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Discussion

This educational approach to positive procedures within areas of family life is centrally a teaching approach.  It is, thus, important to first focus on the teaching process itself.  The skills, techniques, and other content being taught will be of little value to the client unless he is actively involved in the teaching process and has developed a pattern of interaction with the consultant that facilitates and encourages learning.

The teaching process begins with being sure that the client knows what is expected in specific and general terms.  This knowledge must also incorporate a real understanding of what is being taught – what is to be learned.  As the client is engaged in the various activities in the educational approach, encourage feedback that lets the consultant know that the client is focused on the activity, knows what the general content area of the activity is, and has a good feel for the elements within the activity in terms of what kind of elements will be involved.  For example, a later activity will ask the client to look at his multidimensional style.  The consultant should work with the client enough to be sure that the client has a feel for what style is, what the dimensions are within multidimensional, and what kind of statements would be responsive to the activity.

It is also important that the client has some feel for what there is to be learned through the process of completing the activity.  For example, the client will learn to look at the six dimensions of his functioning, focus on aspects of those dimensions that are most important to him, and begin to define those aspects in ways that will enable the client to reflect the specific traits and characteristics with style, all the time, on purpose.  The result will be a more consistent personal presentation to others, resulting in more consistent, positive feedback from others.  Knowing and understanding what is expected within the activity increases the likelihood of the client’s serious participation and the likelihood of a positive outcome for the client.

Knowing and understanding what is expected then combines with the client’s knowing how to do what is expected.  The consultant may want to go through one or two elements of the activity and ask the client to respond verbally.  This will enable the consultant to see whether or not the client is responsive, thus implying his knowing how to do what is expected.  In a group context, the same teaching goal can be accomplished by having two or three participants respond to an activity item or so verbally before encouraging the group to complete the activity on a pencil and paper basis.  If necessary, the consultant can offer two or three appropriate responses, modeling how to do what is expected.

These steps will also avoid the client’s getting into the activity and having invested time and energy in the activity only to find out that his participation is inappropriate or nonresponsive.  The key to the educational process is the minimization of the possibility of failure or of a non-responsive investment of time and energy on the part of the client.

The educational approach used here is neither abstract nor disconnected from the day-to-day life and experience of the client.  It is, rather, directly related to and extended from things the client already knows, understands, or has experienced.  A useful technique in verifying this connection is to simply ask the client, “how does this relate to you and your world today?”  A similar technique is to ask, “how does this relate to skills you already have or to strong points in your personality and style of relating to others?”  If the client is able to make the connection in fairly concrete terms, all is well.  If not, it will be important for the consultant to facilitate the connection process.  For example, the client may not immediately make the necessary connection when thinking about his emotional style.  The consultant might say, “Tell me something that you feel very strongly about, that you care about, that really makes a difference to you.”  Once the client has shared the specific content, the consultant can then say, “How do you let other people know about your feelings, know that this really makes a difference to you?”  Once the client has shared additional content, the consultant can then say, “The way you share this, the way you express it lets people know what you think but also lets them know how you feel.  The “how you feel” is what we call your emotional expression, your emotional style.”  Once this idea connects with the client, the consultant goes on to say, “Your emotional style is an important part of who you are and has a lot to do with how others relate to you.  What can you say positively about your emotional style?  To do this, complete the sentence, ‘Emotionally, I am ________.’ ”

As the client and the consultant engage in the process, it is important for the consultant to emphasize the client’s progress and to de-emphasize any problems or how much there is yet to learn.  One way to maximize this strategy is to give almost all emphasis to the learning task in which the client is involved at any time.  Comment on the progress the client has made and on your faith in his ability to make similar progress with the content being focused on at this point.  The client may say, “I don’t think I will ever get on to this.  The more I work on it the more it seems like it’s going to take forever.  I’m not sure I can do it anyway.”  The consultant might respond, “I can see how you would feel that way.  I’ve worked with a lot of people who have felt the same way.  I’ve found that they usually are not giving themselves enough credit and are forgetting that even a little progress will make a lot of difference in their relationships, in their families.  I think you’re being too hard on yourself, especially since you have been doing so well.”

