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Discussion

It will be helpful to consider the discussion following activity 1 in conjunction with the discussion here.  The teaching process as developed in activity 1 parallels very closely this activity and the readiness of the client to participate in the educational process.

The client’s expecting the process to succeed is essential to whether or not the process will, in fact, succeed.  The more optimistic the client is, the more energy and effort he will attempt to invest and the more receptive he will tend to be to the concepts, suggestions, and techniques to be learned.  Conversely, the client’s believing that the process will not succeed makes it very difficult for both client and the consultant.  It may be that the client will participate in the process enough to begin to develop some success and make some progress which may in turn alter his thoughts and feelings about the educational approach.  Even while making this initial investment, though, the consultant needs to explore with the client his initial pessimism.  Frequently, it will relate to previous experience with intervention efforts, misperceptions the client may have about the consultant or the educational approach, or a sense of futility in relation to having any ability to change or modify relationships or responses of other people in the family.

Even if the client expects the process to succeed, it is important for the consultant to clarify success.  It may be that the client expects to succeed but that his perception or idea about success is unrealistic or in some other way inconsistent with what success will be like.  In the role of the consultant, you might say, “I am pleased that you feel that things will get better and that your interpersonal skills will improve.  Talk with me a little about how you see things when the process succeeds.”  Through this step, the consultant and the client can clarify the likely outcome of the process to better assure that the client will feel positive and successful as a result of the process.  It is also important to enter into the educational approach without minimizing the possibility that either the client or the consultant could perceive the process as succeeding without the concurrence of the other.

This point extends to the motivation of the client.  Once it is understood what success will be like, the consultant and the client can then evaluate the extent to which the client is motivated by the likely outcome or “payoff” of the educational involvement.  At the optimal level, the client’s motivation will focus in three areas.  First, he will be motivated by increasing interpersonal skill and effectiveness.  This achievement will be personally satisfying.  Second, motivation will come in terms of improved interpersonal relationships and more comfortable interpersonal involvement with other family members.  Third, motivation will come in terms of the increased comfort and satisfaction of other family members.  Based on a realistic understanding of the likely outcome, all three payoffs blend into the major interpersonal gain and motivational energy for the client.  If any of the three motivational areas are seen as unnecessary or as unimportant by the client, the success of the educational approach is proportionally less assured.

As can be seen from the above, focus here is on the client’s placing high personal value on the outcome or payoff.  The client says, “All three areas are very important to me.”  The personal valuing of the outcome, the enhancement of family relationships, and the increased satisfaction and comfort of other family members are then the payoff for the investment of time and energy.

The educational approach is time consuming for the client and requires a lot of energy and self-directed effort.  Here, though, an additional reality needs to be introduced and discussed between the consultant and the client.  In the long run, it will require as much time and energy to maintain the problematic status quo – to keep things the way they are – as it will to use the educational approach to improve things for the client, other family members, and the interpersonal involvements of family members.  Problematic and negative interactions within the family are energy draining and time consuming, with the investment of time and energy achieving little.  The educational approach is then a substitute way of using the family resources that, in the long run, will reduce the negative drain or ineffective use of family time, energy, and other resources.  It is, then, an investment in the future for each member of the family.

In assessing client readiness, attention now shifts away from understanding success and the payoff for the client to developing and understanding of the client’s participation in the family.  Does the client take personal responsibility for his participation and involvement within the family system?  The point being pursued here with the client is subtle and may seem minor but is actually essential to the educational approach.  The client is going to learn to be a proactive component within the family system, an individual who interacts with style, skill, and purposefulness.  Specifically, this orientation will develop in terms of his individual functioning and specifically in relationship to his children and spouse.  In order to do this the client needs to understand and accept responsibility for his involvement and participation.

There is not intent to change other members of the family or to see one’s self as simply reacting to other family members.  Instead, the client is understood as an active ingredient within the system, as a responsible and self-directed family member.

Many clients will understand their active role and influence within the family and will accept personal responsibility for both.  Other clients, however, will need specific consultation attention directed to defining and clarifying their intrafamily role.  Usually, role clarification is somewhat less at issue than understanding and clarifying the multiple influences that the client has within the family.  Most of the time, it is enough to acquaint the client with the concepts and with a few of their implications within the family system.  This familiarization leads rather quickly to the client’s generalizing the concepts and ideas throughout his participation in the family.  Some attention to this point has the secondary benefit of better acquainting the client with the inductive nature of the educational approach.  Understanding more specific and concrete areas of functioning and then generalizing that understanding to broader family areas and issues.

As an outcome of the educational approach, the client will begin to modify his behavior, involvement and participation within the family.  Gradually, the small modifications will lead to more general changes in the client’s style, approach, and functioning.  It is important that the client believes in his ability to make the needed commitment and changes.  Important to this step is the consultant’s belief in the client and faith in the client’s ability.  The positive element here is that virtually anyone who is willing to make the initial commitment will quickly learn that he does have the necessary ability.

The key here actually has more to do with the client’s level of self-esteem than with actual ability.  When the consultant is working with an individual who questions his – the client’s – ability, it is important for the consultant to understand that the issue is more in terms of the client’s self-esteem.  If this area is problematic, the consultant will want to spend some time in a supportive way reinforcing the client’s interest, desire to have better relationships, and demonstrated interest in his family.  The consultant might say, “I hear what you’re saying and understand that you do not feel real confident in your ability.  I have worked with other people who have felt the way you do.  I’ve found that people who care as much about their family as you seem to care are usually successful with the educational approach if they will invest a little initial time and energy.  What do you think?  I think you will be able to make progress because you really want things to be better.  Shall we give it a try and see how it goes?

An additional factor enters in here that also needs to be worked through.  The prognosis for success is much higher for clients who generally like the other members of their family than for those who do not.  Recall the three areas of payoff:  improved personal functioning, improved relationships, and increased comfortableness and satisfaction for other family members.  If the client is involved in the educational approach in part for other family members, liking or disliking other people in the family makes a difference.  He is more likely to be motivated to help people who are like than those who are disliked.

Disliking a specific family member presents a learning opportunity in terms of understanding the behavior, attitudes, or pattern of involvement of the other person that evoke dislike or negative reactions.  If the consultant can facilitate understanding at this level, progress is already being made.

For example, suppose an ingredient of why the client dislikes another member of the family has to do with the other member’s habitually saying negative, demeaning, and hostile things to the client.  First, simply beginning to isolate the specific behaviors and attitudes is itself consistent with the educational process.  The client sees what the other person is doing that evokes the negative reaction.  Next, the consultant begins to work with the client in terms of alternative behaviors and responses that enable the client to feel more in control and to experience less perceived assault to his self-esteem.  For example, maximizing the use of the elements of positive interpersonal style discussed later may be useful.  Keep in mind, though, that the goal here is not to change the behavior of the other person.  It is rather to facilitate the client’s developing better defined style and increased interpersonal skill.  The goal for the client is to say and feel, “I am who I think I am; and I think I am a worthwhile person with style.  Who you think I am is interesting but is not a basis for my deciding who I am, unless what you have to say really does seem to fit my perceptions of my behavior and actions.  Nonetheless, I appreciate your sharing your thoughts and ideas with me.”

To reiterate an earlier point, the readiness of the client is in proportion to the perceived benefit for him as well as related to his looking beyond simple self-interest and seeing each family member as benefiting from the client’s participation.

The client is doing it for himself but also for the other people in the family.  This perspective combines with a realistic appraisal by the client of his abilities, skills, and capacity to function within the family in an effective way.  These two components of readiness then combine with the client’s excepting responsibility for his participation in the family and participation in the educational approach.

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