Many people are put off by the word “counselling” and are afraid to ask for help, even from a trained psychologist and psychotherapist. Counselling is about talking with someone who is qualified to assist you in making a difference in your life. Seeking counselling does not mean failure or not coping, or feeling inadequate. It’s about self-care, looking after yourself. People seek counselling for a number of reasons. Short term counselling can focus on:
- Managing stress
- Coping skills
- Grief and loss
- Practical problem-solving
- Emotional support
- Health and wellbeing
There are a wide variety of counselling modalities that cover a variety of clinical intervention methods or means. A popular therapeutic method is a strength approach, influenced by “Solution-Focused Therapy”.
Solution oriented counselling
Traditional approaches to counselling often spend a lot of time focusing on the clients’ problem(s); their history and origins, classifying syndromes and mental illnesses, and analysing why situations have happened so they can diagnose treatment options. This is useful up to a point as we all need to make sense of how we reached our present state; but spending a lot of time concentrating on why an experience happened, or why we feel a certain way can result in embedding the problem even more deeply in our psyche and get in the way of acknowledging what working in the present, and what is possible for the future.
Solution Oriented Counselling focuses on what the clients want to achieve rather than the problems that motivated them to seek help in the first place. The therapy helps people to clearly envision their preferred future, identify their strengths and resources, pin point what has served them well in the past and support them to move towards the change that they desire.
Solution oriented therapists believe that change is both inevitable and constant. So by helping clients to clarify the things that they would like to change in their life, whilst also attending to the things that they want to remain the same, the clients can be guided to construct a vision of the life that they would like for themselves. The therapist assists the clients to identify times when they have used successful strategies before and reveals how those strategies can be utilised to move them towards a happier future.
“If you woke up tomorrow morning and your life was perfect, what would it look like?”…
Solution orientated counselling is a positive approach that invites people to join the counselling profession. Counselling training – including online counselling courses – increasingly emphasise this approach.
What is Solution-Focused Therapy (SFT)?
SFT is a type of talking therapy that focuses on what clients want to achieve through the therapeutic process, rather than concentrating predominantly on the problem(s) that made them seek help. The approach predominantly focuses on the present and the future. The psychologist or counsellor uses respectful curiosity to invite the client to envision their preferred future. The therapist and client then start attending to any moves towards it, whether these are small increments or large changes. To support this, questions are asked about the client’s strengths and resources, and about exceptions to the problem, to construct a concrete vision of a preferred future for themselves.
A key task in SFT is to help clients identify and attend to their skills, abilities, and external resources (e.g. social networks). This process not only helps to construct a narrative of the client as a competent individual, but also aims to help the client identify new ways of bringing these resources to bear upon the problem. Resources can be identified by the client and the counsellor, but is principally achieved by empowering the client to identify their own resources.
Goals and objectives of relationship counselling
The major aim of counselling is increasing your knowledge about yourself, your partner and the patterns of interaction between you. Counselling becomes effective as you apply new knowledge to break ineffective patterns and develop better ones.
- The key tasks of relationship or couples counselling are increasing your clarity about:
- The kind of life you want to build together
- The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life and the relationship you want to create
- Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
- The skills and knowledge necessary to do the above tasks
Keys to improving relationships
To create sustained improvement in your relationship you need
- A vision of the life you want to build together
- To have a life separate from your partner because you are not joined at the hip
- The appropriate attitudes and skills to work as a team
- The motivation to persist and time to review progress.
Marital choice is perhaps the most important decision of a lifetime. Its effects are lasting and highly significant, not only for the well-being and happiness of the couple, but also for the welfare of their children, and for society as a whole.
Rising rates of divorce and family violence and falling indices of marital satisfaction and time together suggest that couples are inadequately prepared or supported in the challenges of marriage.
During the past two decades, researchers have successfully identified “high-risk” partnerships before marriage (allowing for cancelling or postponing weddings) . Couples who check compatibility, learn to problem-solve, and connect with support and skill resources become more aware and more capable of handling the challenges of marriage.
