The 4 Stages of the Counseling Process: What Every Youth Counselor Should Know
There is a natural progression that takes place within the context of the helping relationship. This process enables you and the person you are working with to build a relationship, assess the situation, set goals and come up with a plan to bring about your desired results. This progression is known as the counseling process. There are four stages of the counseling process. They are: developing a relationship, making an informed assessment, establishing mutually agreed upon goals and objectives and developing an implementation plan.
Phase 1. Developing A Relationship
In order to develop positive helping relationships with youth, you’ve got to be able to connect with them. This can only happen when youth are made to feel like you genuinely care about their well-being and that you understand where they are coming from. It’s about behaving in a way that demonstrates the core conditions of genuineness, respect and empathy.
To develop solid relationships with youth, you need to create a safe environment where young people will feel comfortable enough to open up to you and talk to you about anything that is on their minds. You also need to help youth see that despite their circumstances they have strengths. In short, you should start things off from a strengths-based perspective.
Questions to Consider When Trying to
Develop A Relationship
· In what ways can you build better relationships with the youth in your program?
· If there are youth who are not actively engaged, what can you do differently to engage them?
· If a youth is resistant, what steps can you take to reduce resistance?
· What worked in the past with resistant youth?
· How do you know when you’ve built a solid relationship with a youth? Could you use these indicators to strengthen your relationships with other youth?
Phase 2. Making An Informed Assessment
An informed assessment happens when both you and the youth gather information in order to figure out what’s “really” going on so that you can assess what needs to happen next in order to change the situation for the better or build up the youth’s coping skills to better deal with a problematic situation. The first step in making an assessment is to find out if change is necessary, and if it is what needs to happen for change to take place. If you have determined that change is necessary, then the next step is to figure out what needs to change. Is it a behavior? An attitude? A situation?
A good assessment can provide an opportunity for a young person to see how his/her behavior or attitude might be contributing to an undesirable or unhealthy situation. Assessment is an ongoing process. You need to regularly check in with your youth to see how things are going. Reassessments enable you to ensure that you and the youth are on the right track.
How do you gather information in order to make an informed assessment? You can gather information in a number of ways: talking with youth, observing the youth’s behavior and interactions, discussions with other people who are involved in the young person’s life, and reading any documented information on the young person. Keep in mind that when utilizing someone else’s verbal or written report as a source of background information, you run the risk of subjecting yourself to their biases and assumptions.
Points to Keep In Mind When Making An Assessment
· Be aware of your biases and how they impact on the assessments you make.
· Involve youth in the assessment process.
· Don’t rely on one single source to make an assessment, gather as much information as you can from a variety of sources.
· Don’t automatically label a behavior as dysfunctional because you don’t understand it, or it is not germane to your culture.
· Make sure to point out a young person’s strengths even when addressing problematic behavior.
Phase 3. Establishing Mutually Agreed Upon Goals and Objectives
Why is it important to establish “mutually agreed” upon goals and objectives? Because if a young person is in agreement with the goals then he/she is more likely to follow through on them. When a youth is actively involved in the goal setting process and is in agreement with the goals, then he/she is more inclined to take ownership of the goals. What are goals? Goals are broad statements that identify what you want to accomplish. Think of goals as the end result that you are trying to achieve. While goals are broad statements that identify what you want to accomplish overall, objectives are the measurable steps that you take to achieve your goals. For example if you have a goal that states, “youth will be better able to manage her anger.” One of your objectives might be, “youth will recognize emotional triggers that lead to angry outbursts and use positive, self-talk to calm herself down.” Your objectives should always be concrete and measurable. They should also be derived from the overall goal.
Questions to Consider When Developing
Goals and Objectives
· What do you and the young person want to achieve?
· How are you going to achieve it?
· When do you want to achieve your stated goal?
· What obstacles do you anticipate?
· How will you address these obstacles?
· How will you use to measure and monitor progress?
· Are your goals realistic?
Phase 4. Implementation Plan
The implementation plan is a plan that you and the youth work on together. It is designed to prevent, intervene, or address unhealthy behaviors and practices. The implementation plan identifies who will perform the activities, where the activities will occur, how frequently they will occur, how they will be carried out and when they will be carried out. Implementation activities are designed to help individuals re-think risky behavior, work through problematic issues, address unhealthy lifestyles practices, learn new skills and build strengths. Implementation activities can include: counseling, crisis intervention, training and education, supportive services, concrete services and constructive use of free time.
As you can see, each stage of the counseling process builds upon the former. As you move through each stage, you will come to realize that it takes patience and practice to counsel youth effectively, but if you are committed to the goal you’ll do just fine. You may not feel completely confident in your ability as a counselor, but as you expand your knowledge base, gain more experience and strengthen your helping skills, you will become a more effective counselor.
Copyright © 2006 by Cassandra Mack
Excerpted from Cassandra Mack’s book, “Smart Moves That Successful Youth Workers Make”