The Problem Management Helping Model in Grief and Counseling

Helping individuals from one point of need to the final point of self resilience and healing is the process of counseling itself, however, many times counselors helping others with grief, issues of loss, or problems in life become loss in the process.  Maintaining a sense of direction when helping is key.  While there is a partnership in the counseling relationship, the counselor still nonetheless is the guider within the partnership.  The counselor directs the process and guides it to its eventual end point.   Whatever counseling philosophy or model one incorporates, it is still essential to have a template of how to help resolve a particular issue.  Problem Management is a key arrow and guiding modality to help counselors and clients stay on track and have a sense of direction.  It is essentially the compass or navigation control in the counseling session.  Good counselors understand its use and properly utilize it during counseling.  In this short blog, we will review its essential nature in counseling and how to properly incorporate it with a client.

We will also note how Problem Management lays the foundation and structure for a counseling session and compare it to the 5 Stage Model of Carl Rogers.

Counselors help clients identify problems, offer solutions, and incorporate goals and ways to achieve them

 

Problem Management: Four Questions

When a client attends counseling, he/she is looking for guidance in a particular struggle.  Whether it is more complex trauma or loss, or instead a simpler issue revolving around a decision to find a job or not, clients are seeking guidance.  While the clients ultimately determine the outcome, they seek guidance with options and how to accomplish a given thing.  Counselors can help guide clients through Problem Management and its four questions.  The process involves the current picture, preferred picture, a way forward and action itself.

First, the counselor will ask questions about the current problem and current picture..  According to Egan, one should ask a client, what his/her issues or concerns pertain to (2019, p. 45)?   Within this first stage of helping the client, the counselor can help the client discover and identify the issue.  The first task involves the story itself.  What is the primary problem and main concerns (Egan, 2019, p. 48)?  When discussing the story, the counselor should help the client possibly see new perspectives to the problem and what may be really going on beyond the client’s initial story.  Finally, the counselor should be able to direct the client to the right story and what  he/she should be working on.  This process leads to first listening, but then helping the client identify beyond his/her perceptions and find the right story and the keys surrounding it (Egan, 2019, p. 48).  For example, a person who is obese may discuss multiple issues revolving around self image and poor diet/health.  Discussing the primary problem and identifying perceptions of self image and directing the person to the core of the problem is important.  Leading the client to the right story and issue sometimes takes time, but is essential.

After helping the client identify the right issue at hand, the counselor needs to help the client look beyond the current picture and propose a preferred picture.  The primary question should include what does a better picture look like? Within this phase, according to Egan, the counselor helps the client determine problem managing outcomes and set goals (2019, p. 48).   What are the possibilities for a better outcome entail?  What goals and outcomes are truly the most critical and important?  Finally, what is the client willing to do to achieve these outcomes (2019, p.48). Ultimately, these better outcomes and preferred pictures involve effort.  In this phase, again the example of the obese client will see a preferred picture of weight loss, better health and higher self esteem.

Following the preferred picture, the counselor looks to guide the client forward.  The counseling sessions look to help the person move forward with a plan.  The client and counselor should brain storm with possible ideas and strategies to resolve a particular issue.  The counselor will help narrow down the best fit strategies for the particular client and then help the client organize a way to accomplish these goals (Egan, 2019, P. 48).  In the case and example of the obese client, the counselor will discuss diet and exercise strategies and then see which particular strategies fit best with the client’s work and life schedule.  The counselor will then help coordinate first steps and possible times to put things into action.

These three phases of identifying problems, seeking better outcomes and making plans all lead to a call to action.  How well will this call to action being implemented depends on many subjective factors within the client.

