An Accidental Counsellor Can Be Any School Staff Not Trained As Counsellors But Often Find Themselves in Counselling Situations By Accident.
The problem I see in schools is the usual approach of helping people is not working well, takes a long time and the problem issue continues without improvement. The reason this is happening is because you are time poor and may rush to give advice and come up with the solution or remedy to alleviate the problem the student is presenting to you. When you rush to tell people what to do, their motivation for doing it lessens. Not only that, you are implying that the person you are helping is not capable of coping or finding an answer for themselves. Below I outline 7 tips and principles that help you connect and influence the person you are supporting without burning out.
7 Accidental Counsellor Tips
Connect and Influence Without Burning Out
It’s all about you.
This is all about you. What state are you in? Your mental and emotional state will influence your approach. You can get triggered easily by some of the things you hear at school. You need to focus on your own wellbeing and be aware if you are stressed or anxious. With awareness you can adjust your state. Otherwise you react unconsciously to the triggers around you and this seeps into your responses.
It’s all about them.
Listen to the person, match, mirror and pace their language, thinking and nonverbal communication. You can’t hope to influence a person if they think, “you don’t get me”. Enter their world, communicate and reflect back to them what you are hearing and seeing. You want to “get the yes” – that is when you respond to what they say, the person speaking says “YES! That’s right”! They feel not only understood but also calm and safe. With this trust established they are more open to be influenced the solution focused language and questions you have for them.
Avoiding pain is the number one driver of human behaviour. Followed by gaining pleasure. To influence a person you need to focus on pain. Specifically, what it’s like for them when their behaviour or circumstance occurs. This is about the person telling you rather than you telling the person. Ask, “What’s it like for you when (INSERT PROBLEM) happens?” “Is this something you are sick and tired of?” “Is it something you want to change?” Of course it goes without saying that the focus also needs to be on what THEY can do rather than what OTHER people need to do.
Get their why.
This is critical. Finding personal reasons for change increases motivation for the change. It’s their reason why that has them “own” the change. The usual approach of telling a student the reasons they need to make a change lowers motivation for the change. You need them to convince you.
“So why do you think this important?” “Why would you want to make this better?”
This is the biggest issue I see in “accidental counsellor conversations” in schools. The staff member outlines all the reasons the student needs to change and the student is a passive bystander not owning or being involved in the change required of them.
Paint the picture.
“Constructing a vision of a solution acts as a catalyst for bringing it about.” This “Solutions Focused” approach is an evidenced based technique that helps you influence the person to achieve what they say they want to achieve. When the person tells you they are:
Sick and tired of the same thing (PAIN) and
Tell you WHY they want it to change you help them by getting them to
Paint a picture of the change.
Ask the person, “How would you like things to be?” Here you need to ensure that the picture is:
Within their control
Has specific and concrete behaviours (actions)
Is in the “presence of something rather than the absence of something”. For example rather than I won’t be stressed and anxious (won’t be is the absence) I will be more relaxed and having fun (is the presence of something) etc.
Focus on one thing
When the person paints a picture of how they would like things to be there may be several aspects to it. It’s important that you help them focus on ONE THING.
Say something like, “Wow you have told me several things about how you would like things to be for you.” Then reflect back to them what they have told you and ask them if you have understood correctly. When they say yes, ask them, “So which one of these things you have just told me about do you want to start with”?
When the person tells you where they want to start, congratulate them and ask them WHEN they may start. Then let them know that you will follow up with them to see how they went. This acts as a further support and provides some accountability for them.
It’s not motivation you want, it’s habits. The quality of our lives equals the quality of the habits, routines, or rituals, whatever word you want to use, that we have.
What is a habit?
Let’s have a look at this diagram.
With a habit, you can see that there is a cue, a trigger that tells our brain to go into automatic mode. A cue can be internal – such as a feeling or thought; external – such as a time of day or being around certain people. All these things are cues or triggers. As soon as we are around that environment, context or in that time, then there’s a routine that’s performed. This is the behaviour that leads to the reward.
The routine can be physical – like eating a chocolate. It could be cognitive – you can actually remember a test or emotional – I feel anxious in a Math test.
The second part is the reward. Not surprisingly, the reward can be physical – like a sugar craving, cognitive – gets us interested in something or again emotional – I always feel relaxed in front of the TV. The reward determines if a particular habit loop is worth remembering. When a habit emerges and our brains say, “Yes, this is worth remembering and has a really cool reward,” it goes into automatic mode. It gets stored in the part of the brain called the “Basal Ganglia.” This can be good or bad.
