The opening exchange between Maria and Ms. Wicks, while on the surface appearing quite typical of many exchanged within a school social counselor’s office, belies the fact that the relationship that will unfold and the dynamics of their exchanges will be challenging and fraught with ethical challenge.
While the process of helping can appear so natural and most of the time relatively easy, when viewed from the perspective of those in the human service professions, it is in truth complex and filled with challenges for both the helper and the client. Those within the human service professions understand that helping another person cope with a problem or facilitating that person’s movement toward a specific outcome is a very responsible process. It is a process that is done with intention and reflection and demands training and professional competence. It is also true that this helping process is not and cannot be formulaic. One cannot simply follow a step-by-step recipe in progressing toward the desired goals.
Within any helping encounter, the professional helper is called upon to make numerous decisions, decisions that call to question his or her own personal values as well as his or her professional codes of conduct and ethics.
The unique role and influence of the helper within the developing ethical helping relationship is the focus of the current chapter.
The Helping Process: A Blending of Art and Science
The effective helper understands and appreciates the fact that helping is not simply the sterile application of techniques or procedures. While a helper’s understanding of what to do may be grounded in theory and research, the when and how to do it require a sensitivity that extends well beyond theoretical knowledge and technical efficiency. Consider the many options and decision points afforded the helper working with Kim and the way that the helper’s personal and professional ethics can influence the choices made and the direction taken (See Case Illustration 1.1).
Case Illustration 1.1
Kim is a college freshman. During her first week of school, she came to speak to a counselor in the University Counseling Center. On entering the office, she stated that she had a “minor issue” and then continued with, “I know school has just started, and I am just a naive little helpless freshman, but, I (looks down to the floor), well, I … (voice becomes soft and quiet) have a kind of … well a … I guess you could call it a small, but not real small problem, with my roommate. Look, I don’t want to seem like a complainer, I’m not … am I? But (fidgeting a little), geez, this is kind of embarrassing to talk about, I mean you’re a guy (giggles), of course you know that, but … oh, HELL, I’m just gonna say it. I think my roommate … is … well, she, let’s say is nothing like me. No, what I mean to say is … I really like guys (smiles flirtatiously) even though I haven’t had a chance to meet anyone here, except the freshman boys, but anyway … I don’t think she does, if you know what l mean. Well anyway, you get the idea. Don’t you? I just need another room!”
In reviewing Kim’s complaint, did you feel that the roommate was the problem, or was something else on Kim’s mind? Was there a problem? While Kim was verbally expressive, what did you notice about her behavior? Her style of communicating? Should the counselor have stopped Kim and asked a question at any point? Should the counselor have confronted Kim? How might Kim’s style of sharing or even the type of issues and values she is expressing interact with the counselor’s values? So many questions, all without simple, clear answers—questions that target not only the steps to be taken by the counselor but also the underlying values, beliefs, and ethics guiding those steps.
As previously suggested, helping is a process for which there is no one tried and true sequence of steps to be applied. Helping is not an automatic, cold, and distant process of problem solving. It is truly an awesome encounter, one engaging clients’ and helpers’ feelings and values as well as their minds. The complexity and dynamic nature of the helping process is infused with subjectivity, intuition, and often confusion, rendering its facilitation as much of an art as a science. It is important to realize that as with any art, the product reflects not only the subject, in this case the client, but also the artist. Each participant mobilizes his or her values, beliefs, needs, and even dreams to make the very best of an increasingly intimate relationship.
As a contributor to this product and process, what might the counselor depicted in Case Illustration 1.1 have contributed to the dynamic with Kim? What did the counselor feel? What needs and concerns did the counselor bring to this interaction? What feelings, thoughts, and behaviors were stimulated or elicited by Kim? The uniqueness of the helper tints the process and outcome of the helping relationship. Two different counselors working with Kim may have attended to different pieces of her story or her style and may
have moved toward different outcomes or the same outcome through different paths. Exercise 1.1 provides an opportunity to identify the way the personal uniqueness of each helper can influence the very nature and outcome of the helping encounter.
You as Helper—You as Artist
Directions: Return to Kim’s case. As you read the descriptions and review Kim’s presentation, try to develop a complete image of the interaction. Imagine you are the counselor. What does Kim look like? Where are you standing? What might you have been doing prior to her coming to see you? What else is on your things to do list? After developing a real sense of the scenario, with you as counselor, respond to the following questions:
- What meaning did you make of all of the varied verbal and nonverbal (e.g., looking down, flirting, etc.) communications?
- How do you interpret the para-linguistic (i.e., intonation in her voice, volume, etc.) messages?
- What elements of her style or her message did you pay attention to?
- How did you “feel” about Kim?
- What did you want to do?
- What are your feelings about the possibility of working with Kim?
Compare your observations and conclusions with a colleague’s or classmate’s: Did he or she focus on other data? Have other feelings? How might one’s focus be influenced by personal values, beliefs, prejudices, or ethics? What role might the “person” of the helper play in defining the nature and direction of this helping relationship?
While the person of the helper will come into play in shaping the process of helping, it is important that as professionals we employ a standard of service, a guide to performance, one that helps to place a governor on the influence that our own personal values and subjectivity can exert within
the relationship. That governor is found within each of the human service profession’s codes of ethics. It is a governor that moves our helping from personal to professional.
The Helping Process: The Meeting of Client and Helper
Albeit a very unique and special relationship, the helping relationship is first and foremost exactly that, a relationship. It is important to note that too often in our eagerness to be of assistance, we rush in with our answers, our directions, and our solutions, trying desperately to do something to “solve the problem.” We must remember that helping is a process that not only assists clients in their goal attainment but also positions them to be better able to cope in the future. It is a process that is realized in the context of a helping relationship (Parsons & Zhang, 2014). The quality of the relationship is therefore the keystone to the helping process and thus needs to be of primary concern to all seeking to develop their helping skills.
Helping: A Special Kind of Interpersonal Process and Response
Social encounters and social relationships are not unfamiliar. The normal chitchat nature of these encounters is more or less familiar and comfortable for all of us. The helping relationship, however, is quite different from these typical social encounters. It is a relationship with singular focus on the needs of the client and one in which the role and functioning of the helper is guided by professional standards and ethics of service rather than personal wants or needs.
Helping is a process by which one person, the helper, interacts with another in a way to facilitate this other’s (the client’s) involvement and movement toward specific outcomes. Unlike most social exchanges, primacy is given to one member, the client. It is the client’s needs, concerns, and goals that are the focus of the encounter. It is the client’s welfare that is the focus of the relationship and the driving force behind the ethical helper’s decision-making. Consider the exchange pr...