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.