April 27, 2007
Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, 25th Anniversary Edition : A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth, defines love as actively seeking that which is good for another person. It’s a focus of effort, mindfulness, and emotional energy on the needs of someone else.
I believe that one of the most effective ways to do this is through attentive observation. Attentive observation means you focus your awareness on another person, watching and listening and feeling and intuiting what is going on. It means you pay attention in a way that is undeniable, because you communicate what you are observing clearly and specifically.
Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish give great examples of the power of attentive observation in their book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk. One area is effective praise. Instead of telling a child, “Wow! That’s fantastic!” they encourage parents to say, “I see lots of blue at the top of your painting, like it’s the sky, and this red building with a chimney could be a house. I see children playing by that tree, and there are lots of birds.” It is validating and empowering to be acknowledged in such a specific and direct way.
Another way they use attentive observation is to nudge a child towards correcting a behavior or solving a problem. “I see toys spread out all over the table we’ll need for dinner in about 15 minutes,” or “I hear two brothers arguing and I see one raising a toy to throw it!” This kind of attentive description puts the focus on the situation, not the child, but says to the child, “You can figure this out and make it right.”
A third amazing way they use attentive observation is to give deep encouragement and acknowledgement of strong character traits. It’s especially useful as a counterweight to a child’s negative self-image. For the child who gets low grades on homework and sometimes doesn’t bother to turn it in, they would suggest finding a way to “catch” the child being responsible, especially with schoolwork. Then they would give the report, “You’ve been working on that homework without a break this afternoon. That’s what I call diligent!”
They would also suggest finding everyday opportunities to summarize children’s behaviors. “When you held the door open for the woman carrying those packages, you were being courteous.” For a pattern, they recommend something like, “Sara, I’ve noticed you help your brother get ready and find his things. You understand he needs help because he’s young. That shows consideration.”
Attentive observation is powerful in therapy. It can be a gentle confrontation, such as, “One of your goals is to improve your relationship with your girlfriend, but you’ve just criticized her and talked about her like you don’t respect her.” It can summarize successes, like, “That’s three weeks without blowing money on a shopping binge.”
Attentive observation is powerful in coaching. Used to summarize and challenge, it helps propel a client forward. For example, “You set three major goals to accomplish by summer. Now you say you have too much to do and you’re getting frustrated. It sounds like all or nothing. Am I understanding it correctly?” Used to encourage, as in, “Based on what you accomplished last year, I have no doubt you’re the right person to be in charge of this,” it can provide authentic inspiration.
When delivered with compassion and respect, attentive observation is therapeutic, it is healing, and it is whole-making. It is also uplifting, it is encouraging, and it is compelling. It is intentional love.
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,
April 20, 2007
Since I first started thinking years ago about working with people who want to add more enjoyment and fullness to their lives, I thought the best word to describe what I wanted to be was “mentor.” I’ve used that word in various ways since then, playing around with it in marketing ideas while trying to discover what I want my practice to be.
That’s why I was drawn to a brochure that came in the mail last year about a conference introducing a way that therapists can transition to coaching. It was from MentorCoach, founded by Ben Dean, Ph.D. The name told me I would find a view of coaching that was similar to how I was trying to define being a mentor. I wasn’t very articulate at explaining my concept of a personal growth and development counselor/human development consultant and trainer/positive counselor/mentor. Yes, I was that confused.
The MentorCoach view was close, but different enough that I resisted enrolling in coaching training for months because “coaching” is a box (see last week’s mini-rant). But then I started to understand coaching is a way of working with people I can add to my skill set. I saw the training as expanding instead of defining and limiting my practice. This month I began a class of basic coaching skills through MentorCoach and will be a Certified Mentor Coach upon successful completion of the course.
About two months ago I realized that the overall theme of my practice is mentorship. The role of mentor not only best defines how I will work with clients; it also describes the skills I want to help them achieve in their relationships with other people. I am defining my practice as a Mentor and Mentorship Coach.
But the word mentor is vaguely understood. Some people consider a mentor to be an unpaid older tutor or guide who is amazingly successful in the area another person wants to learn, especially in business or a career. Some people consider a mentor to be a volunteer who meets with an underprivileged child or teenager to be a role model of success and to encourage the young person to make good choices. Some people even consider a person they know only through books, interviews, and articles to be a mentor because that person has shared wisdom and experience that is helpful to the receiver.
I am developing my definition of mentor. Right now it is: a person who enters into a dynamic relationship with another person or group of people to guide the process of personal growth and development through self-discovery and shared knowledge, wisdom, and experience.
Mentorship, then, is (for now): the act of entering into a dynamic relationship with another person or group of people for the purpose of guiding the process of personal growth and development through self-discovery and shared knowledge, wisdom, and experience.
To that end, I have named my practice “Discovery Partners,” which for those following along makes a lot more sense than “Stick!” [Updated 10/24/2008 when moved to new online home: business name and URL were already registered so I eventually changed it to Discovery Lookout.]
I registered a web domain at www.MentorshipCoach.com, and set up my practice e-mail as Steve@MentorshipCoach.com. With that domain name chosen I have clarity about my practice, and I finally feel settled into a direction for my future work. [Updated 10/24/2008: hyperlinks removed because the clarity did not last so this URL and e-mail address are not the focus of my business. Go figure!]
May You Learn to Love Your Twisty Roads,
April 13, 2007
It’s been two decades since I started graduate school to get my master’s in child psychology. When I was choosing a school, some had a strong affiliation with one set of beliefs and practices, while most favored an “eclectic” approach. The student got to study many different theories and views and then integrate them into his own personal view of what makes people do the things they do, what causes psychological disorders, and what works to resolve them.
