Components needed for effective helping.
I propose first of all, however, that the “wannabe helper” begins with a natural inclination toward helping. She or he has taken on a helping role in many situations early in life, friends and family find him or her to be helpful, and she or he has emotional intelligence along with a passion for helping others. As a part of helping others, the wannabe helper has naturally learned communication skills that are helpful, although the person may not be aware of how she or he comes across to others and can sharpen the skills.
This natural inclination is augmented by learning and practicing helping skills until they become an integral part of who we are, even when those behaviors initially feel awkward and forced. Many effective helpers have stories about their initial attempts at assisting others. For example, when one person first started studying helping behaviors, her father was undergoing heart surgery. She spoke with him every day and asked him how he was feeling. After weeks of this, he asked her whether she really wanted to know how he was feeling. “Finally!” she thought, “he’ll share his innermost feelings with me.” Her father said he was feeling as though he liked her a lot more before she began studying helping skills.
Many of your friends and family may have similar reactions as you begin to learn helping skills. This may initially be discouraging, but it may help to know that most effective helpers practice these behaviors for many years before comfortably integrating them into their interactions with clients. In fact, some helpers discover that during the process of becoming a helper, their helping skills and confidence get worse before they get better. This down-and-up pattern makes sense given that trainees learn that not all of their old communication styles work,
and they feel temporarily awkward until the new patterns become integrated into their own personal style. Similarly, Goldfried (2012) talked about how, when learning a new behavior, people move from unconscious incompetence (i.e., they are not aware of what they do not know or cannot do) to conscious incompetence (i.e., they become aware that they are not very good at the skills and thus their confidence dips) to conscious competence (i.e., they become skilled but behave in a self-conscious manner) to unconscious competence (i.e., the skills recede into the background, and they have increased self-efficacy).
In addition to the natural inclination and knowledge of skills, helpers must have self-awareness. Chapter 4 describes self-awareness as both a trait (i.e., self- knowledge and self-insight about general personality characteristics or motivations) and a state (i.e., an in-the-moment understanding of what one is feeling and perceiving). Self-awareness is crucial so that helpers know what is going on inside themselves and can then separate out how they are reacting to clients. Otherwise, helpers might act out on impulses and reactions of which they are unaware and harm clients. Hence, self-awareness seems to be a foundation for effective interventions.
Similarly, having a facilitative attitude toward the specific client in the specific moment is a necessary foundation. Facilitative attitudes include empathy, warmth, genuineness, compassion, and nonjudgmentalness. These facilitative conditions are not something that helpers possess generally but rather are something that helpers feel in the moment toward specific people. These facilitative conditions naturally fluctuate across and within clients.
This model suggests that some people are more oriented than others toward becoming helpers. These people then work to gain general self-knowledge about who they are as people and as helpers, and they work to become more skilled as helpers. And then within a specific session with a client, they work to become aware of feelings and perceptions, and they strive to have a facilitative attitude.
In other words, it is not enough just to know the skills, because skills implemented without self-awareness and facilitative attitudes would be noxious and unhelpful. Likewise, having just self-awareness and a facilitative attitude would be nice, but it would not be very helpful, because the person would not know how to communicate and intervene with clients. Thus, helpers need to be self-aware so as not to inappropriately use clients, they need to genuinely care about the client, and they need to know how to use helping skills to help clients.
Overview of This Book
ORGANIZATION The second chapter in Part I of this book provides an overview of the helping process in terms of the three-stage model and a description of the components of helping. Chapter 3 provides an overview of ethical issues involved in helping.
Chapter 4 involves a discussion of self-awareness (including both self-knowledge and in-the-moment awareness). Chapter 5 introduces the important topic of cultural awareness.
Parts II, III, and IV present more description of the exploration, insight, and action stages, respectively. In each part, an overview chapter highlights the theoretical foundation and the goals of the stage. The chapters that follow the overview chapter focus on skills that can be used to accomplish specific goals within the given stage. At the end of each part, a chapter addresses the integration of the skills taught for that stage and presents clinical issues that arise in implementing the stage. Finally, Part V involves integrating the skills into ideas for how to conduct sessions with clients. Issues that arise in helping sessions (e.g., beginning a session, termination) are discussed.
Please note that a lot of examples are used throughout the book to make the points come to life. Some examples are based on real people (names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved); other examples are completely fictitious, created to illustrate a given point.
RESEARCH SUMMARIES In each of the chapters, there is a special section summarizing the results of an applicable research investigation. Given the importance of an evidence base for helping, some knowledge of research studies is valuable. I encourage readers to study these research summaries carefully and think about the evidence. In addition, given that the establishment of an empirical foundation is in its infancy, I strongly encourage readers to conduct research of their own so that we can have evidence about how to modify psychotherapy and training.