As the consultant gets more experienced with the educational approach it will become easier and more natural to modify and adjust the approach and techniques to the unique client.  Especially at first, however, the consultant may feel a little uneasy about the process.  Others who have felt that way have tended to become a little mechanical and distant form the client.  It has been found that encouraging the client to take a little more active role in shaping and directing the educational process is a good way to guard against this tendency.

As the client participates within his family and within specific family relationships, one of the goals is to encourage the client to take the role of the other person, look at things from the other’s point of view.  In the consultation process, this can be done through asking the client, for example, “Now that you see what the idea is, I would appreciate it if we could stop for a couple of minutes so you can help me think about this particular technique or approach.  What other ways of going about it can you think of that would be more comfortable to you or that you think most people would relate to more easily?”

In addition, the consultant will find that some clients are more comfortable with a pencil and paper approach while others are more comfortable with a verbal, interactive approach, while still others are more comfortable with the consultant’s taking the more active role in the process.  For example, a few clients will find it most comfortable if the consultant would go through the entire activity, sharing with the client typical responses to the items, what interpretations might be given to different responses, or how the consultant thinks the client might respond based on the consultant’s experience with the client.  Some clients are self-starters and ready to take an active role in the process.  Others are only prepared to take a quite passive role and must be lead along one small step at a time.  Just be sure not to expect the client to be further along the continuum of active and interactive participation than he is at any point in time.

The points discussed above begin to merge into a positive learning environment for the client.  Although education is sometimes difficult and frustrating and requires an investment of energy and self, the environment within which the process occurs can and should be a positive experience for the client.  Along with positive feedback, affirmation, and an attitude of helpfulness and caring, other aspects of the environment are also important.

Is the client physically comfortable?  Is the consultant managing the environment in ways that discourage other people in the situation from pushing, criticizing, or otherwise conveying to the client any sense that the client is not okay and doing okay?  Does the environment make it easy for the client to hear and for him to see everyone as they talk or as the client interacts with them?

One technique to be used here is to simply ask the client from time to time if there is anything uncomfortable or negative about the environment, the experience, or about his participation in the process.  Importantly, the consultant needs to be quite sensitive here to any subtle or nonverbal clues that suggest that the client may not be being completely open and candid about his feelings and perceptions.  A positive learning environment is essential.

Along with knowing what is going well, the client also needs to understand and appreciate why some things are wrong, inappropriate, counterproductive, or ineffective in terms of his behavior, actions, attitudes, and interpersonal participation.  When the consultant says to the client, “That particular behavior or action may not be your best choice in this situation,” an explanation is in order.  First, the message to the client should not be that what he has done or how he has behaved is bad.  Rather, the message needs to be that alternative behavior or actions would likely better serve the client’s needs, wants, and interest.  These ideas and suggestions are , of course, combined with discussion and explanations relative to their value and benefit.

At the same time, the client needs to know and appreciate “why” his current style is not as useful or effective as it might be.  A useful technique is to focus with the client in terms of the desired effect or outcome.  The approach is always results-oriented.  Once the consultant and the client have come to some agreement about the desired results, then it is considerably easier to talk in terms of means to the end, ways of achieving the results.  Here, experience is usually the best teacher.  Focus on the results the client has been getting.  The new or modified approach is an opportunity to possibly achieve results more nearly in line with those desired by the client.  At a minimum, the suggested approach may be worth a try, giving the client the opportunity to compare the new results with the results he has been getting.  This test is then the participatory explanation as to why the new approach is preferable to the approach that has been used.

Again, the emphasis is in terms of the personal experience of the client and the connection between that experience and the new learning.  The consultant wants to consistently avoid any simple appeal to his expertise and experience in ways that suggest that the experience of the consultant is somehow better than or preferable to the life experience of the client.

The consultant’s familiarity with the techniques and content may tend to lead to the client’s being overwhelmed or feeling as if he should be moving faster than is comfortable.  It is, thus, important that the steps or learning pieces are very clear and small enough to make it easy for the client to succeed.  Remember that success is always the goal.  Among other things this means that the goal should be less understood in terms of general improvement in interpersonal functioning and more understood in terms of the development of specific skills and behaviors.  For example, the general goal may be to develop a closer sense of interpersonal involvement between the client and his spouse.  Keeping the steps or learning pieces small, the consultant might work specifically on helping the client learn to talk more quietly when interacting with the spouse.  Frequently, simply talking more quietly makes it easier for people to develop an increased sense of closeness and intimacy.

