If you’re an Accidental Counsellor often finding yourself giving people advice and telling them how to fix their problems, watch this video as I discuss the most common mistake Accidental Counsellors make.
The common insight people have when they attend the Accidental Counsellor Training is… “Wow, it’s really hard to get out of the old habit of just giving people advice.”
You might be thinking…
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Isn’t that what an Accidental Counsellor does?”
“Isn’t that what an actual Professional Counsellor does?”
“Why would you go to a Counsellor?”
“Why would you go and speak to someone about your problem?”
Surely, it is to get guidance and advice. However, often times, that’s not the best way to support the client that we’re working with.
Receiving advice and guidance is the common understanding of the counselling process. Here I am in my office where I work in my private practice. I would have some who would walk in and say things like, “Well, I hope you can fix me.” That already begins the one-up power dynamic. let’s just say the person you’re working with walks away from you feeling better and has made some wonderful changes in their lives that have supported the life that they want, whether it’s at school, work or wherever it is.
The worst thing that could ever happen is that they would credit you for the change. I had clients do this, “You’ve saved our marriage.” It’s really not true. You don’t want the students or clients you’re working with to abdicate their personal power and responsibility, and help put you up in that one-up power position that holds you as the mentor and guru. This is difficult because that’s the common understanding of counsellors. You go to a counsellor and they’ll fix your problem. Even the dictionary says that the counsellor is a person that gives counsel and advice. And yet, research is clearly stating, I’ve seen this over 20 years of counselling work, that the most effective part of counselling therapy is the rapport and the connection that the counsellor or the Accidental counsellor can have with their client. It’s this joining with them.
To be able to let go of your perspective, what you think is right, your moral judgment and to see the world through your client’s eyes, to match them, to provide and to communicate with them an empathetic understanding, can be very difficult. However it does sounds simple.
What if the client is talking about things that are abhorent to you that you have little tolerance around. They’re talking about engaging in a lifestyle or whatever the case may be, to be able to see the world and come to an understanding of the other person even though that is very different to how you would see the world, is really a difficult thing. It’s much easier said than done. The concepts of rapport and empathy to mirror back, to match the client as I say, are very easy. What I have noticed at the Accidental Counsellor Training, after the small group role plays is a common reflection from participants. All of a sudden, people say, “Wow, it’s really hard to get out of that old habit of giving advice.”
The problem with advice-giving
What’s the problem with advice-giving? Here’s a case study. Just recently, I was working at a school with a wonderful group of teachers and, of course, all of these concepts made sense and lots of nodding of people’s heads. And yet, when it came time for me to demonstrate some of the concepts that I’m speaking about, we had one
Let me give you one quick example because a lot of this might seem vague. In this situation, the student would say, “You speak to my mother.” It was a problem with her mother; not enough freedom and her being too domineering. Often times, we might say, “Well that’s a reasonable suggestion or that’s not a bad idea, why not speak to the parent? Let’s see if we can mediate.” Of course, that would be part of a solution. But if you really listen carefully, for instance in this situation with the student, it may not have been the best solution. So I said…teacher come up and take on the role of a 17-year old girl in Year 11. This girl was asking, almost pleading, “What do I do?” I would say things like, “I’m not sure. Let’s talk about this. Maybe together we can work something out.” But I would never want to put myself in that one-up position.
It was a very frustrating and difficult interview where there didn’t seem to be many options or solutions. The more and more I refrain from telling the student what to do, in this case the teacher in the role play, the more and more even the teacher in the role play was able to come up with their best solution. They were able to accept the situation that they were in. They knew that it wouldn’t be too much longer and that they will be able to make a change in the environment that they were living in. But up until now, that was the best thing for them. Now that was very uncomfortable for me and for the people watching because we all wanted for it to be a nicer, happier solution; a happy ending where perhaps their was a resolution to this.
“Well has that happened?”
“Have you ever asked teachers or school counsellors to contact your mother?”
The client said…
“Ah Yes! And it’s just gotten things worse. Mum’s blamed me…”
Instead of racing ahead of the client, we need to work out where they’re at; find out what they’ve already done and not just repeat the old advice that they’ve received that hasn’t worked. If we do they will walk away even more frustrated. We want them to have wins to improve the quality of their life.
Our job is to guide them through asking good probing questions and allowing the client to reflect on those questions and come up with their own understanding. This is the fundamental premise of the Accidental Counsellor Training, and that it’s based on Solution Focused Therapy where the critical philosophy is that the client has the answers and the best solutions to the problems in their own context. Our role is to walk with them and journey with them, asking questions, holding the space even during lots of times of anxiety and being uncomfortable. We need to get comfortable with not knowing and uncertainty and with our own anxiety. If we are working super hard in trying to fix a problem, harder than the client, well then whose needs are we responding to?
If we can manage our own anxiety and accept the fact that sometimes this problem is not going to be resolved the way I personally would like it to be resolved. It’s resolved in the best way for the client, through the client’s eyes and context. That allows the client to learn also to be comfortable with uncertainty and doubt, and also have the knowing that they can work through their own issues with guidance and help. Then, they come to their own unique understanding of the solution.
I hope that some of these ideas and concepts resonate with you and are a reminder for those of you who have attended the training. If you are interested in attending an Accidental Counsellor Training, go to www.accidentalcounsellor.com
I look forward to seeing you at one of the trainings around Australia.