Clients and Change

Human beings, despite perfect plans, usually fail to accomplish goals the first time. This requires patient and flexibility by the counselor to help facilitate lasting change and resiliency within the client

Counselors can only direct, they cannot force a client to change.  Hence it is important to help facilitate change but not to expect perfection.  Change takes time.  Some clients may be more resilient to let downs, or more focused in accomplishing a task.   It is important to expect a back and forth wavering between stages.  Clients when they finally become aware of a problem enter into various phases to push forward in change.  According to Egan, individuals looking for change after initial awareness of a problem, will still waver, until the awareness leads to a heightened level (2019, p. 56). This leads to preliminary actions and a search for remedies.  Within this, individuals estimate costs and weigh those costs of a change.  They soon turn to more rational decision that is not only rational but tied to emotional change.  This leads to serious action.  However, these actions still require maintenance and the reality that relapse can occur (Egan, 2019, p.57-58).

It is the counselors job to help nurture positive change and guide clients through pitfalls.  Those facing addiction issues, or in our example, one facing weight loss challenges, will wish to change but may sometimes not be emotionally tied to the rational decision enough to take the serious action.  Others may do well for a few months and not be able to maintain what is demanded, or worst, yet relapse into addiction, or fall off their diet.  Counselors are there to help guide in those cases and foster resilience.  This may involve returning to the Problem Management model at an earlier stage to again find grounding and direction.

This is why counselors must ever remain flexible in their approach.  Somethings may work for one client but not another.  Counselors need to constantly “mine” various approaches or counseling philosophies that will help a particular client (Egan, 2019, p. 58).   The counselor then organizes what works best, evaluates it and incorporates it into the various phases of the Problem Management Model (2019, p, 58-59)

Pitfalls to Avoid in Problem Management

When helping clients identify issues, outcomes and plans of action, there are some pitfalls that counselors need to avoid.  Counselors need to avoid a lack of plan in their work.  Some helpers go session by session without a uniform plan set into play.  Others on the contrary attempt to implement to many plans at once.  While there are many good models, not all models fit for a particular person, so each model and stage of helping, needs to be tailored to the individual client.  Avoiding rigidness and being flexible in approach is key with an understanding that one can go back and forth between stages.  It is also important to include the client in the process.  Since counseling is a partnership, then it is essential to share the helping models with the client.  This is an element of psycho-educational healing.  A client who is part of the process understands the points of reference and can better track oneself in the healing and change process (Egan, 2019, p. 60-61).  Finally, while important as it is to utilize flexibility, a good counselor can recognize lack of progress on part of the client and when to help the client push forward (Egan, 2019, p52).

Hence the process while simple in theory is more difficult when people become involved.  People are complex and no one person is the same.  This leads to the need of flexibility, testing and feedback, and trying other things within the parameters of the Problem Management model.  Some clients may process the issue quicker, others may take longer.  Some my engage in a certain stage a different way than another, while others will regress or progress.   This is why counseling while a science is also an art.  The individual talents of a counselor go well beyond the models and theories but also helping others implement what needs to be done through a variety of skills that involve evaluation and guidance.

Problem Management and Carl Roger’s 5 Stage Model

The great Humanist counselor, Carl Rogers, understood the importance of structure in helping clients find direction.  At the source, he also made his care patient based and utilized empathy to help individuals find healing.  In previous blogs, we discuss the Humanistic Approach.

In regards to Carl Rogers, the Problem Management Model shares many similarities with the 5 Stage Model.  Carl Rogers listed 5 important stages within any counseling relationship that are essential in directing an individual towards healing.  The first stage involves an empathetic relationship.  Within this first stage, the counselor looks to build rapport with the client through empathy, trust building and establishing a goals and direction (Ivey, 2018, p. 194).  This stage is so critical because many counselor/client relationships end because of a disconnect.  Whether due to insensitivity or indifference that is purposeful or perceived, the relationship is never able to grow.  The client does not feel the counselor cares or truly invests in the problem.  Furthermore, in our previous blogs, it can be due to multicultural issues that are perceived by the client.  The client may feel a young woman may not understand himself, an older man, or a black woman, feeling a white middle class counselor will not understand her issues of social injustice.

