An Easy Introduction to Egan’s Skilled HelperSolution Focused Counselling ApproachBy Patrick JM NelsonPart OneWhat is it?Gerard Egan’s Skilled Helper Model of eclectically based counselling provides astructured and solution focused basis for counsellors, psychotherapists and hypnotherapists. It is a three stage model in which each state consists of specific skills thatthe therapist uses to help the client move forwards. By mastering the process of usingthese basic skills in an appropriate manner (often in a cyclical process of stage 1 - 2- 3 evaluate 1 - 2 - 3 evaluate) the talking therapist may be able to increase theirefficiency and structure their work in a more logical way, thus helping clients in amore consistent manner and being less reliant upon their fluctuating ‘therapeuticinspiration’.Theoretical OriginsTheoretically the Skilled Helper approach draws on Carkuff's theory of high-levelfunctioning helpers (which explains that helpers with the skills of empathy, respect,concreteness, congruence, self-disclosure, confrontation and immediacy are mosteffective); Strong's Social influence theory (which explains that helping is a processwhereby clients are influenced by others because they perceive therapists as havingparticular attributes and with this influence being most powerful when the thetherapist avoids both laxity and coercion and is instead collaborative, empoweringand democratic) and Albert Bandura's Learning theory (in which clients are seen asacquiring skills through coming to understand the processes of learning and developing appropriate self-efficacy expectations - expecting to achieve their goals bylearning useful behaviours).Essential Therapeutic OrientationsThe Egan Skilled Helper approach encourages clients to become active interpretersof the world, giving meanings to actions, events and situations, facing and overcoming challenges, exploring problem issues, seeking new opportunities and establishinggoals. Quite simply, success usually comes when human beings become active ininitiating positive behaviours and developing problem-solving strategies.
The Skilled Helper aims to help their clients develop the skills and the knowledgenecessary to solve both their current problems issues and ones that may arise in thefuture. To facilitate client development the helper builds a healthy therapeutic alliancewith the client based on collaboration, warmth and acceptance. The Skilled Helperfacilitates the client by helping them to formulate a plan of action, helping themaccept their responsibility for becoming a more effective person and helping them todevelop their own inner resources.The Skilled Helper also helps their client to transfer newly acquired skills andknowledge to fresh situations, facilitates them in establishing appropriate and realisticgoals (that match their problem-solving skills), encourages them to become selfdirective and develop the skills of problem-solving, helps them to build on theirinner strengths and to utilize external resources and support groups, helps themrealize their potential and facilitates them in developing goals which are specific,measurable, achievable, realistic, ethical and reasonable. Furthermore the SkilledHelper remains in a state of external sensory awareness and retains an awareness oftheir client's non-verbal communications.Effective Listening - SOLEREffective listening is key to being a Skilled Helper. It consists of variousskills, which Egan covers with the acronym:S. If it suits them, face the client Squarely (some prefer up to 45 degreesetc)O. Maintain an Open Posture with the client.L. Lean towards the client (as appropriate).E. Maintain appropriate Eye Contact with the client.R. Be a Relaxed helper as by doing so you greatly improve the qualityand comfort of the sessions.Active Listening & EmpathyActive Listening is a key skill for the Skilled Helper. It consists in concentrating onthe client's non-verbal and verbal communications and relating them to the client'sstory (non-verbal communication includes body language, expressions, reactionsetc). Verbal communication articulates the client's experiences, behaviours and
feelings. The Skilled Helper encourages the client to stick to the point (what isrelevant), they are non-judgemental and they are Empathic rather than sympathetic.Appropriate Empathy is a state of human interaction in which the helper enters andunderstands the client's perspective, whilst getting in touch with their thoughts andfeelings, however, in this the helper remains rational in their understanding of theclient's situation and reality. Unlike in some counselling approaches, although theSkilled Helper communicates Empathy to the client as the basis of counselling, whenappropriate they may also use challenging skills with the client when particular andclearly harmful irrational statements or destructive patterns etc keep resurfacing,however any challenging must be congruent with the maintenance of therapeuticRapport and Empathy because Empathy and Rapport provide the client with thewarmth, comfort and safety needed to facilitate effective positive change.Exploring Skills(Egan Stage I Introduction)Exploring the client's Existing SituationThe stage one skills of the