the client know that the helper is not only listening but they are also hearing the words the client hasn’t said. “He listens with a third ear”. (Reik, 1952, 144). An important point to make here is that this is not about putting words into the client’s mouth or coming across as if you know exactly how the client feels. As a helper, you are attempting to feedback the reality of what the client has said when utilising this skill. Although open questions can be asked, paraphrasing helps to avoid asking as many questions. It can also help the helper avoid passing judgement and giving suggestions.
In some cases, paraphrasing may cause the client to become irritated, not by the helper but the emotion comes as a result from not liking what they have heard. As it has been previously mentioned, although it is the clients own words hearing what they have said in a different way can be difficult because reality sinks in. (Seehausen et al., 2012). It can also be very hard for the helper to paraphrase if the client is not sure what they are trying to say or they are giving mixed messages. Paraphrasing can be very effective if it is not overused, the client should feel understood not as if they are being repeated constantly.
When I was first introduced to paraphrasing in class I found it very hard to use, the reason for this was because I felt silly and like I was repeating everything the client was saying or I would come to a conclusion straight away. I found myself staring blankly at the client, not knowing how to paraphrase what they had said without repeating them which would be parroting not paraphrasing. “Empathy does not consist of merely repeating what the client has said. Such parroting is a parody of empathy”. (Egan, 1998, 96). As a result of staring blankly and a long pause, I found that the client was looking back at me with a look of “well, are you going to say something”. At this point I found myself panicking and felt under pressure to think of a response straight away, which resulted in the poor use of my skills. I think the reason for this is because asking questions come naturally so it is the easy thing to do, but paraphrasing puts more pressure on the helper.
An example of how I first used paraphrasing:
Client: “I’ve been with my boyfriend for a while but now that we’re miles apart at different universities the distance has become a big issue and is causing arguments. I miss him and care a lot about him but I don’t know how we can resolve the distance issue”.
Me: “Ummmm, so you don’t want to be in a relationship anymore”.
In this example, I not only failed to respond to the client’s feelings but I didn’t acknowledge the full content. My interpretation was inaccurate and brief. The long pause showed that I wasn’t sure or confident in what I was going to say. To avoid panicking I learnt from Egan, “Even the experts pause and allow themselves to assimilate what the client is saying”. Giving yourself time to reflect is important to be able to identify the core message. (Egan, 1998, 97).
What I should have said was:
“I can see that the distance between you and your boyfriend is causing conflict in your relationship and you are finding the distance between you difficult and although you really care about him, you aren’t sure how you can resolve the issues you are having to prevent future arguments.”
This response is better because I have not taken control of the client’s situation, passed judgement or came to a conclusion. I have acknowledged everything they said and I am letting the client lead. By letting the client lead, ideally it will help the conversation to flow in the direction they would like it to but in some situations, the client may not be clear on what they are trying to say or do. An example of when I was in this situation is:
Client: “Maybe I should just break up with him. I don’t want to though, I can’t imagine him not being in my life but I don’t know how we can resolve the issue so maybe ending it will be the easiest option”.
Me: “It sounds like you are experiencing a mixture of emotions and are unsure what the best thing to do is. From what I hear it seems like you would miss him if he was no longer part of your life. My concern would be that if you end your relationship before considering other options you could later regret it. I wonder if you’ve thought about telling your boyfriend how you are feeling and consider ways that you could see each other more often.”
Client: I hadn’t thought about other options, I was thinking about the easiest way.
This worked because the client was able to recognise that although in her eyes ending things would be the easiest option, it was not the only option and there was hope that if they considered other options as a couple the issue could be prevented. When learning how to paraphrase I found it useful to be the client in role plays, as the client I was able to recognise certain things I would have done differently if I was the counsellor and also recognise things that I liked about the counsellor and how their responses made me feel.
