Build a Planning Mentality into the Helping Process Right from the Start

A constructive-change mind-set should permeate the helping process right from the beginning. Helpers need to see clients as self-healing agents capable of changing their lives, not just as individuals mired in problem situations. Even while listening to a client’s story, the helper needs to begin thinking of how the situation can be remedied and through probes find out what approaches to change clients are thinking about—no matter how tentative these ideas might be. As mentioned earlier, helping clients act in their real world right from the beginning of the helping process helps them develop some kind of initial planning mentality. If helping is to be solution-focused, thinking about strategies and plans must be introduced early. When a client tells of some problem, the helper can ask early on, “What kinds of things have you done so far to try to cope with the problem?”

Cora, a battered spouse, did not want to leave her husband because of the kids. Right from the beginning, the helper saw Cora’s problem situation from the point of view of the whole helping process. While she listened to Cora’s story, without distorting it, she saw possible goals and strategies. Within the helping sessions, the counselor helped Cora learn a great deal about how battered women typically respond to their plight and how dysfunctional some of those responses are. She also learned how to stop blaming herself for the violence and to overcome her fears of developing more active coping strategies. At home she confronted her husband and stopped submitting to the violence in a vain attempt to avoid further abuse. She also joined a local self-help group for battered women. There she found social support and learned how to invoke both police protection and recourse through the courts. Further sessions with the counselor helped her gradually change her identity from battered woman to survivor and, eventually, to doer. She moved from simply facing problems to developing opportunities.

Constructive-change scenarios like this must be in the helper’s mind from the start, not as preset programs to be imposed on clients but as part of a constructive- change mentality.

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