Rogers second stage includes understanding the story. Stage two is labeled Story and Strengths and focuses on the story itself.  Collecting data, drawing out the story and establishing early goals are essential (Ivey, 2018, p., 194).  Of course this stage demands good attending of the client.  It involves active listening and good responding skills that emphasize reflecting feelings, paraphrasing and summarizing as needed to have a full understanding of the story.  It involves empathetic understanding of the client and identifying strengths and weaknesses, truth and discrepancies, and helping to build up with the client.

Stage three involves in identifying and establishing goals that best fit the needs of the client.  It is a collaborative effort where as a team, the counselor and client identify the best goals and options (Ivey, 2019, p. 194).  This stage is very similar to the Problem Management Model, where after feelings are identified, then the client is asked beyond the current picture, what is the preferred picture?  Hence, the similarities show a concrete plan in helping the client from one point to another and helping the counseling sessions move forward with purpose and direction.

Rogers’ stage four continues align with the Problem Management Model in continuing to identify the preferred picture.  Within this stage, the Restory stage, the client is asked to identify alternative goals, confront issues and rewrite the narrative (Ivey, 2018, p. 194).  It is the completion of the preferred picture and implementation of a plan.

Finally, the final stage, looks at action and how to achieve it and also deal with set backs (Ivey, 2018, p. 194).  Hence one can see the similarities but also see a common art and science that should guide a counselor in helping individuals through problems.  There is a common theme and way to do things.  There is a general current that one should allow counseling sessions to flow.  The flow may be different at certain times, but the general direction is essential.

 

 

Conclusion

It is essential to have a plan.  Counseling is structured while also flexible.  It has a purpose and a plan to reach a goal.  The flexibility is how to reach that goal not the goal itself.  Problem Management helps the counseling relationship stay structured in regards to the issue.  It helps identify the issue, state the better outcome and help give the tools and plans to accomplish it.  Counselors need to work their clients to the desired change but while doing so understand the nature of change within the human person and the need to keep trying when results do not appear.  The counselor not only guides the client to facilitate positive change but also helps the client get up when the client falls.

Please also review AIHCP’s numerous mental health programs, including its Grief Counseling and Christian Counseling Certification Programs

 

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification as well as its Christian Counseling Program.  AIHCP also offers Spiritual Counseling, Stress Management, Crisis Intervention and Anger Management programs to help train professionals in facilitating positive changes in clients.  Utilization of a Problem Management paradigm is essential in all of these models.  AIHCP’s programs are all independent study and online.

Reference

Egan, G & Reese, R. (2019). “The Skilled Helper: A Problem Management and Opportunity-Development Approach to Helping” (11th Ed.) Cengage.

Additional Resources

“Problem-Solving Models: What They Are and How To Use Them”. (2023). Indeed Editorial Staff. Indeed.  Access here

Cuncic, A. (2024). “What Is Problem-Solving Therapy?”. Very Well Mind.  Access here

Antonatos, L. (2023). “Problem-Solving Therapy: How It Works & What to Expect”. Choosing Therapy.  Access here

 

 

 

 

 

Attending Skills in Counseling: Listening and Observing

Attending skills and attending the client are the initial phases of patient interaction with a counselor.  It involves how well the counselor attends the client through listening, observing and feedback skills.  These basic skills set the table for productive counseling.

Attending to the client involves listening and observing skills that lead to better feedback. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification as well as its Christian Counseling Certification

The fundamental foundation in conversation and communication is listening.  When others try to interrupt or speak over each other, the purpose of communication is crippled.  Listening is a key communication skill that helps one understand the other half of the conversation.  It allows one to learn about the other person and be able to make productive comments to the process of the conversation.  When listening fails, communication fails.  No wonder then, counselors, whether clinical or pastoral, whether in grief, spiritual or general counseling fields need to develop this skill in counseling.

