Counselling is a collaborative effort between counsellor and client. This shared process means each person involved has agency and responsibility to move it forward. However, it is also very normal for the amount of motivation, energy, and focus that each person brings to vary across meetings, and even at different points in a conversation. It’s like sharing access to the steering wheel in a car – in some counselling conversations, it is optimal for the client to be in the driver’s seat, steering the direction of the conversation; at other points, it is helpful if the counsellor is behind the wheel, providing guidance and focus.
Counselling is a collaborative effort between counsellor and client.
Although this would not be a good design for an actual car, perhaps the optimal design for the counselling process is when the steering wheel can be smoothly shifted between participants. Or maybe they even have joint access to the wheel to choose the direction or next part of the journey. There are times, however, when there are obstacles to moving forward. The process can feel stuck, and it can be tempting as a counsellor to take over the steering wheel at these points and fall into a role that involves more teaching, telling, pushing, or pulling the client.
Another option at these moments is to intentionally invite the client back behind the steering wheel, with some support. Worksheets or reflective questions are one way to provide this support because they allow the client’s voice to come forward to help guide the next step. As described in the Change and Planning section of the Counselling Activities Workbook, counsellors can help clients find their own motivation for change by becoming a trusted ally and highlighting change talk when they hear it. This is like being a trusted passenger in the car, who looks up helpful information in the car manual and keeps the conversation going to support the driver to stay alert, engaged, and focused.
It’s normal for the amount of motivation, energy, and focus that each person brings to vary across meetings, and even at different points in a conversation.
Case Study Example: Mateo
What follows is an example of using a worksheet to help get the client back in the driver’s seat and direct focus in a counselling conversation. This is an example from my own work, but the names have been changed to protect the clients’ identity.
Mateo and I had been meeting for counselling sessions for several weeks. When we started, one of his goals was to finally quit smoking. Mateo described his 13-year-old daughter voicing concern, a family history of lung- and respiratory-related health concerns, and his own recent health scare with pneumonia all contributing to this becoming a primary focus for him.
After a couple of sessions getting connected and exploring his history along with other immediate concerns, I invited a shift toward intentionally focusing on his goal of quitting smoking. Mateo welcomed this focus and was very engaged in a conversation exploring his relationship with tobacco and the act of smoking. It very much felt like we were sharing the steering wheel.
We collaboratively discussed possible steps as well as barriers for Mateo as he engaged with this goal. Mateo expressed hopefulness and confidence in these conversations. I was also feeling the positivity and satisfaction of feeling helpful and able to support someone so motivated to move ahead with change. This amplified my surprise in the next couple of sessions as Mateo did not move forward on his own steps, and indeed seemed to be losing motivation as he expressed feeling stuck, overwhelmed, and self-critical.
At the end of a second conversation that felt like I was juggling both a pull to cheerlead Mateo forward and find a way to stay meaningfully connected with his feelings of being disheartened, I realized I now felt like I was alone at the steering wheel, straining to pull Mateo along on this journey. I knew my own feelings of frustration and helplessness were not helpful to Mateo, nor to my own ability to think creatively. I decided in our next conversation I needed to give the wheel back to Mateo, and I needed to shift back to being curious and learning from him what was needed next.
Worksheets are one way to provide support because they allow the client’s voice to come forward to help guide the next step.
To help with this step, I brought a worksheet titled Ready, Willing, and Able.
The purpose of this activity is to reflect on different elements of readiness to move forward on steps toward change. Using four scales measuring 1–10, a person is invited to explore:
- Their level of confidence toward the change
- Their belief in the importance of this change
- Their ability to take the actual steps
- Their perceived sense of readiness and how realistic it is for them to act now
Ready, Willing, and Able
Goal: To reduce the amount of cigarettes I am smoking each day
The worksheet includes scaling questions, asking the participant to consider the following 4 areas on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 10 (extremely).
- Confidence – How confident would you say you are that you could make this change right now if you decided to?
- Importance – How important would you say it is to make this change right now?
- Ability – How able would you say you are to make this change right now?
- Readiness – How ready would you say you are to make this change right now?
Mateo was able to fill this worksheet out quickly, and as we reviewed it together, we both encountered something surprising. He had scaled the three areas of confidence, importance, and ability all at high numbers, between 8 and 10. What was surprising was the Readiness scale. He circled a two (close to “not ready at all”). I asked Mateo, “When you read the question, ‘How ready are you to make this change?’ what went through your mind?” Mateo replied, “The first thing I thought was not at all!” This was like Mateo turning on the signal light, and we needed to take a turn in our focus.
As we explored this “two” score of readiness, Mateo was able to identify that right now he is extremely worried about being the best dad he can be for his daughter. She is starting puberty, experiencing changes in her body, friends, and emotions. Mateo is a single parent without a lot of family support, so he’s feeling overwhelmed about how to navigate this important phase of her life and keep their relationship strong.
However, he was able to start to untangle his “stuck” feelings. On one hand he could clearly identify that quitting smoking was a great wish of hers and would be very beneficial to his health. But on the other hand, it was his reliable “friend’ to manage stress and keep his mood calmer to help conversations with his daughter go well. We shifted our next conversations to this area of Mateo’s family life. It once again felt like Mateo was at the steering wheel, and I could hold the map offering navigational support.
Reflection activities are one tool that can assist with these moments that are so common and essential to productive and collaborative counselling work.
This experience was a strong reminder of the importance of ensuring the person I’m supporting is fully involved in deciding the direction of our counselling work. And that “stuckness” can be like a stoplight indicating we need to consult our map and plan, and perhaps take a turn down a more important road. Reflection activities are one tool that can assist with these moments that are so common and essential to productive and collaborative counselling work.
The Counselling Activities Workbook contains 147 different worksheets or activities. There are 12 different sections representing a wide variety of counselling topics. Additional activities in the workbook include questionnaires, worksheets, reflective exercises, mapping activities, safety plans, and coping strategies.
The 12 sections of counselling activities are:
- Change and Planning
- Coping and Stress
- Self-awareness and Self-esteem
- Cognitive Behavioural Strategies
- Body and Movement
- Mindfulness and Calming
- Safety Plans
- Connecting and Relationships
For more information about ordering the Counselling Activities Workbook, please visit our website.
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