Clergy, accountants, teachers, business managers, social workers, parents – that’s just the beginning of a long list of vocations whose job involves solving problems face to face. You would think that much of their training would be focused on how to do this best. But various studies have suggested that this is often not the case. Their intellectual training has prepared them with all the professional knowledge they require but has rarely taught them the skills for actually helping their clients.

When I was first trained as a marriage counsellor, the emphasis was on a psychoanalytic approach. But I was fortunate in encountering Gerard Egan’s Skilled Helper model, which enabled me, I believe, to become much more effective. I found that his methodology was universal, and I was able to incorporate it into my managerial work. Later, I was able to write my own book which focused on it as a managerial skill.

The essence of the approach was that helper and client worked as a team. In doing so, they followed some simple stages necessary to achieve the desired result. I devised the mnemonic LEGUP. This stood for listening, exploring, goal-setting, underpinning and pursuit.

Your first reaction may be that this is naïve. How can the same stages suit a penitent with a moral problem in the confessional and your 10-year-old son who won’t do his homework? Let’s see.

Listening means that the helper should hear the client – both the facts and the feelings. These must be reflected so that the client knows he or she has been understood. This is a difficult skill for those whose habitual reaction is to comment on what is being said. Instead, the helper’s brain should be whirring away taking in the full picture from the client’s viewpoint. Throughout the whole process listening must continue.

Exploration is a dialogue in which the helper draws attention to aspects of what has been said. For example, there may appear to be patterns of behaviour which need to be explored. The helper, tentatively of course, will identify these and suggest their possible relevance.

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