Counselling

It is possible that I will need to address a Catholic audience. My topic will require me to look at a methodology for marriage counselling. I will argue that this, suitably modified, is valuable in all our relationships. I write this to you so that I may have the benefit of your ideas — whether you approve or disapprove.

Many years ago, when I first became a counsellor, the methodology was Freudian. That is that we were looking out the deeper characteristics of the client which, unconsciously, affected their attitudes. This was splendid fun, but it had one negative aspect: it didn’t work. Nowadays, this is generally accepted by the experts.

I call the methodology LEGUP. That of course is simply a mnemonic: Listen, Explore, Goals, Underpinning, Pursuit. As I provide a little more detail, you will see that it also applies to a wide range of people – from the parish priest to a grandparent helping a grandchild.

LISTENING. Most of us are poor listeners. We immediately come back with our “helpful” reply. Before long it has become a game of tennis: he serves the ball, you shoot it back – and on it goes. The good listener reflects no more than what he has heard: both the feelings and the facts. For example “You’re feeling upset because your boss disapproved of your work.” Knowing that you are listening, the supplicant may then refine his message, or provide more information. Proper listening can go on for quite a long time – you may be the only person who has ever really listened to him. “You feel x because of y” is a useful phrase for a listener.

EXPLORING. Here we take what we have heard and help the speaker to discover more about the problem. This is not done by providing our solution – your job is to help the speaker to dig further down and begin to understand what is happening. You might ask the speaker to explore their patterns of behaviour, or to look at contradictions in the story, and so on. Eventually you both understand the problem, and the feelings that go with it.

So we move on to G for GOALS. Broad intentions to resolve a problem are rarely effective. A vague wish (say, “I am going to be kinder to my spouse.”) is likely to get nowhere. Instead, think of definite goals which lead up towards what is required. And goals have their own mnemonic: CROW. That stands for Concrete, Realistic, Observable, Worthwhile. So one goal might be “I am going to spend ten minutes with my wife when I come home from work, and tell her about my day.” There may be several further goals which will be required. But start with the easier ones. That will give you confidence.

Sometimes, your client may need UNDERPINNING — that is actions that may be required in order achieve the goals. This could vary between seeing a doctor or a priest — or taking a course in a specific skill. In marriage counseling, learning how to listen, as described above, is very often needed. I have spent many hours teaching married couples how to do this. Once this is being properly used many other issues simply disappear.

PURSUIT is important. These are return visits where the client is reporting on their goals. Knowing that they will be reporting on their successes, or otherwise, is strong motivation. It is also an occasion for deciding on the next objectives — which may be required.

Some people are wary of a formal approach in human relationships. But LEGUP is not formulaic. It is merely reminding us of the stages which are needed to help people to help themselves. How successful did I find it? That’s a difficult one. I like to think that it enabled me to at least help couples to develop their relationship in effective ways.

About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Neuroscience, Quentin queries and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Counselling

  1. Olive Duddy says:

    If you will be addressing a Catholic audience, you will probably assume that they have been instructed by their parents, in school, in the Marriage Preparation Course, and instructed from the altar . Or done any research of their own.
    How many have had none of these but have been formed by the pub, the workplace relationships, the press and the media.
    The number of Catholic Marriages in 2017 was less than the number after World War One.

  2. Martha says:

    This sounds very positive and helpful and likely to have good results, unlike some counselling which seems to consist of excessive bolstering of an individual”s self esteem, and too much encouragement to put him/herself first and to believe that he/she is a good person. Listening is very important, and in ordinary life providing the circumstances which lead to communication in the first place, so that there is something to be listened to, Very often things are not said in families to avoid causing offence, or not wanting to be a burden, or for fear of disapproval.

  3. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // Some people are wary of a formal approach in human relationships. But LEGUP is not formulaic. It is merely reminding us of the stages which are needed to help people to help themselves. //

    There seems to be a lot of this sort of thing in the church these days. I wonder where it got started and what sort of people are pushing it. I’m more than just wary of it. It looks to me like a fad mimicking the counseling industry that has metastasized throughout the Western world, a fad that feeds on the notion that every pain is a problem and every problem can be solved with a program. It’s at once chillingly mechanical and appallingly intrusive. Count me out.

    But, Quentin, it sounds as though you’ve done your homework. Good luck.

  4. David Smith says:

    My apologies for what may have been an intemperate first post on this topic. Counseling in the modern West – psychological, psychiatric, and all the rest – is an issue with which I’ve had more than a little experience, from the point of view of the counseled. At its best, I think, it can be invaluable, but it is by its nature extremely intrusive and, inevitably in this increasingly mechanical and utilitarian culture, it relegates the individual human being to the status of a malfunctioning widget. I fancy I’ve been seeing this creep into the modern church in the form of what looks to me like an amateurish movement that seems to have the goal of turning any willing volunteer into a certified counselor after just a little training. If that is, in fact, what’s happening, it’s pretty awful, and it buttresses the argument that today’s institutional church is, in not a few places, in danger of being run off the rails.

    Counseling can be helpful, I think, and it is morally justifiable only when the practitioner is a first rate human being, mature, deeply learned, disciplined, compassionate, humble, and free from the close constraints of organizational management.

    • Quentin says:

      David Smith, I like your last para: “Counselling can be helpful, I think, and it is morally justifiable only when the practitioner is a first rate human being, mature, deeply learned, disciplined, compassionate, humble, and free from the close constraints of organizational management.”

