Basic philosophy of the skilled helper model

In the first edition of “The Skilled Helper”,published in 1975, Egan expounded a model of the helping process with the goal “to establish a training technology that applies to helper training and to the helping process itself”. The subtitle of “The Skilled Helper” is ” A Problem Management and Opportunity Development Approach to Helping”, and this reflects Egan’s focus on problem solving and goal setting rather than dwelling on the past causes of problems. It provides a structured approach to the helping process rather than providing a theory of personality.

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The Skilled Helper is now in it’s ninth edition, and with each edition Egan has developed and refined the model, with differing emphasis upon it’s various stages. Egan does not claim the model as”The Egan Model” but regards it as his own version of “the basic dynamics” of the problem management process (Interview 1995).

It is influenced by the Person Centred approach of Carl Rogers and the Cognitive Behavioural theories of Albert Ellis, amongst others. The Rogers Core Conditions help provide the basis of the client-helper relationship whilst the Cognitive Behavioural approach of Albert Ellis can assist with the problem management stages of the model. The model is extremely flexible, and it’s integrative style allows for the introduction of various psychotherapeutic techniques into the helping process. It’s fluidity allows the process to readily flow to any stage of the continuum to suit the client’s current needs, whilst providing the helper with orientation on what stage the process is at.

It has proved an enduring and successful approach to counselling and problem solving, and has readily crossed into other cultures. Egan partly describes it’s success as due to “it’s logic being embedded in human beings”. The problem solving process is recognised by humans around the world almost as a “universal principle” and therefore the stages of the model are readily identified with.

The use of CBT techniques can introduce problems for under skilled helpers who may provide inappropriate guidance through the problem solving stages. The inexperienced helper may also view the model as a process of rigid stages and this may lead the helper away from the person centred relationship resulting in a poorer outcome for the client. From my own experience in the skills workshops there can be a tendency to rush through each stage of the process rather than develop the relationship at the clients own pace.

2. The key concepts and principles of the model

The model breaks the helping process down into three sections, each describing a stage of the helping and problem-solving process. Each stage is further sub-divided into three tasks that help define the stage and the processes involved. Whilst in theory the implementation of the stages is sequential, in practice they overlap, and the helping process may move backwards and forwards freely between stages.

Stage 1: The Current Picture

This stage sets the scene and is the clients opportunity to say what is happening in their life and to “tell their story”.

Task 1a: The Story

The client is encouraged to talk and say why they have come to counselling and what is happening in their lives. The counsellor must draw upon Rogers Core Conditions and their active listening skills to build a relationship that expresses their understanding and acceptance of the client. Such skills would include open questions, reflection, paraphrasing and summarising The narrative should progress at the clients own pace.

Task 1b: Blind Spots and New Perspectives

The purpose of this task is to help the client recognise the blind spots in their story that they may have overlooked or not recognised, and to help them take a new perspective on them. The counsellor can draw upon their skills of advanced empathy and immediacy to raise questions that challenge the client’s perception or understanding. Self-disclosure may be used with caution by the counsellor if it is felt appropriate, whilst the counsellor’s use of immediacy may challenge the client to consider what is going on “here and now”.

Task 1c: Leverage

As part of stages 1a and 1b the client may have raised many issues that could be discussed. However, stage 1a helps the client, through appropriate questioning, to focus and identify one issue that would bring the greater benefit and make a difference in their life. Often managing such a problem or opportunity may minimise or eliminate the other issues raised. Alternatively the large problems in a clients life may seem so unresolvable that they need reducing to smaller issues that will help the client cope with the present, and allow them to address further issues one step at a time. The issue chosen should be of sufficient gravity to continue working with, often clients will choose problems that they can manage happily themselves. It is also important that the client is able to take ownership of the problem and show commitment to resolving it before moving to stage 2 of the model.

Stage 2: The Preferred Picture

At stage 2 the client is helped to envisage what their ideal outcome would be, what they want their world to look like. From the future possibilities the counsellor can help the client focus on a range of objectives to work towards.

