Once more it is a question of helping clients stimulate their imaginations and engage in divergent thinking. Most clients do not instinctively seek different routes to goals and then choose the ones that make most sense. These principles are similar to the ones used to discover possibilities for a better future in Stage II.

Use Brainstorming to Stimulate Clients’ Thinking

Brainstorming, discussed in Chapter 11, can play an important role in developing strategies o accomplish goals. People tend to make better decisions if they have an opportunity to choose from among a number of options. But brainstorming in Stage III must be focused, just as it is in Stage II. Mara’s first goal is to establish a social life beyond home and work. Carlos helps her brainstorm ways of doing this. But Mara suggests that she give herself a couple of weeks. She keeps a pad of paper with her and writes down ideas as they come along. Here are some of the possibilities she came up with:

  • * Go to select alumni events of her local alma mater.
  • * Get involved with the alumni association itself as a volunteer.
  • * Join LinkedIn and Facebook and look into more tailored social networking sites.
  • * Experiment with a few sessions with a nondenominational church group.
  • * Start a part-time MBA in order to get involved with people with similar business aspirations.
  • * Do a 2-week stint as a volunteer at a Georgia-based camp which helps Iranian- American youth deal with cross-cultural issues.
  • * Spend 2 more weeks in Iran to identify more carefully just what she means by “community.”
  • * Check to see what social-focused activities Iranian Alliances Across Borders has to offer.
  • * See if there are any online Iranian social networking sites.
  • * Experiment with some online “friendships.”
  • * Volunteer in a local hospital as a way of finding a community of like-minded people.
  • * Investigate local civic clubs.
  • * See if there are single women’s clubs in town.
  • * See if there are women’s book clubs in town.
  • * Say yes to fellow workers who have invited her over to their houses for a meal.

Mara acted on some of these possibilities right away. Remember that the work done in any stage or task can stimulate action, often small actions, that keep the client headed in the right direction. For instance, she joined LinkedIn. She had an interview with the head of alumni relations at her alma mater and attended one of the alumni events. She also arranged a short visit to the camp in Georgia to see what it was like to discuss possibilities of doing a summer internship there as a counselor of some sort.

Helpers may make suggestions but they have to do it in a way that keeps the client in the driver’s seat. Therapists don’t make choices for clients either directly or indirectly; rather they help clients make life-enhancing decisions. There are a number of ways of doing this. There is the “prompt and fade” technique. The counselor

can say, “Here are a couple of possibilities Let’s take a look at them and see

whether any of them make sense to you. Or maybe they can kick start some ideas of your own.” Or, “Here are some of the things that people with this kind of problem situation have tried.... How do they sound to you?” The “fade” part of this technique keeps it from being advice giving. It remains clear that the client must

think these strategies over, choose the right ones, and commit to them.

Elton, a graduate student in counseling psychology, is plagued with perfectionism. Although he is an excellent student, he worries about getting things right. After he writes a paper or practices counseling, he agonizes over what he could have done better. This puts him on edge when he practices counseling with his fellow trainees. They tell him that his “edge” makes them uncomfortable and interferes with the flow of the helping process. One student says to him, “You make me feel as if I’m not doing the right things as a client.”

Elton realizes that “less is more”—that is, becoming less preoccupied with the details of helping will make him a more effective helper. His goal is to become more relaxed in the helping sessions, free his mind of the “imperatives” to be perfect, and learn from mistakes rather than expending an excessive amount of effort trying to avoid them. He and his supervisor talk about ways he can free himself of these inhibiting imperatives.

SUPERVISOR: What kinds of things can you do to become more relaxed?

ELTON: I need to focus my attention on the client and the client’s goals instead of being preoccupied with myself. I’m so focused on myself.

SUPERVISOR: So a basic shift in your orientation right from the beginning will help.

ELTON: Right____And this means getting rid of a few inhibiting beliefs.


ELTON: That technical perfection in the helping model is more important than the relationship with the client. I get lost in the details of the model and have forgotten that I’m a human being with another human being.

SUPERVISOR: So “rehumanizing” the helping process in your own mind will help..

Any other internal behaviors need changing?

ELTON: Another belief is that I have to be the best in the class. That’s my history, at least in academic subjects. Being as effective as I can be in helping a client has nothing to do with competing with my fellow students. Competing is a distraction.

I know it’s in my bones. It might have been all right in high school, but. .

SUPERVISOR: Okay, so the academic-game mentality doesn’t work here.

ELTON (Interrupting): That’s precisely it. Even the practicing we do with one another is real life, not a game. You know that a lot of us talk about real issues when we practice.

SUPERVISOR: You’ve been talking about getting your attitudes right and the impact that can have on helping sessions. Are there things you can do that are not in your head?

ELTON (Pauses): I’m hesitating because it strikes me how I’m in my head too much, always figuring me out.. On a much more practical basis, I like what Jerry and Philomena do. Before each session with their “clients” in their practice sessions, they spend 5 or 10 minutes reviewing just where the client is in the overall helping process and determining what they might do in the next session to add value and move things forward. That puts the focus where it belongs, on the client.

SUPERVISOR: So a mini-prep for each session can help you get out of your world and into the client’s.

ELTON: Also in debriefing the training videos we make each week.... I now see that I always start by looking at my behavior instead of what’s happening with the client.. Oh, there’s another thing I can do. I can share just what we’ve been discussing here with my training partner.

SUPERVISOR: I’m not sure whether you bring up the perfectionism issues when you’re the “client” in the practice sessions or in the weekly lifestyle group meetings.

ELTON (Hesitating): Well, not really. I’m just coming to realize how pervasive it is in my life. . To tell you the truth I think I haven’t brought it up because I’d rather have my fellow trainees see me as competent, not perfectionist. . Well, the cat is out of the bag with you, so I guess it makes sense to put it on my lifestyle group agenda.

This dialogue, which includes empathy, probes, and invitations to self-challenge from the supervisor, produces a number of strategies that Elton can use to develop a more client-focused mentality.

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