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The Special Nature of the Helping Relationship

Barry Greenwald, Ph.D.

Exercise #1
In the large group, ask the trainees to imagine a time in their life when they had a serious problem or concern that was giving them a lot of difficulty. Ask them to imagine this problem with all the feelings that attended it at the time. Then, ask them to recall who they turned to for help. Why did they turn to this person? What was it about the relationship that allowed them to turn to this person? What did the person do? How did the person respond? Was it helpful? If so, why? If not, why? If they did not turn to anyone, how do they understand this choice?

  • Issues of trust
  • Feelings that he or she would not be judged by the person
  • Certainty that what was shared would not become public property; the concept of confidentiality
  • Whether real understanding was present or not
  • Was respect communicated or did the person feel lessened by turning to someone for help or by the helper's attitude or response
  • Was the helper overwhelmed by the problem? What was the empathic bridge that was built?
  • Exercise #2
    This is a role play in which the same caller approaches a long standing friend and later a professional with the same problem. In order to make the points of this exercise, the role of the friend is often played a bit more in "characture" fashion.

    The caller is a woman who is in an obviously bad marriage and who is at the brink of deciding on a divorce. She first calls an old friend who has known her and her husband for a long time to run the idea of "divorce" by her. Her underlying question is: "What shall I do?"

    The friend's reactions should be caring. In addition, the conversations should be spiced with: "I'm amazed you've waited this long." "I told you when you got engaged that I didn't think he was the right guy for you." "You deserve better." "No one will really be surprised that you're getting a divorce." "You'll be free finally." "Divorced women have it really easy!" The friend should give lots of advice and claim to understand perfectly exactly what her friend is going through. She should miss totally just how frightening and anxious this decision is making her friend.

    The same women then calls a hotline. Hopefully, the liner's response will demonstrate some real differences to her question "What shall I do?"

    LOOK FOR: (in the friend-to-friend contact)
  • Advice giving
  • "Chicken Souping" or "There, there dear, everything will be all right."
  • Taking over; treating the person as if she were incapable of finding her own solutions.
  • Presuming that the person and the situation is understood without checking out whether the assumptions being made hold water.
  • Treating the person in need as if she were somehow deficient because she was in need. A demeaning or depreciating attitude toward someone who cannot handler his/her problems on his/her own.
  • Process the differences between the "friend-to-friend" and the hotline relationship.

    Exercise #3
    A ROUND ROBIN is a telephone call handled by all the people in the room instead of by just one trainee. Each trainee spends a few moments responding to the caller and then the phone is passed on to the next trainee. In a small group, each person may receive the phone more than once. In a large group (20+), the call is completed when the phone makes it around the room once. The caller remains the same throughout the call. It takes real skill to play this role since the listener is constantly changing. Pick an experienced trainer to play this role.

    The caller's problem should be significant and the part should be played with palpable affect. This is not the place for a low key call! The problem should not be one that promotes the notion of an "easy" solution but instead requires exploration of both the present and the past

    Were the guidelines followed:

  • Identification of the presenting problem
  • Identification of the underlying problem if there was one.
  • Acute or chronic issue?
  • Why is the caller calling now?
  • How is the problem effecting the person's life?
  • How has the caller tried to handle the situation so far?
  • What resources are available?
  • What options need to be considered?
  • What were the caller's expectations from the hotline?
  • How could the liner help?
  • Stress finding out how the trainee felt as he/she tried to respond to the caller. Look for feelings of helplessness, confusion, frustration, judgementalness, devaluing of the problem, impatience, anxiety. wanting to get rid of the caller, etc.

    Check on what the trainee was listening for? Sometimes, trainees are so busy thinking of what they're going to say next, they're not really listening at all.

    Find out what the trainees thought went well and what didn't. What seemed to work for them? What didn't? Check all this out with the caller.

    It is useful for the caller to return to the larger circle and to remain in role. Trainees should be encouraged to try out things with the caller "on the spot" to see how they would work or if they would make a difference.

    Find out from the caller what helped and why.

    Exercise #4
    This should be a regular role play with one caller and one trainee. This is likely to be the first time a single trainee is designated for role playing. While a volunteer would be nice, do not hesitate to chose someone if the reluctance hangs heavy. This call should not be overly difficult, nor should it be so mundane that it strikes the group as banal or boring. It should be involving and the caller should evidence enough feelings in the call to be engaging without being overwhelming.

    Follow many of the same steps as in Exercise #3. Try to have the trainee talk about what if felt like. Was it as she/he expected it to be? What was the experience like? If the trainee talks about it being easy, find out why it was so?

    Encourage the other trainees to ask questions of both the caller and the trainee who took the call. Find out if anyone would have done it differently and why. Ask what seemed to work and what didn't.

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