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First Counselling Session: On Becoming a “Skilled Helper” Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Oct 26th, 2021

The Egan model is greatly influenced by the theories of Carkhuff, Rogers, Social influence theory, and the principles underlying behavior change. “Gerard Egan decided that he liked the relationship-building practices of the person-centered approach, and some of the challenging practices of cognitive approaches, and the getting-into-action practices of behavioral approaches. Egan carefully stitched together a model consisting of the most useful (in his view) practices of several different approaches, and constructed a stage model of counseling in which the different approaches are utilized at different stages in the counseling relationship.” (Hughes, n.d., para.7).

The aforementioned counseling approaches have philosophies that are aligned with that of the Egan model. Premium is given to the client, and effective communication is a tool that helps him/her understand himself and his situation better with the able guidance of the counselor. In arriving at a full understanding, the client becomes ready to act on his current situation. This is apparent even in the first counseling session (as may be observed in the following counseling session to be analyzed).

Although Egan’s Model is based on theories and research, he is not overly concerned with theoretical or philosophical consistency. The efficacy of the skilled helper is central to its success.

Egan’s Model is a stage-wise counseling model that goes through three stages. Basically, the first stage involves problem definition and insight. Both helper (counselor) and client build rapport and trust and explore the identified problem. The second stage further investigates the client’s perspectives using insight-focused methodologies to delve deeper into the core of the client with the help of the counselor’s trained communication skills that unearth deep-seated issues. More involvement with the counselor is called for as the processes of self-disclosure, immediacy, and confrontation take place. This stage clarifies the perspectives of the client and gets him/her ready for the final stage, which now focuses on action strategies planned from a more objective point of view (Corey, 2005).

The way the “skilled helper” treats the client with full understanding, support, and respect may be likened to the Person-Centered theory’s concept of “unconditional positive regard.” Like Egan’s Model, Person-Centered counseling has great respect for a client’s subjective views and potential for self-actualization. It offers a fresh and hopeful perspective on its views on human nature. The main ingredient to successful therapy is a warm and caring therapist imbued with attributes such as congruence, unconditional positive regard, and accurate empathic understanding (Corey, 2005). Such qualities are hard to come by in therapists nowadays. Rogers believes that possession of such qualities in addition to a high level of maturity qualifies a person to practice as a person-centered therapist, as it does not require specialized training.

Being a sensitive and tactful listener who exudes total acceptance of the client can compensate for the lack of formal counseling techniques. In contrast, it is imperative that Egan’s Skilled helper be trained thoroughly in implementing the Egan model successfully and acquire and hone key counseling skills such as attending to the client; using reflective responses (paraphrasing/reflecting feelings/active listening); expressing empathy with the client’s situation; asking open questions; probing the problem further; summarising the points shared by the client and challenging the client to confront his problem and think up and carrying out of solutions (Egan, 2006).

My First Attempt at Being a “Skilled Helper” Counselor

My first counseling session was with a client who had problems dealing with his friend’s behavior changes that affect their friendship.

This friend of his used to be very close to him, but the client observed that ever since he met his then-girlfriend, the dynamics of their friendship have changed. The client expressed pain that he was not even made aware that this friend of his has gotten married recently and just found out about it when they met again after a period of cut communication.

My critique of this session shall be in chronological order, to note observations every step of the way.

Later on, the key counseling skills will be given more focus as they shall be discussed individually. To add objectivity, I shall refer to myself as a counselor and my client as a client.

Rapport Building and Maintenance

Counselor and client are seated apart a few feet away from each other.

Counselor seemed relaxed, leaning back on his chair while client seemed restless, fussing with his hair and finding a sitting position he is comfortable with. Although the counselor is apparently cool and collected, he should have made efforts at making the client feel more at ease by giving a warm smile and beginning with pleasantries that are not threatening rather than immediately asking the client, “What brought you here?”. In this session, this earliest part is considered the first stage of Egan’s counseling model in which the problem at hand is established.

When rapport was eventually established, it was maintained by the counselor’s obvious gestures of interest in the client and his concerns by maintaining good eye contact, nodding, and using a soothing and calm voice. This interest could have been made more intense with a more open body language, such as leaning forward and unclasping his hands to show that he is open to whatever ideas his client will share.

Opening the Session

The counselor opened the session with the direct question, “What brought you here?” The client seemed quite nervous as he grasps for words and then begins to share his concern of feeling depressed every time someone lets him down. Initially, he spoke in general terms. The counselor prodded him on by nodding, saying “Uh-huh,” and maintaining eye contact. He gathered information by listening to the client’s concerns.