As the consultant interacts with the client, it is important that the consultant accept as much or more responsibility for any difficulties or problems related to progress as is attributed to the client.  When difficulties arise within any intervention process, there is a strong tendency to attribute the difficulties to the individuals involved.  More specifically, the tendency is to see the problem as the client’s fault.  When using the educational approach, however, “finding fault” is both counterproductive and inappropriate.  Rather, the emphasis needs to be considerably less on “why” the problem has come up and considerably more on “what will we do about it.”

Extending the point a little, focus is not on “why” things are problematic but on what is accounting for the problematic piece.  Once the client and the consultant have the area of difficulty in focus, they then jointly accept responsibility for moving the process along.  Sometimes the client takes a little more responsibility; and sometimes, that role is taken by the consultant.  The educational approach is a shared process, including shared responsibility.  In this sense, the client/consultant relationship models a positive, effective relationship for the client.

As the consultant and the client work together in their shared activity, it is important for the consultant to use that which actually motivates the client in terms of developing a payoff for the client.  Here, it is not enough to simply assume that the client is motivated, is interested, and wants to pursue the learning process.  A more specific understanding of motivation needs to be developed.  Ask the client, “Why do you want to do this?  What is in it for you?  How do you think you will be better off as a result of the energy and effort you are investing?”

At this important level, attention is on personal payoff or personal gain from the involvement.  It is this level of motivation that will sustain the client at those points when the process may become difficult, when learning is somewhat less than easy, and when it comes time to practice and practice again.  At these points, the consultant, knowing what the payoff is, can bring the client’s attention back to the payoff, can use the payoff as delayed reinforcement, and can point out to the client those points at which the client actually gets the payoff, receives the personal benefits of the process.  These points may be small and can easily go unnoticed by the client, since recognizing positive feedback from others and responding to it may be part of the difficulties themselves.  For example, if the client perceives having his child be more cooperative as something that would increase the general comfort level of the client, progress may be hard to see at those points when the level of cooperation is quite low.  Knowing that the level of cooperation develops personal payoff for the client, it may be possible to point out to the client that the points of low cooperation are getting fewer and farther between.  The consultant might be able to say, “I can tell that you are feeling really quite frustrated right now.  It feels like there is no cooperation at all.  At times like this, it is hard to remember that you really are making progress.  I did note as you were talking, though, that you and your son had been working together for almost two hours before the bottom dropped out of the cooperation level.  Progressing from five minutes without things falling apart to two hours is an amazing amount of progress in such a short period of time.  You should be really pleased with how well you are doing, even though it does feel frustrating right now.”

As the consultant moves through the education process, it is important for him to be well organized and prepared for each opportunity with the client.  This preparation takes several forms.  First, it is important to have in mind specific learning activities and opportunity with the client.  This preparation takes several forms.  First, it is important to have in mind specific learning activities and opportunities that fit with the needs and interests of the client.  Of course, this teaching plan will be modified and influenced by the particular interest and focus of the client during any educational episode.  Nonetheless, preparation includes an individual lesson plan including the most likely points to be covered, techniques to be developed, and other specific content.

In addition, the consultant needs to look at the educational opportunity relative to both the client and the other members of the client’s family.  At times, “what would be most useful to other family members” strongly influences the approach on any given occasion.  Beyond that, the lesson plan should take in to consideration past involvement of the client, where the client is likely to be personally and interpersonally at the beginning of the session, and which small pieces and little bits are likely productive points to pursue.  The educational approach is not a happening or existential encounter.  It is, rather, a planned and guided learning experience.

As part of the consultant’s style, consistent calmness, patience, and supportiveness with the client are important.  The key here relates to the more general importance of a positive learning environment.  The point may seem small but is actually central to the process.  The client’s emotional state will tend to fluctuate or vacillate.  It is, thus, important that the consultant remain reasonably calm and even dispositioned avoiding any tendencies to become anxious, hostile, aggressive, frustrated, disengaged from the process, or to convey any other feelings or emotions that might tend to alienate the client or cause him to begin to react negatively to the consultant.  The consultant’s feedback to the client is always neutral to positive.

