What do these three brief comments below have in common?
- Mr. Smith complained that he has been through many, many drug programs and didn’t think this one would help him very much, either.
- Mrs. Jones told her social worker that she was disappointed that they had assigned such a young person to help her. She wished she could work with social worker who had more experience, and be better prepared to understand her situation.
- Mrs. Brown described her recent conflict with her husband and said, “I know nothing you can say will make a difference, that’s just how he is”.
They each express a strong feeling about their situation and may reveal a negative or discouraged point of view about the status quo. They are pessimistic about receiving much benefit or relief from the process of counseling or treatment. They are moments when your ears should perk up, alert to a changing dynamic shoving aside what you were discussing. They are each moments which can occur at the beginning, middle or end of a professional helping relationship, when a targeted response is required. “Targeted”, means a necessary opportunity to directly respond to the comment, to specifically connect with the strong statement being “handed” to you by the client.
This process of connecting with the client is called “engagement”. First, of course, you must notice that something new and probably quite unexpected has been added to your discussion. It wasn’t predictable, wasn’t probably what you thought you might be hearing at that particular moment. You have a moment to think to yourself about what it may mean. What is essential, then, is to respond to it, so that you and the client can again be walking on the same path, to ensure that you haven’t been left behind as the client is making a detour. You have choices as to how you may do this: You might offer a clarifying statement, an acknowledgement of what you have just heard, a description of the emotions being expressed, or questions aimed at further exploring what was just said, all with the same goal, to come to a better mutual understanding. Repeating what was just said doesn’t mean “agreeing with” it, and can communicate that you are listening, that you aren’t backing away from or arguing with negative statements. And yes, you might be making a departure from your agenda, or what you thought was on the client’s mind at that moment. Responses to avoid: reassurance, more information to disprove their feelings, suggestions to “fix’ the problem. Be alert for test questions that illustrate this concept, they are sure to be included.
Idelle Datlof, MSW, LISW-S