When working with someone, whether in basic clinical interviewing where information is collected, or in counseling itself, where one hopes to help someone find healing or progress in life, listening is a key ingredient.  When counselors fail to listen properly, the counseling process itself fails.  Clients sense when their issues are addressed or if the counselor cares about what they are telling them.  Hence, listening and giving good feedback is key not only for providing help but also creating a relationship between counselor and client.  A counselor who listens is not only better able to help the client but is also better able to give the client a sense of meaning.  Through listening, the client feels someone cares about his/her problem and is willing to listen and offer productive advice and guidance in the process.

 

 

 

 

The Counselor and Client Relationship

The counselor and client relationship is key.  When the counselor makes him/herself available to the client, he/she invites the client into a professional and therapeutic relationship. Through this communication, a team evolves that works together for the benefit of the client.  In essence it becomes an alliance (Egan, 2019, p. 67).  Any good alliance is built upon good communication and listening.  The counselor builds the relationship first via listening.  Through listening, communication begins, through communication, trust emerges, and through trust, a relationship that can heal begins.

The Art of Attending

Attending a client involves both listening and also observing.  When attending to a client, the counselor reduces talk time and provides clients with the timeframe to speak (Ivey, 2018, p. 75).   Conducive to this is how a counselor attends to the client from four physical aspects.  These attending aspects include visual contact, vocal qualities, verbal tracking and body/facial expressions (Ivey, 2018, p. 75).  In regards to eye contact, when someone looks away, it denotes for many, a sign of disrespect or lack of interest.  Hence good visual contact involves eye contact.  This does not necessarily mean awkward staring, but it does denote eye contact during conversation.  This promotes the sense that one is genuinely interested in the story of the client and promotes the process of counseling itself.  Vocal qualities also play a key role in the attending art.  Tones and speech rate can be interpreted by the client as positive or negative based on the counselor’s speech.  A counselor who seems upset via a tone, can quickly scare away a client or embarrass a client from further discussion.  A calm and sensitive tone is essential to provide security to the client while his/her story is being told.  While listening it is also essential to track the conversation.  It is important to keep the client tied to the initiated topic (Ivey, 2018, p. 75).   Good listening helps keep the conversation in a good and purposeful direction.  Finally, one’s body language and facial expressions can play a key role in attending.  An awkward or angry face, or turning away from a person can have the same negative effects as the tone of one’s voice.   Egan recommends facing the person squarely, adopting an open posture and sometimes leaning forward as needed during the conversation (2018, p. 101).   Instead of folding one’s arms, or shifting and moving, one can create a safe sense of being for the client during the narrative.  Bear in mind also cultural aspects.  Some individuals may be from a different and diverse culture that utilizes different ways of expressing certain emotions.  This can lead to different postures or emotional ways of expression.  It is important to be aware of other cultures and their views and to also be aware of oneself and how one’s own appearance, race, faith or culture can affect the client one is attending and trying to help.

Dialogue and Listening

Empathetic listening is an important skill that lets the client know his/her story matters

A good conversation involves taking turns during it.  It involves connecting and mutually influencing each other (Egan, 2018, p. 100).  It not only a monologue but a shared story that each party invests in.  Good listening skills help the counselor make the most of the narrative but some types of listening miss the point.  Egan points out that partial listening is one type of listening that counselors need to avoid.  When counselors only partially listen, they only skim the surface.  They pick up parts of the conversation and miss others.  When questioned by the client, their response is less complete and can cause problems with the client (2018, p. 107).  Another poor listening skill, according to Egan, is an audio-recording style of listening, where the counselor simply parrots what the client has expressed.  In this case, the paraphrase adds no insight or questioning but merely repeats.  Sometimes, repeating something has power and can be utilized but if paraphrasing is utilized in parrot form consistently, then it only mirrors and gives no true insight.  Counselors need to listen to the client’s experiences, thoughts, behaviors and feelings and better respond to those things with insight (Egan, 2018, p. 108).  This insight should not be judgmental, but should be slowly integrated into the responses.  The response then should not merely always paraphrase or repeat, but the listening should produce a paraphrase that not only restates but also probes deeper, but without judgment or necessarily value based accusations.  The key is to help the client find the answer because ultimately the client is in the driver seat.  Finally, Egan points out that another form of bad listening involves rehearsing.  Many novice counselors are looking for the perfect answer or solution, or even the proper response.  During this, counselors can become dominated during listening as to what their response will be instead of what the client is discussing (2018, p. 107). Effective helpers  do not stop listening to derive a solution but continue to listen instead of preparing what they will say next.

