When calling a help desk, how often have you heard a phrase like ‘This call may be recorded for quality assurance?’ I would suggest that as counselors, the easiest and most effective way to continuously improve our counseling is to record sessions and carefully listen to them later—listening for where we were brilliant and where we can think of other options we might have tried. From my counseling perspective, I would listen for responses I made where I enhanced the client’s experience of their own power and autonomy and for responses I made which discounted or prevented the client from owning their own ability to take charge of their lives.
Last week on one of Oprah’s Master Classes, I watched an interview with the pro-basketball player Grant Hill. (He will most be remembered as the player that threw the ball to Christian Laettner with 2.1 seconds left in the Duke win over Kentucky back in 1992.) Beginning at the age of 13, he was a gifted basketball player who went on to excel in the NBA. Now after several years of physical injuries and suffering, even near death, he is again playing in the NBA. And at age 39 between seasons, he said he was spending time reviewing his play from last year’s tapes so that he could identify moves where he could improve his game this year—after 25 years of playing superb basketball, he is still working on improving his game by watching what he has been doing most recently and figuring how he can improve on that!
As counselors, the spent interacting with the client is our ‘basketball court.’ If you want to be the most effective counselor you can be, do the same thing as Grant Hill is doing—listen to the words and phrases you used, your tone, your pauses or lack of them, etc., and especially how your client responded to them.
When was the last time you carefully listened to a tape of time you spent with a client listening for what the client said and how you responded each time? If it were standard and required practice, I think we all would steadily improve and feel better and better about what we are doing. (Are CEU’s given for that?)
I believe it was Eric Berne who said that before meeting each client he would always ask himself, ‘How am I going to keep this client from curing himself today?’ In listening to the tape of a session, the main question I would ask is, ‘How did I keep this client from healing himself [or herself] today? And how can I respond more effectively next time?’
Except for my training in Transactional Analysis, in graduate school, internship and even post-graduate supervision, we were expected to bring ‘cases’ and ‘issues’ to our supervisor where we always had interesting discussions with occasionally helpful suggestions. However, those discussions were usually more about counseling than the actual exchanges or dialogue that went on in a particular act of counseling—that is, it rarely dealt with the word-by-word, stimulus-response, interaction that actually occurred between the counselor and the client. I believe that when a supervisor is working with a counselor, the session should always include listening to a taped segment of a counseling session so that what was really said could be responded to and not just a discussion of what the counselor was trying to do or thought was happening.
I would also venture to suggest that, except in very limited cases, if in the counseling session itself, the client experienced their power and autonomy in a new way, that that experience would be a better case of counseling success than a 6 or 12 month follow-up ‘outcomes’ research investigation. The primary efficacy of a counseling session comes from the client experiencing a ‘secure base’ from which they can then deal with what is going on with the rest of their lives.
Next time you work with a client you consider difficult, say ‘This session may be recorded to improve service.’ And afterwards, listen to your actual dialogue recorded on that tape by yourself to see how brilliant your subconscious was and how you could be even more brilliant next time by including your consciousness in it. A supervisor would be helpful, but you yourself are experienced enough to discern how you can improve your own game.
Ray McKinnis is a counselor with a special interest in 'spirituality beyond religion' and veterans 'beyond PTSD'