The point extends to patience on the part of the consultant.  The client learns that his idiosyncratic pace will allow him to understand and respond to some things more quickly than others and will not always reflect smooth and continuous progress.  Patience on the part of the consultant conveys an acceptance of the client, the client’s progress or lack of it at any point in time, and conveys a sense of respect and appreciation for the client.  Calmness and patience combine with positive interaction and feedback to support who the client is, how the client is doing, and the effort the client is making.  The supportiveness of the consultant is, perhaps, as important as any other single attribute of the client/consultant relationship.  The role model being projected for the client is of similar value.

Believing that he understands and can work with the client and that the client understands and can work with the consultant are additional essential ingredients in the educational approach.  The dynamic here tends to operate as a self-fulfilling prophecy.  To the extent that either perceives a lack of understanding or experiences a lack of faith in the other, the process will suffer.  It is also clear that the self-confidence and self-esteem of the consultant are important aspects of a positive learning environment.  The usually unspoken message to the client is, “Through what I say and do, I am conveying to you my understanding of you, your needs, and your interest.  This understanding combines with the belief on my part that I can help you learn.”  This confidence is picked up by the client and is, through identification, translated into the client’s belief in himself.  The interaction of mutuality and shared belief, then represent powerful positive drivers that move the process along.

At a more personal level, mutuality and shared belief translate into a sense that the client and the consultant like each other.  When engaged with families, this becomes an even more complex part of the process since the development of a “we like each other” pattern of interaction needs to be developed with each family member.  Of course, the shared feeling will be stronger between some family members and the consultant than with others.  Nonetheless, serious difficulties can quickly develop at any point that the “we like each other” understanding does not develop or begins to break down.  This is a point that is usually best approached directly.  The consultant might say, “I get the feeling that you don’t like me very much right now.”  Always add the “right now” in order to draw attention to the immediate point of interaction.  Alternatively, the consultant may on some occasions need to say, “Right now, I am feeling that I do not like you very much.  I really want for us to spend some time talking about that so that we can get past this point with each other.”  The discussion then needs to focus in terms of specific behaviors or self-projections that seem to be contributing to the perceptions.  The point in the process is, in short, managed as an important learning opportunity for both the consultant and the client.

The underlying theme here is for the consultant to manage his relationship with the client in ways that allow the relationship to be used as a standard of comparison from the client’s point of view.  It is also important for the consultant to facilitate and encourage the comparison.  For example, if the client and the consultant should reach a “we do not like each other” point, focus on that point and successfully work it through in terms of a more positive interaction.  This process then becomes a referent or “how to” example for the client.

If the client is experiencing negative gain in one of his family relationships, the consultant might say, “This is a little like when you and I were talking about liking and not liking each other.  I was impressed with the skill with which you were able to work through that point in our relationship. It seems to me that the same skills could be used by you in this situation in your family.  What do you think?”  Sensitivity to potential points of comparisons, will increase the opportunity for the consultant to reinforce this use of the consultant/client relationship.  Progress is evident when the client begins to make the comparisons spontaneously.

Given the best effort on the part of both the client and the consultant, difficulties and problem points will arise.  The important point here is for the consultant and the client to evaluate and try to understand why a problem or difficulty has come up in the learning process before trying to do something about it or making suggestions for its resolution.  It is tempting to assume no one would try to resolve a problem before understanding what the problem is and what may account for it.  Nonetheless, this type of response, trying to fix before understanding what needs fixed, occurs more frequently than one might think.

Falling into the trap, the consultant hears the client say, “I am having a problem with this.”  The immediate response on the part of the consultant is, “You ought to try…”  Alternatively, the client says, “I am having a problem with this.  I think I will…”  The issue is that the solution is simply a response to having a problem but is not clearly related to an understanding of or sensitivity to the problem.  The client should be discouraged from this approach either within the consultation relationship or within his family involvements.