Task 2a: Possibilities

The client is helped to consider the possibilities for a better future and to explore what that future may be. This task often involves a level of brainstorming and creative thinking. Clients should be encouraged to use their imagination and suspend judgement. A typical question the counsellor may ask would be “If you had a magic wand what would you want?”

Task 2b: Change Agenda

From the range of possibilities identified in task 2a, workable goals can be identified which constitute the client’s change agenda. The goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-based) and it is important that they are the client’s goals.

Task 2c: Commitment

When a client leaves a counselling session and has to face the distractions of daily life, goals set at 2b are easily forgotten. The counsellor can help by ensuring that the goals chosen are appealing to the client and the clients own. The client should be helped to embrace and take ownership of the goals

Stage 3 The Way Forward

Without a strategy, the client may feel that the goals chosen at 2b remain unrealisable. This stage helps formulate strategies for achieving the client’s goals. From these strategies a plan can be drawn to help the client move forward.

Task 3a: Possible Strategies

The client is encouraged to think about the possible paths that can be taken to achieve their goals. Like at stage 2a, the client should be encouraged to brainstorm and be imaginative. The counsellor may use their skills in probing and prompting to help the client focus on different avenues.

Task 3b: Best-fit Strategies

There may be a number of possible strategies identified at stage 3a, however not all may be suitable to the client’s circumstances. At this stage the counsellor can help the client to choose the most appropriate. Ideally, the preferred strategies will be those that are most likely to succeed and that the client has enthusiasm for.

3. The Introduction of Material From Two Other Therapeutic Schools

Transactional Analysis (TA)

TA is a theory of personality developed by Eric Berne (1910-1970), a Canadian psychologist that looks at the analysis of social interactions.

Berne stressed the importance of early life experiences on our personality and was influenced emerging humanist ideas that people are born OK. The philosophy of TA is based upon 3 assumptions:

People are born OK

We can all make our own decisions

Nobody can make us do, think or say anything without our consent.

TA comprises three key areas:

A theory of personality comprising 3 ego states. Child, Adult, Parent that reflect our thoughts and behaviours

A model of communication or transactions. In particular Berne was interested in what ego state people were transacting from and to.

A developmental model referring to life scripts. We all develop a life script from an early age and live our life by it.

Both the Egan Model and Transactional Analysis challenge clients to have a new perspective upon problems and both are influenced by Rogers Person Centred approach and the core conditions.

However whilst TA is a theory of personality based upon ego states, the Egan model does not address personality or social theory and provides framework for helping into which elements of other theories can be introduced.

TA therapy is generally over a much longer period than counselling under the Egan model which defines the specific goals of the counselling sessions much more clearly.

Psychodynamic Therapy

Psychodynamic Therapy is based upon the personality theories of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and psychoanalytical psychotherapy.

Freud recognised a difference between the conscious and the unconscious, or repressed, mind. A mid way between the two is our pre-conscious where our subconscious filters into our dreams or fantasies. Psychodynamic counselling aims to bring the unconscious to the conscious, enabling the client to construct a more effective personality through their increased awareness.

Freud developed three components of personality:

Id. Our basic, unconscious instincts. Our animal drives

Ego. ” the ego represents what may be called reason and common sense, in contrast to the id which contains the passions” (Freud 1923)

Superego. An internal moral, parental voice.

Freud believed that our childhood influenced our later personality and that we later re-enacted the patterns established at an early age. Psychodynamic counselling focuses on early development and experiences to help the client understand the present.

Psychodynamic Counselling is insight orientated and tries to gain understanding by delving into our past. The Egan approach is goal orientated, looking to a better future created by the clients own actions.

Egan is built upon the Person Centred ideas of Rogers and is therefore client centred. The best person to solve the clients problem, is the client. In contrast Psychodynamic counselling is expert based. The counsellor interprets the evidence provided by the client.

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Egan looks to change current situations whilst Psychodynamic Counselling looks for understanding. However,the flexibility of the Egan framework allows psychodynamic, or other, theories to be introduced if the counsellor believes this would be of benefit.

5. Recognition of Using Methods and Techniques Without Adequate Training



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