Sunday, February 08, 2009

Supershrinks - Part Two

The afternoon session began with a video of “Wendy” a bona fide Supershrink, based on her Outcome Rating Scales (ORS) compared to others also using the ORS.

We watch and listen as Wendy questioned her abilities and list what we notice about her. Of course, modesty floats the top of the list. The other trait, or perhaps it’s a state (nature/nurture question) that is apparent is that she continually focuses on what is NOT going well in the therapeutic process.

Notice, I didn’t say she focuses on what was not going right with her clients, she focuses on what is not going right in the process, or more to the point, she notices and focuses on what she is not doing right.

I think this is what’s hard about the counseling or human helping human process. It’s having to hold and be comfortable with seemingly conflicting beliefs. On the one hand, many in the field have embraced a positive psychology stance. In it’s essence that means focusing on strengths, the client’s strengths, what they do well. But to be really effective and to continue to grow as a helper, one has to focus on their own shortcomings. Can you see the conflict in this? It kinda feels like “do what I say, not what I do” or what’s good for the goose isn’t good for the gander. It can create dissonance. I think many professional helpers struggle with this, maybe not concretely, but buried, deep within.

Ok, back to Wendy. As the video continued she said the things like: when I can’t figure something out with a client I always ask for help from others, I’m always learning, I spend most of my time getting on side with a client, I can make mistakes because the client is onboard. What was also clear, from her use of “I” was that she took ownership of problems.

When she talked about the ORS she said: this is not about feeling good, high scores don’t mean much, this is crucial to my personal development, it helps me to develop, the small stuff (small changes in scores) is important.

Research using the ORS suggests strongly that positive client outcomes are indicated not by high scores alone, but rather, the best outcomes are related to low initial scores followed by higher scores. (See slide 12 in the Supershrinks handout 2 for the graph.)

The big message here is, if something is going right, it’s all about the client. If something is going wrong, it’s all about the therapist.

This may not be true, in fact it’s probably some kind of cognitive distortion, however, it is critical to be able to use this kind of distortion as a mental strategy in order to truly become a Supershrink.

This was not a new idea to me. My (ex) father in law, Terry Billingham, who passed away a few years ago, taught me that very principle. Terry, was like me, a grade eight drop out. He left school early to help support his family; I left school early to get high (now referred to as the experiential part of my addictions counselor training). I liked Terry; we talked a lot as I spent many weekends with him and my mom in law, Eunice. I had grown up without parents and I found them quite interesting.

Anyway, one afternoon, as my girls were playing quietly for a change, Terry and I began talking about his work. He worked in a mill and for many years as a part time ambulance attendant. Recently he had begun teaching Industrial First Aid. He had been having some problems with one of the examiners. He felt that it was a personal thing between this particular examiner and him.

During this conversation I had one of those “world standing still” moments. Terry said, and I’ll quote because I can still hear his voice and see him sitting in his gold recliner, “When a student of mine fails an exam it is never about them not being good enough. It’s about me not teaching them good enough”.

At the time I had no idea why this particular conversation and piece of wisdom was so important. I just new it was. And, many years later, Terry has passed away and I have become a trainer and counselor, I still hold that piece of wisdom to be the foundation of both my practices.

Soapbox moment: I also hold society (with myself as a part of society) responsible for at least 50% of a client’s behaviour. It’s our failure to protect and embrace children (and adults) who are in crisis that co-creates their self destructive and destructive behaviour. I think everyone knows this; it’s just really hard to sit with.

Meanwhile, back at the conference, Scott finished off the Supershrinks session by focusing on how to become better at whet you do. Deliberate practice is the key. Again, not a new idea for those of us in the adult leaning/teaching trade. One of the best programs I’ve taken is the Professional Instructor Program at Vancouver Community College. During that program I learned the value of deliberate practice. I video taped myself facilitating, watched myself, first with the sound off, then listened with the picture off and then watched and listened at the same time, all the while critically self assessing in the third person. I then threw out every outfit I wore during the video taping and went on a diet. And I got better. I know deliberate practice works. So why do I not do it in counseling?

I mean, I do to a point, but not with the same fervor, the same dedication to improved practice. Perhaps part of the reason is confidentiality. Not sure how video taping my sessions would go over with my street entrenched, often running from a warrant, type clients.

Well, Scott had the solution for this conundrum. provides a system, an elegant system, of tracking not only client outcomes but by using the A.S.I.S.T software built into the My Outcomes system, those using it will be prompted to practice and their practice will be tracked. I can’t really do the system justice in words alone so again, download Scott’s handouts and go to the websites, and to get a fuller picture of what is available.

That wrapped up session 2 of Scott Miller’s Supershrinks session.

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