When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in the decision-making because that’s the nature of a habit, it’s automatic.
It stops working so hard and diverts focus to other things or tasks. That’s why rather than fighting the old habit, research is saying that it’s very difficult to change.
We need to start creating what’s called Keystone habits. These are positive habits – such as eating the right food, exercising, setting good, clear and concise goals; focusing on one task at a time and working on the most important or difficult task when we’re at our most energetic and when our self-control is at its strongest. It’s not about feeling motivated. It’s about setting-up consistent routines that create these positive habits that will just unfold automatically.
In the mornings now, I go for a walk. This has been happening for about 5 years. In the summertime, I go to this little outdoor gym not far from my place and then I come back home and have a swim. It’s a cool routine. I know that when I do this, regardless of wherever I am or whether I’m traveling around Australia presenting my Accidental Counsellor Training, I need to make sure that I’m out and I go for a minimum of a half-hour walk but usually I do an exercise routine for 50 minutes to an hour. I end much better for the rest of the day.
Often times, I would have people say to me, “I don’t know how you can get motivated to get up, go and do what you do in the mornings; your exercise routine.” I was thinking about this and I thought, “Actually I don’t really feel motivated to go either, but it’s become automatic.” This is what I mean by creating these good habits.
Let’s go through this diagram that can help us with a habit that we want to create.
We can just right down here what our new habit will be. It might be a new study routine or an exercise routine and let’s begin with the cue.
Step 1: Every habit has a trigger, the cue.
This is what some of the cues are:
What time will this habit occur?
Where will you be?
Who else will be around?
What will you hope to have finished?
What emotion do you think you’ll be feeling?
You don’t need all of these to create a habit, only one of them is needed to become a cue. The more of these cues you test out, the faster the habit takes hold.
Let’s look at No. 2.
Step 2: The reward.
Now this is really going to be the big thing because if you’re engaging in a routine which is No. 3, the brain would want to know if the reward’s worth doing this routine.
What reward will you give yourself at the end of the behaviour?
As I said, for me was really mostly about how the rest of my day would unfold and how I’d feel about it.
Do you actually enjoy this reward?
If it’s a yes, after a few days ask yourself…
Do you crave this reward when you’re exposed to the cue?
In other words, when it’s that certain time or environment, are you looking forward to the reward that’s coming with the behaviour – whether it’s exercise or study routine?
Look here over at No. 3, the routine. Now we want to put it all together. In this diagram, routine, this is the new behaviour that you want to become a habit. And cue, this is from step 1.
What’s the cue?
What’s the time of day?
Where will you be?
Who will be around?
Will you be listening to music?
The other thing I wanted to mention was when I go for my exercise, I’m listening to podcasts and things that fill my mind with really cool positive things. Here now, I’m exercising which is obviously good for my body, but I’m also exercising my mind.
Once we’ve got the cue in place, we want to have a look at the reward and make sure that we have a really good reward. It might be extrinsic like a little treat, a movie, or some time-off to relax. The reward ultimately will need to be how it makes you feel.
Studies show that the easiest way to implement a new habit is
to write a plan.
Let’s get right down to the bottom here and we want to complete this.
When and here we want to include the cue…
I get up in the morning and go for a walk, whatever the exercise or routine is, when I get back home from school, whenever I complete the task, when I get up at whatever time in the morning, or when I get home from school…
Whatever the case may be, we want to get this answer here from the answers we came up with in step 1 when we looked at the cue and the trigger.
I will describe the routine because it provides me with and then outline the reward.
You want to make sure you post this plan where you’ll see it and try it for a week.
Studies say the new behaviour will become automatic and you’ve now programmed a really cool positive habit. This means, you don’t have to rely on how you feel to get things done that don’t make you feel that great because now it’s a habit and it’s automatic.
Brain Rules: Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School.
Our brains were built for walking—12 miles a day (19.3 Kilometers)!
To improve your thinking skills, move.
Exercise gets blood to your brain, bringing it glucose for energy and oxygen to soak up the toxic electrons that are left over. It also stimulates the protein that keeps neurons connecting.
Every brain is wired differently.
What you do and learn in life physically changes what your brain looks like—it literally rewires it.
The various regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people.
No two people’s brains store the same information in the same way in the same place.
We have a great number of ways of being intelligent, many of which don’t show up on IQ tests.
