  Chapter 

Helping others professionally is both an internal and external journey. Externally, one needs to gain new knowledge and continue learning. Internally, one must commit to understanding oneself and one’s clients. It is natural to doubt one’s own abilities and experience frustration. It is important to keep one’s own prejudices and biases in mind in order to overcome hurdles and to help others.

One method to address issues that pose as roadblocks to helping others is called reflective practitioner. Reflective practitioners commit to being aware of their own biased or prejudicial reactions through reflection, keeping a journal, and discussions with one’s peers. This method also applies to one’s role as a student in this course. Everyone benefits from different learning techniques as not all students learn in the same ways. The key is to process knowledge and ask questions rather than to only absorb what one hears or reads. Additionally, not all rules are applicable in every situation. This makes it especially necessary to reevaluate paradigms and tailor them to individual clients and their specific situation. Through reflection, one can accommodate and incorporate information rather than reject it prematurely. This skill may be of particular benefit in cases where one does not share anything in common with the client. This difference can be cultural, socioeconomic, in terms of education, religion, etc. Through reflection one can distinguish personal prejudices and remain more objective and less judgmental. Reflection is also useful when processing information from others such as supervisors, peers, and clients. While it may be a natural reaction to act defensive in the face of criticism, a reflective practitioner will learn from the situation rather than blame their mistakes on others or make excuses.

A reflective practitioner can be proactive in several ways. The first method is to ask for supervision. A helper can discuss their client’s problems and successes with a supervisor. In such a conversation, the helper and supervisor can discuss potential courses of action, personal reactions, and ethical concerns. Regardless of the amount of experience a helper has, all helpers benefit from supervision as the reflective process is always important. Another method is to participate in a support group of helping peers. Meet regularly. Share information. Even therapists in private practice participate in support groups. Another method is to become a client. Over half of therapists also enter therapy and 90% of them consider the therapy helpful. Receiving therapy is one way to experience the client’s perspective. Additionally, one can reflect within the context of this book by reviewing one's attitudes through peer discussions and journaling.

Perry's Stages of Cognitive Development

It is common to feel both excited and anxious when taking on new challenges. This apprehension is normal in developing as a helper. In this section we will discuss Perry's stages of cognitive development. Through understanding these stages a developing helper can feel confident that he or she is on the correct path. The first stage is the dualistic stage. In this stage the helper believes that there is only one way to respond to their clients: the right way and the wrong way. This form of thinking leads to a strong feeling of internal pressure and an emphasis on performance. The desire to be right can interfere with one's ability to listen to the client. Helpers in this stage often ask for direct feedback on if their performance was right. The second stage is the multiplistic stage. In this stage a helper realizes that there is more than one correct response depending on the situation and the client. A helper in this stage may even feel like there are too many potentially correct responses to a given scenario and have difficulty choosing the best response. Additionally, helpers in this stage may feel defensive when they are corrected by their supervisor as they do not yet understand that there is a response system. The third and last stage is the relativistic stage. In this stage the helper is more skilled at choosing the most appropriate response out of many potential responses. For example, the helper is better able to use the information at hand to initiate a response that steers the session in the most beneficial direction. In this stage the helper has enough experience and knowledge to be confident in his or her effectiveness.

Hoffman's Guild Terminology

Developing as a helper can also be described as the development of expertise and the mastering of a set of skills. A master counselor or a master therapist does not result only from the proper education but from being mentored, through training, and possessing a passion for helping others. Robert Hoffman studied how expertise is gained and used guild terminology to define seven stages. The first stage is naivette where the student has no knowledge on helping or counseling. The second stage is novice where the student is a new trainee who has not yet been accepted. The third stage is initiate where the student has been accepted and is beginning training. The fourth stage is apprentice where the student is an assistant and begins the introduction stage. The fifth stage is journeyman where the student can now work a full day without supervision. In the counseling field this stage generally lasts two to three years between a student's graduation and a student becoming licensed. The sixth stage is expert where the journeyman is viewed as exceptional by his or her peers and can handle especially difficult cases. In this stage the journeyman may have a specific field of expertise. The seventh and final stage is master. The master is one of few experts who can teach others as their practice has become examples for others to follow.

