(This insightful article by Elsie is a reprise from 2016 that is just as relevant today)
When people come for counseling, there is typically a Presenting Problem. I usually ask something like, “What brings you to counseling at this time?” or “How can I help?” Often, though, when I meet with a person for the first time, they just start talking and tell me what their problem is even before I ask. Sometimes the presenting problem is not the real problem but rather a symptom of the real problem. Even so, the presenting problem gets the counseling process started. Just as there is a reason that brings a person to counseling, there is also an expectation or hope that counseling will solve their problem or at least make them feel better. Often they are looking for a listening ear and someone who will be on their side. Sometimes there is a subtle expectation that the counselor will “fix” the problem and/or person who is making life hard for them. It is important for counseling helpers to understand what the problem is as well as what the expectation is for counseling. Many expectations for counseling are realistic, but some are not. And often the realistic and unrealistic expectations are intertwined.
The best place to start is with an accurate diagnosis and understanding of the client as an individual. As the counselor, I need to understand the personality, internal strengths and growth areas, as well as emotional intelligence of the client. I need to also understand the person’s ability to receive feedback and their availability for change. It is hard to receive negative information about ourselves, and we all have a tendency to believe our problem is external rather than internal. But this is prideful self-protection, and it robs us of our ability to grow and change. We all prefer to hear good things about ourselves and recoil and react to negative feedback. Of course, it is as important that negative feedback be delivered with care, but people who tell us only positive things about ourselves are not friends. Think about it, it is not possible for any of us to have areas in our life that do not need improvement. We all need improvement, and we all need true friends who will speak truth to us. Hopefully a counselor will also speak truth.
It is equally important for a person who has decided to come for counseling to have an accurate understanding of them. Counseling clients need to have personal insight into who they are on the inside. I have known people who automatically blame someone else when something bad happens to them. Narcissistic people, for example, cannot accept that anything could ever be their fault. They seem to be “allergic” to hearing anything negative about themselves. Emotionally healthy people are open to various scenarios concerning why something negative happened. Sometimes bad things are caused by selfish and/or sinful other people. Sometimes negative consequences occur because of our own poor choices. Often more than one person is at fault. Sometimes bad things are just part of life in this fallen world. God can use these events to humble us and cause us to depend more fully on Him. It is more about determining responsibility and how to solve the problem than it is about finding who to blame. How we handle difficult things says a lot about our character. Hard things can help us learn and grow.
Assessments provide the counselor with a lot of information outside of session time so that he/she can focus on helping the client during sessions. Three types of assessments are particularly helpful to both the counselor and the client: StrengthsFinder 2.0, personality assessments, and emotional intelligence assessments. Assessments save time, provide objective feedback, and help clients gain personal insight. Assessments will often inform the client of things that others have been trying to tell them for years.
There are four emotional intelligence skills that we will look at in the months to come. Two pertain to personal competence and two pertain to social competence. Personal competence involves self-awareness and self-management. Social competence pertains to social awareness and relationship management. (Bradberry and Greaves, Emotional Intelligence 2.0)
Self-awareness and self-management come first. Knowing ourselves and controlling our emotions is a prerequisite to social competence.
God’s blessings to you in this brand New Year!