People don’t pay attention to boring things.
The brain’s attentional “spotlight” can focus on only one thing at a time: no multitasking.
We are better at seeing patterns and abstracting the meaning of an event than we are at recording detail.
Emotional arousal helps the brain learn.
Audiences check out after 10 minutes, but you can keep grabbing them back by telling narratives or creating events rich in emotion.
Repeat to remember.
The brain has many types of memory systems. One type follows four stages of processing: encoding, storing, retrieving, and forgetting.
Information coming into your brain is immediately split into fragments that are sent to different regions of the cortex for storage.
Most of the events that predict whether something learned also will be remembered occur in the first few seconds of learning. The more elaborately we encode a memory during its initial moments, the stronger it will be.
You can improve your chances of remembering something if you reproduce the environment in which you first put it into your brain.
Remember to repeat.
Most memories disappear within minutes, but those that survive the fragile period strengthen with time.
Long-term memories are formed in a two-way conversation between the hippocampus and the cortex, until the hippocampus breaks the connection and the memory is fixed in the cortex— which can take years.
The way to make long-term memory more reliable is to incorporate new information gradually and repeat it in timed intervals.
Sleep well, think well.
The brain is in a constant state of tension between cells and chemicals that try to put you to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep you awake.
The neurons of your brain show vigorous rhythmical activity when you’re asleep—perhaps replaying what you learned that day.
People vary in how much sleep they need and when they prefer to get it, but the biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal.
Loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.
Stressed brains do not learn the same way as non-stressed brains.
Your body’s defense system—the release of adrenaline and cortisol—is built for an immediate response to a serious but passing danger, such as a saber-toothed tiger. Chronic stress, such as hostility at home, dangerously deregulates a system built only to deal with short-term responses.
Under chronic stress, adrenaline creates scars in your blood vessels that can cause a heart attack or stroke, and cortisol damages the cells of the hippocampus, crippling your ability to learn and remember.
Individually, the worst kind of stress is the feeling that you have no control over the problem—you are helpless.
Emotional stress has huge impacts across society, on children’s ability to learn in school and on employees’ productivity at work.
Stimulate more of the senses at the same time.
We absorb information about an event through our senses, translate it into electrical signals (some for sight, others from sound, etc.), disperse those signals to separate parts of the brain, then reconstruct what happened, eventually perceiving the event as a whole.
The brain seems to rely partly on past experience in deciding how to combine these signals; so two people can perceive the same event very differently.
Our senses evolved to work together—vision influencing hearing, for example—which means that we learn best if we stimulate several senses at once.
Smells have an unusual power to bring back memories, maybe because smell signals bypass the thalamus and head straight to their destinations, which include that supervisor of emotions known as the amygdala.
Vision trumps all other senses.
Vision is by far our most dominant sense, taking up half of our brain’s resources.
What we see is only what our brain tells us we see, and it’s not 100 percent accurate.
The visual analysis we do has many steps. The retina assembles photons into little movie-like streams of information. The visual cortex processes these streams, some areas registering motion, others registering color, etc. Finally, we combine that information back together so we can see.
We learn and remember best through pictures, not through written or spoken words.
We are powerful and natural explorers.
Babies are the model of how we learn—not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion.
Specific parts of the brain allow this scientific approach. The right prefrontal cortex looks for errors in our hypothesis (“The saber- toothed tiger is not harmless”), and an adjoining region tells us to change behavior (“Run!”).
We can recognize and imitate behavior because of “mirror neurons” scattered across the brain.
Some parts of our adult brains stay as malleable as a baby’s, so we can create neurons and learn new things throughout our lives.
For the past 20 years I have been intrigued about resilience and mental toughness. What makes some people, despite lack of resources, strive and overcome set backs and challenges? And why is it that other people (some with many resources) “crumble” and quit at the slightest hint of difficulty and challenge?
If we are wondering about what we could do to motivate a love of learning in our children, it is useful to consider two questions:
1) What motivates you? Think of a time when despite the difficulties you still continued and achieved your goal.
2) What motivates your student / child?
I think these questions are useful because the similarities in the answers to the questions hint to what motivates us and our children and what causes us and our children to at times lose hope, quit or not fulfil our potential.
I’ll focus my language at this point toward motivating students. However, I believe there are many commonalities between adults and children when it comes to motivation.
How we define ourselves tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Zig Ziglar says, “You cannot perform in a manner which is inconsistent with how you see yourself.”