Proactive couples tend to avoid relationship-threatening crises and enjoy the benefits of life together. Research has found that happily married couples have lower rates of illness, depression, and conflict in and outside their marriage. Well-adjusted partners make easier transitions to parenting and tend to be more supportive parents. For most persons, marital satisfaction is the best index of family satisfaction; family satisfaction is the best predictor of well-being.
Counsellors offer a pre-marriage counselling consultation which focuses on the individual’s personalities and family background. It allows both parties to discuss and explore their likes and dislikes, needs and wants, their values and goals in life. This is available in Perth and other Australian cities.
By exploring the similarities and differences that each bring to the partnership, couples can work through issues that could impact adversely on their relationship if not discussed prior to making a long term commitment. The process also assists couples to improve their communication and conflict resolution skills.
Fair Fighting or Constructive Communication
In the workplace we have guidelines and techniques for effective decision making. In our relationships we tend not to. Often we will treat our partner worse than a workmate. Fair Fighting or Constructive Communication is a technique that will greatly enhance your relationship if used well. It is a common study area in psychology courses at Australia universities.
The following rules or guidelines are suggested where a meeting is to be held around an area of conflict or concern.
Please read them carefully and understand them fully before you start the process.
Make sure that you and others involved have discussed what they mean. Have a meeting just to clarify the process and nothing else.
Remain calm. Try not to overreact to difficult situations. By remaining calm it will be more likely that others will consider your viewpoint.
Express feelings in words, not actions.
Telling someone directly and honestly how you feel can be a very powerful form of communication. If you start to feel so angry or upset that you feel you may lose control, take a “time out” and do something to help yourself feel steadier – take a walk, do some deep breathing, pet the cat, play with the dog, do the dishes – whatever works for you.
Be specific about what is bothering you. Vague complaints are hard to work on.
Deal with only one issue at a time.
Don’t introduce other topics until each is fully discussed. This avoids the “kitchen sink” effect where people throw in all their complaints while not allowing anything to be resolved.
No “hitting below the belt.”
Attacking areas of personal sensitivity creates an atmosphere of distrust, anger, and vulnerability.
Accusations will cause others to defend themselves. Instead, talk about how someone’s actions made you feel.
Don’t generalise. Avoid words like “never” or “always.” Such generalisations are usually inaccurate and will heighten tensions.
Avoid “make believe.” Exaggerating or inventing a complaint – or your feelings about it – will prevent the real issues from surfacing. Stick with the facts and your honest feelings.
Don’t stockpile. Storing up lots of grievances and hurt feelings over time is counterproductive. It’s almost impossible to deal with numerous old problems for which interpretations may differ. Try to deal with problems as they arise.
Avoid clamming up. When one person becomes silent and stops responding to the other, frustration and anger can result. Positive results can only be attained with two-way communication.
Establish common ground rules. When parties accept positive common ground rules for managing a conflict, resolution becomes much more likely.
Listening is such a simple act. It requires us to be present, and that takes practice, but we don’t have to do anything else. We don’t have to advise, or coach, or sound wise. We just have to be willing to sit there and listen. ~ Margaret Wheatley
To listen is to continually to give up all expectation and to give our attention, completely and freshly to what is before us, not really knowing what we will hear or what that will mean. In the practice of our days, to listen is to lean in softly,with a willingness to be changed by what we hear. ~ Mark Nepo
What is the role of a Family Mediator?
The mediator is a neutral third party. The mediator helps identify and clarify the issues then helps facilitate communication between the parties helping them create their own agreement.
In the case of separation or divorce, the issues you can resolve together in mediation don’t have to be negotiated by two lawyers. This can save you time, money and alleviate some of the stress associated with an adversarial approach to separation. Mediation is a co-operative process designed to minimize conflict and anxiety for both parties as well as for the children involved. Mediation is meant to provide a supportive framework for both parties to reach a mutual agreement.
Mediation does not replace legal advice. After reaching an agreement, it should be reviewed by your lawyer.
Mediation is also used to help resolve conflicts and disputes in intact families. Disputes involving parenting styles, schools, parenting plans, religion, in-laws, elderly parents, divergent career paths all respond well to a cooperative and facilitative approach. With the right tools, solutions to disputes really can be win-win.