When a client is done giving the counselor a general idea of his problem, the counselor rephrases it by asking, “So you feel depressed if someone is not on good terms with you?” The client agrees and goes on a more detailed narration of his problem. The session progresses to the second stage of the Egan counseling model, which involves deepening the discussion and use of insight-focused methodologies. He tells the counselor how affected he is by the change in his friend’s behavior towards him since he had a girlfriend. To that, the counselor was sharp enough to probe, “In what way has your friend changed?” The client responded by sharing more personal information, and the session progressed into a deeper discussion.

Dealing With Confidentiality Issues

The client’s problem was not too serious to render him incapable of living a normal life. However, for him, it was still a cause for concern as a friendship he values is at stake. Upon sharing more personal feelings towards the change in his friend, the counselor tries to rephrase what he said, including his interpretation, to seek validation from him. He tried to reflect back to the client the process his emotions went through when his friend left for India to get married without informing him, and now that he’s back in Australia, he behaves differently, and the client feels disappointed at not being told about this important event in his friend’s life. The counselor hears that anger was one of the many feelings clients is harboring, so he questions him about what he does when he is angry.

The client validates the counselor’s interpretation by nodding and saying “yeah” and shares a bit about his anger and frustration about the situation. He shares that when he is angry, he still talks to the person he is angry with but does not fully express his anger, but the heaviness remains in his heart. Knowing that such emotions are difficult to admit, the counselor assures the client that it is normal to feel that way and probes some more by prodding the counselor to go on. At this point, the client already feels that whatever he will say will be accepted by a trusted listener who gives him unconditional positive regard.

When they seem to be going around in circles, the counselor transitions into how the issue affects the client’s wife; the transition was not smooth and clear and may have derailed the client’s line of thought. However, upon sharing how he and his wife deal with the issue, the client was able to show more clearly how angry he is with his friend by using as an example if his wife wants to invite him to dinner, and his response will be “no.”

The counselor was helpful in pointing to the client that it is because he wants to avoid a confrontation with him, to which the client agrees.

The counselor did not probe what could have happened to cause the change in the client’s friend’s behavior but rather focused on the client’s feelings on the issue instead. The counselor might have been sensitive to some signals being sent by the client about the confidentiality of the reasons behind the change in his friend, and it would have been wise to let it go for now and perhaps take it up in the next session should there be one. This is to give due respect to the client and is aligned to the Person-centered philosophy adapted by the Egan method.

Letting The Client Tell His Story

Although the session opened with awkwardness, it progressed quite well due to the adeptness of the counselor in eliciting cooperation from the client to open up to him and share his story. The counselor knew when to step in and pick up the conversation and did not interrupt the client when it was his turn to speak. The counselor chose his words carefully and used non-threatening words that allowed the client to feel safe in sharing his innermost feelings.

When it was time to help the client decide on how he wants to resolve the issue at hand, the counselor knew he was safe in saying he just wanted his friend to be more honest. The counselor helped him focus by summarizing the client’s situation, from how disappointed he was with his friend not telling him he was getting married to how he felt about his friend’s change in behavior towards him and to how he deals with his day to day activities with this issue looming in the background. The counselor phrased his probing sentence on what the client wants/ expects from the specific situation at times when he gets disappointed. This focusing seemed to help the client, as he expressed that he will still call his friend to maintain the friendship. Not one to give up, the counselor became more pointed in asking the client how he will honestly express his painful feelings to his friend, to get things off his chest rather than withdrawing. This was a wise move on the counselor’s part, as he was interested in results. The client was caught off guard being aware that the counselor was seeing through him, and in his own defense, he claimed, “Maybe I’m an introvert,” to mean he is not into confrontations. The counselor accepted that but still encouraged the client to take the opportunity to express his real feelings to his friend if he gets the chance. In the long run, it will make it better for everyone concerned.

In encouraging the client, the counselor asked him, “How can you communicate more effectively?” taking on a different strategy and bringing the resolution to a new perspective, that of focusing on effective communication rather than the more sensitive expression of real feelings.

The counselor sensed that the client was uncomfortable with the idea of expressing his feelings to his friend, so the counselor painted a different picture for him, cloaking it with the skill of effective communication. This was a good move on the part of the counselor, knowing when to circumvent when a strategy does not seem to be working. This is another feature of the Egan method, the use of various methodologies/ strategies to help the client come out of his defensive state and arrive at his own understanding of his problem.

This is the part of the session which enters the last stage of the Egan counseling model, mostly concerned with action strategies to resolve the problem. The counselor coached the client to seek what he could change in himself rather than finding how his friend will change. His example was honest, as this was what the client wanted. To expect honesty from others, he must first be honest himself, so his friend will acknowledge that honesty and effect the same change in himself.