When engaging with other’s during role plays in class I have become aware that I have several barriers in my communication, some which I have always known I had but never thought of as a barrier. I was able to identify these barriers through the help of my peers and self- reflection. To help with self-reflection I have kept a journal of my strength and weaknesses.
My main barrier is that I find it hard to not treat the client as one of my friends. I would summarise my personality as warm, welcoming and friendly which are all great personality traits to have when working with clients but setting boundaries from the beginning are crucial. I understand that there needs to be a line between building a trusting relationship with a client and crossing the line to build a personal relationship which could hinder the client’s progression. In addition to treating the client as my friend, a level one barrier a peer made me aware of is that I express my emotions through facial expressions and body actions, I am aware that I need to improve on to avoid giving judgement. An example of this is using unnecessary phrases such as “no way” “Your joking” “literally” and using over dramatic facial expressions that show what I’m thinking. Visible body actions and facial expressions can send a hidden message and show emotions. (Ladewig et al., 2013). This can be helpful when a client is sending messages through body language, however, the reason this is one of my barriers is that in a counselling situation, the helper’s emotions should be kept under control, it is about the client, not the helper and the client should feel comfortable and at ease. These types of responses may be acceptable when talking with a friend to show I am engaged in the conversation but when working with a client it can be seen as unprofessional, distracting and judgemental. To be able to improve on this I need to focus more on using non-verbal communication skills in a positive way such as active listening skills and good body language to show that I am engaged in the conversation instead of verbally showing it. Improving my active listening skills will help me be able to read between the lines when receiving both verbal and nonverbal messages, if I am able to do this I will be able to respond to the client in a way which encourages further discussion, this will have a much more positive result. A way I could improve on this is to consider what Carl Rogers says about active listening which is that as a helper you should be opening to learning new things and strive to be flexible. Nonverbal behaviour such as body language is just as important as verbal communication skills. Remembering Rogers SOLER theory when I am with a client will help me improve massively.
S: Face the person Squarely
O: Adopt an Open posture
L: Remember that it is possible at times to Lean toward the other
E: Maintain good Eye Contact
R: Try to be relatively Relaxed in your body
The SOLER theory will help me address these barrier’s and will enable me as a helper to effectively understand and acknowledge the client’s needs while also developing a trusting relationship without breaking boundaries. It will help me acknowledge how I can change my body language in small ways to avoid coming across as judgemental and avoid taking the centre approach from the client and putting it on myself because of talking at unnecessary moments and displaying too many opinions through facial expressions. Now that I have identified the barriers and addressed how I can overcome them, practice is needed to make the improvements.
- Egan, G. (1998) The Skilled Helper: a problem-management approach to helping, sixth edition. USA: Brooks/Cole publishing Company.
- Egan, G. (2013) The Skilled Helper: A Problem-Management and Oppurtunity-Developing Approach to Helping, tenth edition. USA: Cengage Learning.
- Papa, N. (2017) On-Verbal Barriers to Communication. Bizfluent. Available from https://bizfluent.com/list-6721900-non-verbal-barriers-communication.html [Accessed 25 Nov. 2018].
- Reik, T. (1952) The secret self; psychoanalytic experiences in life and literature. Oxford, England: Farrar, Strauss and Young.
- Rogers, C (1967) On becoming a person a therapist’s view of psychotherapy. London: Constable.
- Roger, C. (2004) On becoming a person a therapist’s view of psychotherapy. London: Constable.
- Seehausen, M., Kazzer, P., Bajbouj, M. and Prehn, K. (2012). Effects of Empathic Paraphrasing – Extrinsic Emotion Regulation in Social Conflict. Frontiers in Psychology, 3.
- Wosket,V. (2006) Egan’s Skilled Helper Model: Developments and applications in counselling [Ebook]. East Sussex: Routledge
- Ladewig, SH., McNeil, D., Tessendord, S., Muller, C., Cienki, A., Fricke, E. (2013) Body Language – Communication. Volume 1. Berlin/ Boston: De Gruyter Mouton.
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