And Robert Cialdini says, “The strongest need in the human personality is to remain consistent with how we have defined ourselves.”
This is illustrated in the diagram below.
Our beliefs determine our understanding of our potential. This potential determines whether we dare to take action. By taking action we get results and by interpreting these results we form our beliefs.
Carol S. Dweck (“Mindset – The New Psychology of Success”.) discovered in over 35 years of research that there are two predominant identity beliefs.
Fixed and Growth Mindset
In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like their intelligence or talent, are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They also believe that talent alone creates success—without effort.
In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment. Virtually “all-great” people have had these qualities.
In summary, students with a fixed mindset focused more on looking smart than learning, more on the result / grade than the effort required to achieve a good grade and as a consequence, chose easier tasks that demonstrate that they are smart. This protects how they have defined themselves, smart, brilliant or gifted.
Students with a growth mindset have a different focus. While grades are important what is more important is that they worked hard, put in the effort. They felt that improvement was important and realized that the most brilliant scientists or athletes worked hard to achieve their success. Students with a growth mindset understood that Einstein and Michael Jordan were not born brilliant they had to develop their gifts.
Impact of Praise on Mindset & Motivation to Learn
It goes without saying that our students need good self-esteem. However, the view in the past 30 years has been that to build a sense of self-worth we should tell our children how smart and intelligent they are.
Dweck and her team document a study of children who were given a set of problems from a non verbal IQ test. Afterwards children were randomly assigned to receive one kind of praise. Some received intelligence praise, “Wow, that’s a really good score, you must be really good at this.” Others received effort, process, progress or concentration feedback, “you must of tried hard.” The study was conducted over 6 times as results were so dramatic:
Those who received the intelligence praise were now endorsing the fixed mindset
Those given effort praise believed this is something they can develop through effort
Afterwards the groups were asked what type of task would they like to work on next
Presented with a challenging task where they could learn but also make mistakes – 90% of growth mindset students decided to take this task
The alternative was to take an easy task so you won’t make mistakes – fixed mindset students overwhelmingly took this option
The fixed mindset students wanted to preserve the label – smart
Their motivation to learn was dampened.
What does this mean?
When we praise students’ intelligence we send the message that this is the most important thing
Their sense of self / worth is intertwined with their performance
A big task as educators is to build student confidence
Within the fixed mindset confidence is very fragile
If a fixed mindset student has to exert effort – confidence in their ability goes down
Also if they have a set back confidence in their ability goes down
Confronted with challenging tasks they haven’t learned – confidence also goes down
Within the growth mindset these are not threatened they are welcomed
Opportunities to learn are part of the learning process.
What we now know is that students build a stronger sense of self, a stronger self-esteem when they experience success, rather than be told they are successful or good at it. Evidence based on their own experience is much more powerful than words – particularly if the student does not believe the words are true for them.
A new definition of success needs to be born! Rather than the focus being on grades and individual results (future based), the focus needs to be on effort and improvement (present based and in the individuals control). To decide to be our best, give our best, regardless of the difficulty or challenge is what separates resilient and determined people from those who quit when the going gets tough.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life. This is exciting research that shows our brain is a dynamic system that has the capability of significant growth. The idea that our IQ measures our intelligence and that it is set throughout the life span no longer holds credibility.
As a result of this new research along with studies in the Psychology of Peak Performance we now understand what creates great performance – and natural ability has little to do with it!
Students love to hear that their brain is like a muscle and the more they practice the more the brain forms new connections every time they work hard and learn. They love the idea of a growing brain being in their hands. One student was relieved when he said, “you mean I don’t have to be dumb anymore”. What a liberating message! This young boy had created a new “identity belief” and teachers noticed changes in motivation to learn and higher grades for all students who understood this.
We can teach our children that the correct answer is important but what is more important is how the brain worked (and exercised) in arriving at the correct answer.
Would it be too radical to say that an incorrect answer is better if thought about than a correct answer to an easy problem that didn’t require effort to achieve?
The outcome from this new research applied has been:
More resilient children
Children who love to learn and solve problems
Students who are more motivated to learn
Children who know the value of hard work, effort and celebrate improvement.
We can teach our children this growth mindset message and help form them into happy, resilient, determined adults who strive to be their best and do their best.
Rocky Biasi is a counsellor and educational consultant. He offers teacher professional development training and runs student well-being sessions. For more information and to contact Rocky CLICK HERE