Other Distortions in Listening

Egan points out a few other ways distortions to listening that can occur even to counselors who are fully paying attention.  Egan states that it near impossible to listen to someone in a completely unbiased way but counselors need to try their very best to filter these assumptions (2018, p. 125).  A counselor who is a white male may use filters from his own life that could distort cultural differences from a black female.  This bias could side track both parties.  Hence it is critical to remove types of subconscious bias when listening to the narrative of a person from a different race, culture, or faith.   In addition, during listening, it is important to avoid evaluative listening.  Egan defines evaluative listening as judgmental listening.  It involves seeing statements as good or bad, or right or wrong or acceptable or unacceptable (2018, p. 126).  Clients need to be first understood before productive change is introduced.   Another type of distortion involves stereotyping a client based on diagnosis.  This type of listening involves labeling the individual.  While diagnosis is important, when focusing solely on diagnosis of the individual, the counselor puts the client in a box.   Egan states the counselor can be correct in diagnosis but still lose the person (2018, p. 127).   Finally, it is important for counselors not to fall victim to sympathetic listening, where they become solely captivated and emotional about the client’s situation while missing the objective facts.  Sometimes too much sympathy can limit effective helping (Egan, 2018, p. 127).

Importance of Empathy and Finding Missing Cues

Counselors can discover various insights into a client through various physical cues

Empathy is crucial in human relationships. An empathetic person is able to understand the other person emotionally and feel what it may be like to experience certain things.  Empathetic listening allows the counselor to take a sincere and honest interest in the client but still remain objective. Carl Rogers, author of the Humanistic Approach in counseling, emphasized the importance of acute empathy and the utilization of it throughout the discussion.  Empathetic listening according to Ivey can be subtractive, basic or additive.   When subtractive, the counselor gives less back in response and the response is sometimes distortive and hence ineffective.  When the empathy is basic, it is an accurate feedback.  One needs to avoid completely audio-repeating but it sufficient to help the client.  Additive empathy is the best because it reframes but also may include past statements or include additional information to produce positive change (Ivey, 2018. p. 67).  Again, these rephrases, summaries or reflections are not meant to be commands but are used to guide.  They are not meant to impose judgment or value either, but awaken the client to other views or self actualizations.

Counselors have a wide variety of ways to respond through their listening and observing skills, some may include generalizing or summarizing, paraphrasing or reflecting on various issues.  Regardless, they need to be at least additive or basic in empathy.  Summarizing is a broad basic account of the dialogue.  Paraphrasing is more acute but it can be basic or additive.  Reflective is very additive in nature but connects the dialogue to self and offers insight and questions on the statement.

Empathetic listening is key in helping clients and is the basis for a client-based therapy (Egan, 2018, p. 67).  Through empathetic listening, one can become more attune to verbal and non-verbal cues that can reveal issues surrounding the story.   Counselors should watch for tone of voice in responses, facial expressions or body movements during the conversation.  How a client speaks or responds to a question can be a key clue (Egan, 2018, p.116).  Ivey recommends mirroring sometimes the client.  When movements do not clearly match and shifts and jerks within the client appear, then this could be a sign of an issue (2018. p. 99).

