Self-challenge focuses on the kind of understanding that leads to constructive change. We do our clients a disservice if all that we do is help them identify and explore self-limiting blind spots. The upbeat part of self-challenge is helping clients transform blind spots into new perspectives and translate these new perspectives into more constructive patterns of both internal and external behavior.

There are many upbeat names for this process of transforming blind spots into new perspectives: seeing things more clearly, getting the picture, getting insights, developing new perspectives, spelling out implications, transforming perceptions, developing new frames of reference, looking for meaning, shifting perceptions, seeing the bigger picture, developing different angles, seeing things in context, context breaking, rethinking, getting a more objective view, interpreting, overcoming blind spots, second-level learning, double-loop learning (Argyris, 1999), thinking creatively, reconceptualizing, discovering, having an “ah-ha” experience, developing a new outlook, questioning assumptions, getting rid of distortions, relabeling, and making connections. Some terms used to describe this process are “frame breaking,” “frame bending,” and “reframing.” You get the idea. All of these imply some kind of cognitive restructuring that is needed in order to identify and manage both problems and opportunities. Developing new perspectives, although painful at times, tends to be ultimately prized by clients.

One way of helping clients challenge both internal and external actions is to help them explore the consequences of their actions. Let’s return to Roberto. He has made some “mild” attempts at sabotaging his wife’s career. He refers to his actions as “delaying tactics.”

HELPER: It might be helpful to see where all of this is leading.

ROBERTO: What do you mean?

HELPER: I mean let’s review what impact your “delaying tactics” have had on Maria and your marriage. And then let’s review where these tactics are most likely ultimately to lead.

ROBERTO: Well, I can tell you one thing. She’s become even more stubborn.

Through their discussion, Roberto discovers that his sabotage is working against rather than for him. He is endangering the marriage by keeping himself in the dark.

Effective helpers assume that clients have the resources to see themselves and the world in which they live in a less distorted way and to act on what they see. Another way of putting it is that skilled counselors help clients move from what the Alcoholics Anonymous movement calls “stinkin’ thinkin’ ” to healthy thinking. And from “stinkin’ ” emoting to constructive emotional expression. And from dysfunctional actions to healthy behavior. Consider Carla. Facing menopause, she is lumbered with the outmoded view of menopause as a “deficiency disease.” Without minimizing Carla’s discomfort and stress, a counselor helps her see menopause as a natural developmental stage of life. Although it indicates the ending of one phase, it also opens up new life-stage possibilities. Looking forward to those possibilities rather than looking back at what she’s lost helps Carla a great deal.

There are any number of ways in which counselors can help clients engage in the kind of self-challenge that leads to perspectives that can help them change their behavior, both internal and external. Some invitations to self-challenge tend toward the indirect end of the continuum, while others are more direct. Let’s start with three indirect approaches: advanced empathy, that is, identifying and sharing the message behind the message, sharing information, and helper self-disclosure.

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