Taking time to evaluate and understand the problem point avoids the real likelihood that the client will simply use old strategies, old approaches, and habitual ways of responding.  Better are responses that are thought out, related to an understanding of the problem, and developed as a specific way of handling or working through a specific set of problems, difficulties, or interactional tension points.  If a problem is worth responding to at all, it is worth the extra thought and attention it will take to respond in ways that maximize the likelihood of effectively and positively resolving the problem along with minimizing the likelihood of the difficulty’s recurring.

A point already made in other ways needs reiterated in more specific terms.  It is important that the consultant believes that the client can and will make progress.  One way of approaching this is to go beyond the level of intuition and subconscious perception to develop a chart listing the strengths and assets the client already has that will be useful and beneficial in terms of progressing through the learning process.  This listing approach is best accomplished in conjunction with specific later activities and includes those areas of strength, special ability, or interpersonal capacity emphasized in the activity.  A similar listing should be developed in terms of those factors, characteristics, or other elements that result in the consultant’s belief that the client will make progress.  The two lists combine to develop an analysis of what might be thought of as the client’s progress potential.  The same approach can then be used in making two lists including elements related to what might be thought of as the client’s failure potential.  The task of the consultant is then to actualize the client’s progress potential and to minimize the interference or deterrent capacity of the client’s failure potential.  More specifically, this type of approach assist the consultant in maximizing the strengths and minimizing weaknesses.  The educational experience should then be directed to the elements if the client’s progress potential and away from his failure potential.

In order to accomplish the above, the consultant must keep the approach flexible and responsive to the client.  He must be especially alert to any appearance of elements related to the client’s failure potential and prepared to deal with those comments in ways that minimize their effect or impact.  At the same time, the consultant needs to be able to shift to focus on progress potential elements.  Making the same point in somewhat different terms, if elements within the client’s failure potential begin to appear and or interfere with the process, it is clear that the process is emphasizing counterproductive elements, resulting in less than useful responses and reactions, or focusing in areas with which the client is not yet ready to deal.  An important part of flexibility, then, is the ability to back away from the current approach and content and toward more productive and useful areas.

There will be times when it is important to change methodologies, activities, or other aspects of the approach to develop more concert or a better fit with where the client is at at the specific point in time.  For example, if the client seems to be getting bogged down, appears to be resisting the process, and doesn’t seem fully responsive to what is happening at the time, it may be useful to shift focus to some of the earlier points in this discussion, move from one activity to another, go back to activities that had been processed earlier, change methodologies from more verbally oriented approaches to paper and pencil oriented approaches, or simply suspend the process long enough to talk with the client for a few minutes about how he is feeling and what the process looks like from his point of view at the time.

The above is facilitated through consciously using a variety or mix of techniques and approaches.  This helps for two reasons.  First, the variety will be more interesting and stimulating to the client.  Second, using a variety or mix gives the consultant the opportunity to both tailor the approach to the client and develop experience with those techniques and approaches to which the client responds most effectively and positively.  Beyond that, the strategy presents to both the client and the consultant the opportunity to deal with the same concepts, techniques, and content areas using different methodologies.  This facilitates learning through repetition as well as learning through developing and understanding that several approaches can and do lead to nearly equivalent ends.  The effect is to expand and extend the learning experience for the client in ways that most nearly assure that the client will be able to identify with the learning process, the content, and the approach.  The modeling value of this strategy for the client is also important, especially in terms of his learning to use a variety of techniques and approaches within family relationship.

The key to all of the above is the consultant’s understanding of and familiarity with the skills and content being taught.  Teachers must be able to teach but they must also be very familiar with that which is being taught.  Most consultants will be very familiar with most of the content areas and with most of the skills and techniques being taught.  It will also be important for them to supplement this knowledge and understanding through reading and continuing training.  In addition, it will also be useful and at times critical for the consultant to assure the availability of other consultants with whom the client is able to interact relative to specific content or skill areas.

For example, functioning as a lover within the marriage relationship requires specific knowledge and skills related to the sexual functioning of men, of women, and of sexual interaction between men and women.  The same is true in terms of parent/child relationships, especially where the child involved has some type of special problem or difficulty.  The consultant need not be all things to all people.  It is enough to have a good knowledge and skill foundation and a willingness to seek out and make available other resources that may be needed by the client.

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