As noted, counselors need to watch for changes in tone of speech or physical movements.  Good observing skills, in addition to good listening can help counselors discover other missing pieces of the puzzle. In regards to some verbal behaviors, Ivey emphasizes that counselors should carefully watch “I” statements or “other” statements.  Are these statements positive or negative regarding “I” or “other” (2018, p. 93).  Ivey also recommends looking for words such as “can” and “can’t”.  Some clients as well are more concrete in their speech, while others are more abstract.  During listening and observation, a counselor needs to identify this.  Abstract clients are excellent at self analysis and reflecting on an issue, but may struggle with concrete issues.  More concrete clients may be able to provide specifics, but be less able to see the point of views of others.  Both types have their strengths, but it is important for a counselor to identify which type of speech one is listening and observing (Ivey, 2018, p. 91).  During interviewing or counseling, a counselor may be able to find cues to the issue through various discrepancies throughout the clients story.  Ivey points out that contradictions may occur between statements, or between words and actions, or regarding goals. It is important for the counselor to identify these discrepancies and in a non-confrontational way expose them to the client (Ivey, 2018, p. 99).

In listening empathetically and avoiding bad and distortions of listening , one can better hear the client’s experiences, thoughts, behaviors and feelings and not miss various cues of other issues.

 

Conclusion

Proper attending of the client is key for good counseling. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification

Attending a client involves good listening and observing with feedback that reflects this.  Counselors need to develop good listening skills for the betterment of their clients.  Listening forms the foundation for any relationship and it is important to avoid bad listening habits.  Counselors can better attend their clients through a patient-centered model that is empathetic and humanistic.   Neuro-science studies portray that when clients are properly listened to and given feedback that show thought and reflection corresponding with listening, then certain parts of the brain light up in positive ways (Ivey, 2018, p. 77).  Listening plays a key role in making a positive effect on one’s client.  It lets the client realize someone actually is listening and cares and is providing feedback to produce positive change.

 

If you would like to learn more about helping other people or would like to become certified in Grief Counseling or Christian Counseling, then please review AIHCP’s certifications in these fields.  The programs are open to both clinical and non-clinical counselors who would like to earn a certification in these fields and add to their existing practice.  The Grief Counseling and Christian Counseling programs are online and independent study and lead to a four year certification.

References and Additional Resources

Egan, G & Reese, R. (2018). “The Skilled Helper: A Problem-Management and Opportunity-Development Approach to Helping (11th)”. Cengage.

Ivey, A. et, al. (2018). “Intentional Interviewing and Counseling: Facilitating Client Development in a Multicultural Society (9th)” Cengage.

Sutton, J. (2021). “Defining the Counseling Process and Its Stages”. Positive Psychology.  Access here

“Reflecting Skills”. Counseling Education.  Access here

“7 Attending Skills”. Optimist Minds.  Access here

Mental Health Stigma

When someone is physically ill with symptoms one goes to one’s physician.   When someone is sick or ill, others do not consider it a handicap.  If one has diabetes, they do not discriminate or spread gossip in a negative way.  Yet, the moment someone has a mental health issue, various nicknames or prejudices emerge that the person is weak or even worst crazy.  Society has laid a stigma upon the idea of mental health as not a legitimate health issue and makes individuals ashamed of their condition or and feel foolish to seek help.

Mental health needs the same care one gives to physical health. Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification

 

One can see it in social norms that demand men should never cry, or one should get tougher when it gets life gets rough.  No wonder there is a mental illness crisis in the United States with numerous mentally ill not receiving care and some even resorting to suicide or mass shootings.  While those who engage in anti social behavior are of the most smallest percentage of those facing mental issues, there are millions who suffer from unresolved trauma, depression, bi-polar, anxiety, ADHD, OCD and a host of other conditions.  If individuals would treat their mental health as their physical health, many would lead far more happier and productive lives.

Please also review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling Certification as well as AIHCP’s other multiple mental health certifications in Anger Management, Stress Management, Crisis Intervention and Substance Abuse Practitioner.   The programs are online and independent study and open to qualified professionals seeking a four year certification in any of the above programs.

 

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