Thus it becomes clear that it takes time to become a master helper. Additionally, it is also clear that a most helpers need supervision. Thirdly, people begin training to become helpers with different levels of experience. Many helpers are already journeymen when they register for training. They may feel they are wasting time reviewing information they already know. However, reviewing information one thinks one knows can also be helpful in reevaluating one's positions.

Potential Challenges

In their development as helpers, students are asked to practice scenarios and perform in front of others. Students should be open to constructive criticism and feedback to make the most of these sessions. Avoid comparing your performance with that of others. It is key that students take control of their education and continue to practice skills they need to fine tune. Do not be too embarrassed to ask questions or to ask for clarification. The skills you learn are necessary to effectively help your clients. Another challenge is to find a mentor. Having a good example is one key way to learn skills. A mentor can also give valuable feedback. However, finding a suitable mentor able to devote time to working with you may prove challenging. Another challenge is thinking that you will find a perfect technique. In reality you will need to learn many skills and have a collection of techniques at your disposal depending on the situation and on your client. It also natural to feel like you are in limbo in the beginning stages of training as you incorporate the skills you learn with your natural helping style. Often helpers go through a stage where they feel that their approach seems artificial and unnatural. It is important to not lose personal warmth and a sense of being genuine as helpers. Another challenge is learning to accept feedback. Your reactions to feedback will vary depending on your stage of training. Strive to openly share your work with others to gain constructive feedback. If you are a member of a minority group, are female, are the first in your family to attend college or if you are going through a stressful life event, you may experience heightened challenges.


Helpers should abide by the Hippocratic guideline to first do no harm. In Latin this is primum non nocere. While this is the most basic challenge of those in the helping professions there are also other rules and regulations in the form of ethical guidelines. Some guidelines which should be adopted in your group training will now be discussed in further detail. The first ethical guideline is to not discuss what other group members say during the sessions. This helps encourage trust in the group. The second guideline is to avoid giving advice. Giving advice can slow client progress. Additionally, you may not be qualified to give advice. The third guideline is to not force your value system and beliefs on others. It is important to be sensitive to and respectful of differences. The fourth guideline is to only give feedback when asked. Your feedback should also be delivered in a sensitive way to be constructive and specific. The fifth guideline is to only use the techniques discussed in this book or suggested by your instructor. Using techniques you aren't familiar with could be harmful and have adverse effects. The sixth guideline is to tell a instructor right away if someone in the group is thinking about hurting themselves or others. Tell an authority figure regardless of if you think a violent act is likely to occur.

It is important to stress that a helper's development is a lifelong process. While there is not one specific set of qualities that all helpers have, Carl Rogers suggested three traits as essential to an effective helper. The first is congruence. Congruence is the ability to be sincere and reflect what you say in how you act. This helps to build a client's trust.

The second characteristic is positive regard. This means that while a helper may not approve of how a client behaves, he or she is still respectful. The third characteristic is empathy. Emotional empathy is the ability to understand how another person feels. Cognitive empathy is the ability to understand another person's values and motivations. Rather than judge or evaluate a client, a helper should strive to understand. Empathy encourages clients to resolve their own problems. In addition to the three characteristics described by Rogers, the helper must not rely on gaining the client's approval. The helper may need to anger the client and bring up sensitive topics. Other authors suggest additional characteristics as being beneficial to helpers. A helper should have a positive outlook, want to help others, and be accepting. A helper should have good self esteem and be mentally secure and healthy to aim for cooperation rather than control. Effective helpers tend to also be able to help themselves by dealing with stress and managing their time well. He or she is creative and of high intellect and is both curious and flexible as they may need to come up with innovative strategies. A helper also needs courage to listen to the pain of others and to take risks. Keep in mind that these mentioned characteristics can be developed through training and practice. Additionally, a person's skills can be beneficial to helping others when utilized properly.

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