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Not All Counseling is the Same….

August 22, 2017

The process of counseling with many counselors requires the client to tell their story while the counselor listens. The counselor will selectively reflect back what was heard and consciously or unconsciously shift their position, affirm with head nods or say things like “hmmm” or “oh”. Some counselors will also ask questions designed to help the client reflect on parts of their story.

As the process unfolds, the client continues to tell their story, punctuating certain events that they see as important from their perspective.

It is as if those events are placed above their head like stars in the night. Each point of light stands for a particular experience. As the stories unfold, the client then connects the dots or stars to create their views and impressions of those events. The connected dots create constellations and each constellation has its own impact and meaning to the client. While the experiences depicted by the client can themselves be distressing, very often it is also the associated meaning that the client then assigns to those stories or constellation of events that contributes to greater distress.

For instance a client tells stories of abuse and then in connecting the dots and bringing their meaning to the constellation of events the client internalizes poor self worth. That poor self worth then contributes to a series of decisions that inadvertently contribute to more abusive experiences – a viscous cycle.

The benefit of meeting with the counselor is that by putting one’s experiences up like stars in the night and then examining the resultant constellations, the client may come to draw new or different lines between their various experiences for new constellations to emerge from which the client draws a new or improved or more functional meaning through which then behavior change can occur and the viscous cycle can be broken.

While a good and useful process, this can be lengthy, requiring multiple one-hour sessions. As the process unfolds and until new constellations are developed, old patterns of behavior continue which may result in further distress even though in counseling.

My approach is different.

Rather than multiple one hour sessions where the client essentially unfolds their story, parts of which may be relevant to change and parts of which may be irrelevant, I begin the counseling process with a three-hour meeting.

In that meeting I ask many questions. Essentially I conduct an extensive individual and family history taking procedure, trans-generational in nature and probing for issues related to mental health, physical health, addictions, violence/abuse, quality of relationships, developmental histories, personality styles, etc. I am looking for or assessing issues that may be either contributory or intervening variables to the presenting problem.

On the basis of the information gathered, I then provide feedback with regard to my view of the constellations I see which often stand in contrast to those seen by the client but are consistent with what they are likely to see at the completion of the traditional approach to counseling.

Given my approach, I also teach and coach clients with regard to new or different strategies for managing situations to better achieve the outcomes they seek.

The result of this approach is that people usually leave the first meeting feeling they have received something new, have a better understanding of their issues and their role with regard to those issues and strategies to effect change.

While not helpful to everyone and no approach is helpful to everyone, clients are generally appreciative for the straightforwardness and direct guidance they receive.

When you go to counseling, it is so important to ask about the counselor’s approach. While they reasonably will not be able to tell you how long your counseling will take, they should be able to tell you on average how long their counseling takes others to achieve the results they seek.

In going to counseling it is helpful to know what you are getting into before getting into it. That is why I always have a brief telephone conversation first where clients can ask questions of me and my approach and I can ask questions of them about their needs and expectations. If there is a reasonable match, we set an appointment.

Counseling is not a one-size fits all service. Know what you are signing up for. Make it an informed decision.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker. Check out all my services and then call me if you need help with a personal issue, mental health concern, child behavior or relationship, divorce or separation issue. I am available in person and by Skype.

Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

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Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas and Georgina Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America. He consults to mental health professionals as well as to mediators and collaborative law professionals about good practice as well as building their practice.

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