Egan Helping Model are based upon the exploration ofthe client’s situation and they basically correlate with the Rogerian counselling skillsof the Person Centered Approach. The purpose of Stage I is to build a nonthreatening counselling relationship and help the client explore their situation andthen focus on chosen issues. In this stage the Skilled Helper helps the client toidentify and clarify problems and opportunities and assess their resources. Clients areoften reluctant or resistant at this stage, therefore the therapist helps them to explorenew perspectives, challenges negative modes of thinking and constructively challenges the client's excuses, evasiveness, distortions and negative self-statements. Thisstage is based around helping the client in establishing priorities and developingaction plans that put into practice productive strategies. Stage I exploring skillsinclude:Open-ended questionsSilenceFocusingEmpathyParaphrasing & Reflecting MeaningParaphrasing & Reflecting FeelingStructuringSummarising
Understanding Skills(Egan Stage II Introduction)Helping the Client Establish Aims and GoalsThe purpose of Stage II is to help facilitate the client in developing a more in-depthand objective understanding of their situation. This stage is enacted as the SkilledHelper assists the client in exploring options and possible goals. The Skilled Helperestablishes what the client really wants and needs and the client is encouraged toconsider new possibilities and perspectives, choosing ones that are realistic, consistent with their values and for which there are adequate incentives. The Skilled Helperfacilitates the client in developing rational decision-making based upon healthy datacollection, analysis and action planning. In this state brain-storming, divergentthinking, a balance-sheet approach and force-field analysis may be used with theclient in order to facilitate choices between different ways of dealing with situationsand achieving goals. These techniques help the client to explore various options andstrategies as well understand and work around blocking factors with facilitatingfactors. Stage II understanding skills include:Recognising Patterns & ThemesAlternate Frames of ReferenceSelf-disclosureImmediacyChallengingTiming & PacingAdvanced empathyActing Skills(Egan Stage III Introduction)Help the Client to Develop StrategiesStage III skills are assist clients to take appropriate action by defining goals, changingways of relating and working through issues using problem solving or decisionmaking methods, while providing support and encouragement. Stage III skills helpthe client to cope with current problems and assist in the learning of new skills thatwill enable them to live more effectively in the future. Action is based on explorationand understanding gained by using stage I & II skills.
In stage III the Skilled Helper facilitates the client in finding ways of achieving theirgoals. After helping the client to come up with as many strategies as they can theSkilled Helper then helps them to focus upon those that are viable in terms of clientsituation, needs, aspiration and resources. This process is designed to help the clientmove from the current situation to one that they would prefer. Transition experiencesmay make the client feel vulnerable therefore the process may often be built upon thetaking of small comfortable steps as the client grows in confidence (but this must bebased upon the needs of the client - some like big jumps). Realistic achievableplanning and time-tabling are key to success and the Skilled Helper is warm andsupportive - helping the client look out and overcome obstacles, turning challengesinto opportunities and inspiring the client to mobilise their personal, social andmaterial resources (particularly helpful family members, friends and self-help networks etc). Stage III action skills include:Divergent ThinkingGoal SettingDecision MakingProblem SolvingProgramme ChoiceEvaluate Knowledge of ResourcesUsing Knowledge of How Behaviour is ChangedUsing Knowledge of How Useful Behaviour is MaintainedTeaching skills & Promoting Learning skillsEvaluationIn addition to Explore, Understand & Act skills evaluation of the therapy process isalso important. It can take place at the end of each session as a summarization,whenever appropriate. It helps the client understand what ground they have goneover, helps them perceive progress they have made and inspires them with understanding on how they want to move forwards.To learn about this approach in detail see Part II, III & 4 ofAn Easy Introduction to the Egan’s Skilled HelperSolution Focused Counselling Approach by Patrick JM Nelson.Gerard Egan’s ‘The Skilled Helper’ is available from the FETT BookshopArticle Copyright Patrick JM Nelson 2007
It is a three stage model in which each state consists of specific skills that the therapist uses to help the client move forwards. By mastering the process of using these basic skills in an appropriate manner (often in a cyclical process of stage 1 - 2 - 3 evaluate 1 - 2 - 3 evaluate) the talking therapist may be able to increase their efficiency and structure their work in a more logical way .
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