A central tenet of client centered work is that the client’s understanding of themselves and their lives is privileged over what the counselling professional may think or believe they ‘know’ about the client. The client is considered the expert in their lives.
This core idea can guide all aspects of our communications with our client. This includes the skill of affirming. When we focus on our client's ideas and knowledge of their strengths and positive qualities we are potentially opening up a powerful new aspect to this very helpful micro-skill. We are inviting co-creation and autonomy in affirming.
You may be able to hear the invitation for autonomy and co-creation in affirming in this quote from Motivational Interviewing 3rd ed :
‘The spirit of MI starts from a [….] strengths-focused premise, that people already have within them much of what is needed, and your task is to evoke it, to call it forth. The implicit message is ‘You have what you need, and together we will find it’ p21
Miller and Rollnick
So, in this issue we are exploring merging these two principal MI ideas:
Calling forth the client's knowledge and emphasising their autonomy (this reduces resistance and enhances empowerment in the change process)
Affirming our client's strengths (this increases hope and confidence to change)
Read on to discover more about this powerful skill mash up!
For those of you who are seasoned practitioners, you will be familiar with the very bumpy road that is characteristic of our clients' behaviour change process. If you are new to facilitating change in others I am sure that a minute of self reflection will confirm that even (or particularly!) for ourselves, 'being' different and 'doing' different is hard work requiring energy, focus and commitment.
It is not uncommon for our clients to share 'problem saturated stories' of repeated experiences of failure, lack of hope or even reluctance to be visiting our office to meet with us. It can be a genuine challenge to our skill of affirming to seek out our clients' strengths to reflect back to them when there's seemingly nothing 'going right'. The paradox is of course, that this can be a powerful time to do it. Demonstrating our willingness to notice capacity and capability in our client when they cannot see it for themselves can be a strong alliance builder.
So where to start?
I recently had a series of very humbling experiences.....listening to recordings of myself at work with clients. I was required to record several client sessions to analyse my skills for a training application that was due this month. In this process of listening and self analysis (and with mentoring from my Skills Coaches), I discovered that my affirming needed some work.
One thing I was surprised to learn is that when I engage in affirming I can sometimes inadvertently ask a question by ending the affirmation with an upward voice inflection. Easily done (especially if you are an Aussie). Not necessarily harmful but also not particularly helpful.
These recent experiences of mine got me thinking about this next issue. Now that I have lead the way, I thought we might explore ways that we accidentally stuff our affirmations up.
Quick Menu of Affirmation 'Stuff Ups'
Here's a wee check list of three easy ways we might go off track when trying to practise the skill of affirming:
Download this issue to read some examples of what these 'stuff ups' may sound like and some strategies for correcting them...
In Issue 16: Working With Our Clients' Strengths, I finished up with the following suggestion for reflection:
If you are new to affirming you may like to practice by:
Following on from a group discussion in the last training workshop, I thought it may be valuable to list some examples of strengths and attributes we may encounter in our clients.
Below is a list you may like to consider and reflect on. It is largely inspired by 'The Library of Strengths' in Stephanie Dowrick's book Choosing Happiness (Penguin 2007). Download to contemplate more.....
For most people struggling with change, being really heard is a very encouraging and positive experience. Past issues of Practice Pavestones have featured lots of discussion about the power of reflective listening in assisting our clients this way. Affirming takes the skill of reflective listening one step further to amplify the positive effects of being heard and understood.
In the course of a session, clients can say an awful lot to us. What we select from our clients' statements to reflect back to them can have a real influence on our client and the direction of the conversation in session. As we become more skilled at active listening we can become more deliberate in what we highlight to our client in our reflective responding.
Affirming is the intentional act of reflecting back to our client something about:
Here's a great definition from David Rosengren:
'Affirmations are statements of appreciation for the client and his or her strengths. ....The statements are strategically designed to anchor clients to their strengths and resources as they address their problem behaviour' p 62
When we affirm, we sift through our clients dialogue and actions and creatively highlight aspects of forward movement. To read more on what this may sound like and the practitioner attributes involved go for the download!