That seemed like a complete mess!
At 21, I didn’t have enough experience and broad knowledge to choose one belief system and stick with it, so I chose an eclectic school. But for those same reasons I wasn’t prepared to pick and choose from all the various schools of thought to develop my own approach. Many parts of many theories made sense, but a lot was hard to swallow. There was no clear answer.
I found clarity outside the psychology department. I learned play therapy from one of the leading figures in the field, Dr. Garry Landreth. He taught me child-centered play therapy, a specific theoretical approach to a particular population—young children.
I loved it because it made sense and respected the nature of children during the earlier developmental stages. But mostly I loved it for its clarity. I didn’t have to consider conflicting theories and choose from a variety of options. I learned to approach situations from a complete, integrated view that gave me a few options, not dozens.
But when I worked with older children, or adolescents, or adults, I started picking things from other theoretical models. I started with client-centered, meaning I had to pay close attention, hear the feelings not directly spoken, and paraphrase back to help my clients communicate clearly to me. That process makes a client pay close attention to what he’s saying and helps him figure out his own views and beliefs. It’s a powerful tool by itself. But I found myself slowly adding other things.
I added the cognitive-behavioral model, where you help a client see the connections between thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and actions. It gives him greater awareness so he can act instead of simply reacting.
I used gestalt techniques like imagining a conversation, or even playing out the conversation, with someone not in the room. Or having a client imagine handling a situation in a completely different way. I learned to add symbolic events, like imagining walking out of a room and turning off the light, closing the door, and walking away, to represent closure.
I learned Jung—his symbols, his archetypes, his homage to the unconscious. I doubt I’ll ever become a Jungian analyst, but there were times when a client mentioned a recurring dream or a meaningful storyline from a book or movie, and thanks to Jung I could see the underlying importance.
So I slowly learned to love the freedom of studying different theories and approaches and integrating them into my practice. And there’s the rub.
Coaching as a field is in the process of creating credibility through standard practices. To accomplish this coaching is being pretty narrowly defined. This means the coach’s responses are much more limited than an eclectic therapist’s skills. It’s like being a jazz musician who wants to play classical music—but being told you can only play the flute and perform pieces by Bach.
Psychology is the study of human behavior—all of it, not just disorders. Counseling is the study of the promotion of healthy human growth and development. Both fields should be at the forefront of helping people improve their lives the way coaching does, but they lag far behind. I believe coaching is rising up so quickly because the focus in counseling and psychology has been on psychotherapy for too long.
There will be a dynamic tension between positive psychology and counseling for personal development on one side, and life coaching on the other, for a long time. I will be straddling these fields and integrating them, because I am a counselor trained in psychology who is becoming a coach. I can set aside the role of therapist when I am coaching someone, because the destination is different. But I won’t be able to set aside the role of counselor or student of human behavior. They’re how I understand people.
Right now, today, I consider coaching to be a specialty area within my counseling practice. It is a specific way of promoting personal growth and development, much as play therapy is a specific way of helping young children resolve emotional challenges. I’m sure my understanding will change in many ways in the coming years as I learn more about integrating these new skills and theories into my practice. For now, I’m trying to become the best Psychoachelor I can be.
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,
April 6, 2007
I Love Shmuley!
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has the TV show “Shalom in the Home” and helps families in crisis. I’ve only seen a portion of the show a couple of times, but I saw a few minutes with him on Oprah.
I don’t intentionally watch Oprah—except that day she gave away a bunch of cars. I read on the inernet what she had done and found out the show was about to air locally, so I tuned in. And one other time, when she interviewed Shawn Hornsby and his family after he was returned home after missing for 4 years. So that’s twice that I intentionally watched.
It’s not my habit. I usually stumble on Oprah if I turn on the TV in the afternoon and it happens to be on. I see shoe designers and pizza tours of the country and I change the channel. But a few weeks back Shmuley was on, and I was hooked.
He speaks from a place of deep wisdom that is so true I found myself agreeing and wondering why we all didn’t automatically realize these obvious truths on our own. I went to Barnes & Noble to check out his book and wound up buying two. I just got to the first of them in my reading list this week.
10 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children is a treasure. Shmuley speaks very comfortably and sincerely about morality and character being the essential measures of success in life. He writes about connectedness, recognizing it sustains us through struggles and gives meaning to life. He shows there is really no contest between a life of principle and connection on one hand, and a life of accumulating things and social status on the other.
Shmuley explains his beliefs by referring to his Jewish faith. He is a rabbi, of course, and a family counselor as well. He gives examples of other rabbis disagreeing with his positions on certain topics, like arguing with God, which he supports. I don’t know where his beliefs fall compared to contemporary Jewish theology, but I like his understanding of the faith.
There is a comforting parallel I see between Shmuley’s beliefs and what for me is the most approachable view of Christianity, presented through Christian counseling. This field best explains the moral law for me. It tells us the moral law exists to teach us our nature and the nature of God.
If we follow the moral law, we have more meaning and contentment in life because we are respecting our own needs, as God designed us. If we break the moral law, we are injuring ourselves and our relationships to other people.
This view honors morality in a more profound way than a focus on punishment, which overlooks the relational nature of God and mankind. It defends morality far more than the relativist position that Jesus was a “good moral teacher” with recommendations for us to consider.
This is the view of morality and principled living that Shmuley embraces and explains so well in his book. Acting with honor and character brings us closer to one another and to God.
If more clergy catch on to this idea, counselors and coaches may be out of work!
May You Know the Joy of Sharing Your Gifts,