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!
When we think about the data we collect when we listen, usually the first thing that comes to mind is the words that we hear. While this is of course essential, we are all familiar with the expression 'Actions speak louder than words'. In the process of fully understanding the communications of another human being, it is well established that we privilege non-verbal messages over verbal. So, for this first issue on attending, it made sense to start with a discussion about attending to our clients' non-verbal messages.
What are Non-Verbal Messages?
Often referred to broadly as 'Body Language', non-verbal messages may be considered in discernible parts. Egan in 'The Skilled Helper' defines these parts as:
Bodily Behaviour - posture, movement and gestures
Facial Expressions - self explanatory!
Vocal Behaviour - tone of voice, speed of speaking, pausing, volume of speech
Physiological Responses - often autonomic such as flushing, sweating or quickening of breath
Physical Characteristics - including appearance and body size (need to be used cautiously!)
To find out more about the usefulness of non-verbal messages in eating behaviour counselling and what working with these messages may sound like - read on!
To underscore the importance of the therapeutic relationship in quality Dietetic work I would like to share with you a message I received from Joanne Ikeda:
'I very much appreciate Issue 3 of your newsletter. For over 20 years, I taught nutrition education and counseling to dietetics majors at the University of California, Berkeley. The very first thing I taught my students was the importance of establishing an effective helping relationship with clients. I am glad to see this reinforced in your newsletter.'
Joanne Ikeda, MA, RD, Nutritionist Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley
In this Issue of Practice Pavestones I am going to be focusing in on one of the core attributes underpinning the formation of this effective helping relationship - Empathy. How does empathy play a role in practicing effective Dietetic counselling? Let's to start this exploration by considering a recent real life scenario:
Dietitian: 'Mary, I'm wondering as we near the end of your session today how it was for you to share with me the story of your ups and downs with eating so far?'
Mary: 'It was good -...'
Dietitian: ..(gently) ......'Good?'
Mary: 'Yeah you really understood where I was coming from. I think you can help me'
What Mary is really saying here is that the experience of being understood left her feeling that she could be helped.
This is the power of empathy in a nutshell. It enables a connection which sits in direct contrast to the sense of isolation that comes with a difficult problem. It is this isolation that often drives despair, shame and entrenchment of behaviours. With empathy, it is in our power to give our clients a new experience of relating to their problems. Can you hear the subtle motivational edge in Mary's observation above? If this idea interests you, you are welcome to download the full issue....