      The selection of potential counsellors is key. My wife used to select possible counsellors to be sent to HQ for training. The rejects tended to be those “who knew all the answers”. By “learned” I presume you have in mind those with a deep understanding of human nature, rather than academics.

      Counsellors always had tutors. My wife and I were tutors to each other, This was unusual for a married couple – but the CMAC reckoned that we would give no quarter, And so it was.

    • ignatius says:

      ” At its best, I think, it can be invaluable, but it is by its nature extremely intrusive and, inevitably in this increasingly mechanical and utilitarian culture, it relegates the individual human being to the status of a malfunctioning widget..”

      When you think about this is a pretty apt description of the downside of consumerism in general..!

  5. Nektarios says:

    David Smith

    Let us for a moment take out the title of a certified counsellor, and replace it with some family members, grannies and grandpas as it would have been in years gone by. Here the approach would have been very different, not mechanical at all, but relating to the one who was troubled. They would be known, loved, known since childhood and their journey in life. What they said was understood and usually helpful to them. But like I say, this was in years gone by, when family life and norms were known and understood by most. By most, I mean it was not perfect even then. But times have moved on.

    Man has moved on technologically, but within he/she has not made any psychological change.
    What changes there have been come out of a repetitive mechanical education, and much of it does not serve Man very well.

    Mechanical thinking has thrown up all sorts of troubles producing a fake society, a shadow of its real self. It is also trying to match this mechanical fake society with the same fake and mechanical psychology. This is not healthy nor desirable. It allows the likes of Elon Musk who want us to give up our humanity for his robot-humans. And he is not the only one, they are the mad and bad scientists who are turning mMan into their slaves.

    Man’s psychology has not changed. Psychologists and behavioural scientists think they have all or most of the answers. They talk and write books only from what I term the peripheral of our psychology. Without realizing it their psychology is as mechanical as the mechanical world they are trying to bring in. It is a fake and a sham.

    We could go on, but I will stop here for now.

  6. David Smith says:

    Quentin writes:

    // Many years ago, when I first became a counsellor, the methodology was Freudian. That is that we were looking out the deeper characteristics of the client which, unconsciously, affected their attitudes. This was splendid fun, but it had one negative aspect: it didn’t work. Nowadays, this is generally accepted by the experts. //

    How did it “not work”? Must all human endeavor be valued by materially measurable outcomes?

  7. Nektarios says:

    When in pastoral work there are many times when one is called upon who needed some counselling. I was aware early on that people will not be really honest unless they feel they are loved and one has their best interests at heart, they won’t or would find it difficult to open up for various reasons which are more instinctive than anything else as they look at the counsellor.

    Listening is an art, so necessary in counselling work. There is no such thing as professional listening, if there is it is not really listening, just a mechanical form to fit one’s training in counselling which may be partly right and partly wrong?s

    There is also a time when one who is counselling, recognises their limits and refers to someone else who may be able help them better and instruct or advise another counsellor who has reached their limit. This happen to today, I know.

    Human beings the world over while different in culture, colour, religion or none, psychologically we are very much the same. The problems are very much the same their sorrows fears, longings, anxieties, difficulties, desires and hopes and so on are universal and part of the reasons for breakdowns in various ways, in relationships, in the workplace, in Church, oh yes their so, so much breakdown there that needs attending today.

  8. David Smith says:

    Quentin, thank you for your thoughtful piece in the current issue of the Herald, “ What’s changed in my lifetime? Almost everything”.

    And thank you for keeping this forum alive.

  9. David Smith says:

    Nektarios writes:

    // Listening is an art, so necessary in counselling work. There is no such thing as professional listening, if there is it is not really listening, just a mechanical form to fit one’s training in counselling which may be partly right and partly wrong?s //

    My concern with what looks to me like a proliferation of amateur lay counseling in the Roman Catholic Church in America is that listening is being taught to these volunteers as simply a skill they can be taught quickly, with, apparently, the desired end being a deluge of pretend counselors who do nothing but sit there nodding their heads sympathetically as troubled people reveal what they ought not to be revealing to strangers who have no deep professional commitment to them as individual human beings. As one of these volunteers told me recently, if anything legally suspicious turns up while she’s listening, she is to turn the matter over to the authorities. So much for trust.

    Counseling outside the ambit of church, family, and close friends is a relatively new phenomenon in our culture. It’s just one manifestation – I think regrettable – of the depersonalization of the human being that comes directly out of the industrial and scientific revolutions. Humans, evidently, are to be regarded merely as machines that frequently malfunction and need to be put right by trained experts.

    • Nektarios says:

      David Smith

      You lay out the case for the professional Counsellor as I would expect. In America, the case you sighted of turning anything legally suspicious over to the authorities may because in the USA legislation differs from state to state? What I understand of it, it all seems corrupted in some shape or form, especially where money is involved.

      Your last paragraph serves only to show just how fragmented society is and society is people. I also think that business has a lot to do with pushing people to the limits psychologically. Also, the speed of change is mechanical thinking, and they want to introduce to a chemically dumbed down populace to accept their view of a post-human world full of robots or at the moment part robot and part human. It is positively anti-human and evil. Is it any wonder there is great demand for professional counsellors in America?

      It is getting the same over here to a lesser degree so far, but all the signs are the more or less the same.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s