The helping sessions were fairly difficult this week, since we’d had so much time away from actually using the skills that anxiety was getting in the way of listening.
The big thing I came up against was that I had a great sense that the helpee had a drink problem, but I got sidelined by the assertion that the problem was with the helpee’s wife, and I wished to deal with the possible relationship problems – by first assertaining what the difficulties between husband and wife was (I could see that it was clearly the drinking after the session had ended). To that end, the session was over without my investigating the drinking at all.
I was interested in advising the helpee of getting him support in the form of relate counselling, whereby he and his wife could go together. I didn’t feel that my skills were suited to supporting him, since he wouldn’t admit to a problem in the relationship although his wife “moaned” a lot. The need was for them both to attend counselling together. The flipside of my belief that I failed to identify the drinking problem is that he wouldn’t admit to any wrongdoing or failure in the relationship on his part. It is possible that he wouldn’t admit to a drinking problem, and therefore in relate, with his wife present, the issue might be raised and the more experienced counsellor would deal with it.
Observing the observers when they are giving feedback has allowed me to see that we are all beginning to have a greater understanding of the use of the skills, and what is possible in a helping session. Although we still share an anxiety, the knowledge is there, the helpers are prepared to take on board the feedback and engage in discussion on what they could/should have done better/instead.
One thing that I can see we are holding back from is our congruence. As part of our learning we have come to terms with holding back our agenda and not offering advice of what we think the helpee “should” do. We have come to an impasse and this is much like the old adage of “show don’t tell” in writing. A writer is taught not to tell the reader what is happening. This is a specific lesson in getting the writer to explore what other tools are available to them. Ultimately they have to come back to using the “tell” tool, but in moderation and whilst relying upon “show”. In helping work, the helper is not solely there to listen but to reflect and offer support. One such support being advice on referrals.
As helpers we have been taught to set aside our agendas and need to offer advice, yet, what we must learn to pick up is the skill of advising, which is subtley different from advice, in that the helper’s agenda is removed and no pressure is placed upon the helpee to follow the advice.