The client seemed to agree with him, but his body language showed he is not entirely convinced. When the counselor asked him what he would like to change in himself, the client gave two things: first is not to worry too much when something disappoints him, not to be too anxious and think that these things usually happen and are normal circumstances; second is to learn to express himself better. In the latter one, the client seemed to be uncomfortable with the idea because he was groping for words.

The counselor agreed with him and even said, “That’s the best way to go!” and explained the benefits that may be derived from the client’s resolutions.

The ending of the session was kind of awkward again because neither one knew what to say to signal it. The counselor should have verified if the client is content with his decisions and if he is more clear about his situation than when the session began. The counselor should also have asked if there was still anything bothering the client or anything he needs help with. Instead, the session abruptly ended with the shaking of hands and the counselor thanking the client for coming to the session.

Key Counselling Skills

  • Attending: The counselor seemed to have mastered this skill as he made the client feel that he was really there to listen to him and provide support. He showed this by maintaining good eye contact, nodding, and acknowledging the client’s ideas and opinions by saying, “Uh-huh.”
  • Using Reflective responses: The counselor was skilled in encapsulating what the client just expressed. He was accurate in paraphrasing, choosing the right words to reflect back to the client, making points raised by the client clearer for both of them. This proved that he was actively listening to the client.
  • Expressing Empathy: The counselor did not fail to acknowledge the feelings of the client, showing understanding and being non-judgmental in his comments. In effect, the client was more at ease in sharing deeper reflections with him.
  • Asking Open Questions: Being sensitive to the client and attuned to the issue at hand, the counselor knew the right questions to ask in order for the client to gain a better understanding of his situation. As much as possible, the counselor asked questions not answerable by “yes” or “no” and which required elaboration from the client.
  • Probing: Leading the client deeper into the issues was one skill the counselor showed, as he asked the right questions. In one instance, though, his probing did not transition well (from the issue of how the client dealt with his anger to how he and his wife deal with the whole issue), but he was still able to get feedback that he was able to use constructively.
  • Summarizing: The counselor summarizes the client’s expressions of his thoughts and feelings every so often just so the session is kept organized and the client is kept abreast of the progress of their discussions. It was also one way to verify if what he heard from the client was accurate.
  • Challenging: Although the counselor was calm and gentle, there were times when he challenged the client to look deeper than the surface. It sometimes got to a point where the client felt uncomfortable confronting his own emotions and thinking, but it was effective enough for him to realize that he had to do something about his problem. One example of the counselor challenging the client was making him face his own expectations. Client earlier mentioned he expected honesty from his friend.

Later on, the counselor was bold enough to challenge him to be honest with himself first before he could expect the same from others. Another challenge that the counselor posed was for a client to learn how to express his innermost feelings to unburden him and to clear the air with anyone he is in conflict with.

Areas for Improvement

For a first counseling session, the counselor did well in applying the skills learned from the Egan “Skilled Helper” counseling approach. However, he still has a long way to go in being able to pull it off naturally.

Beginning and ending a session is crucial in building rapport with clients, and as observed, the counselor needs to learn how to do it smoothly.

Transitions are also an area for improvement. The discussions need to flow well, without any bumps that may derail the client’s line of thinking and feeling during the session.

The counselor needs to be more open with his non-verbal communication by smiling more, leaning forward and keeping open body language positions (unclasped hands, uncrossed arms, etc.). These would send more positive signals to the client that he is approachable and easy to trust.

It was observed that the counselor kept saying “…then again” to counter his initial points. Although this is not bad in itself, it may be distracting, so he needs to learn other ways to do it by widening his vocabulary to include “however”, “on the other hand,” “otherwise”, etc.

Overall, it was a good exercise for the counselor to have gone through a simulated first counseling session, as he learned so much about himself and his potentials in becoming a “Skilled Helper”.

References

Corey, G. (2005) Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, 7th ed. Brooks/Cole, a division of Thomson Learning Inc.

Egan, G.(1985) Change Agent Skills in Helping and Human Service Settings. Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Cole

Egan, G. & Cowan, M.A. (1979) People in systems: a model for development in the human-service professions and Education (Monterey, CA, Brooks/Cole).

Egan, G. (2006) The Skilled Helper: A Problem Management and Opportunity Development Approach to Helping. Wadsworth Pub. Co.

Hughes, P., (n.d.) Combining Counselling Approaches. 2008. Web.

Sugarman, L (1995) Action Man: An Interview with Gerard Egan, British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, Vol. 23, Issue 2.

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