In Gerad Eagan’s seminal work The Skilled Helper, he outlines three stages of skilled helping in the counseling profession. The three stages are; The Current Picture, The Preferred Picture, and The Way Forward. In the current picture, the helper seizes the opportunity to show the client their current circumstance. Many times, a client feels overwhelmed and just having someone walk them through their current crisis can have not only a calming effect, but also enlighten them and sometimes even allow them to devise a solution for themselves. This current picture is a general “snap shot” with “neither too much or too little information.(72) Stage two is the preferred picture. In the stage two the client is shown the skills necessary to create a preferred future. This could be classified as the problem management stage of helping. Stage two then focuses on the payoff for the work and the result of the sessions. In stage three, the helper zeros in on the way forward. Stage three discussions are the strategy sessions that enable the client to create and ultimately execute a change agenda. The way forward, then, is the apparatus for planning and implementation stage.
Each stage has a set of three tasks that are involved in creating positive change of the client. In stage one, the tasks are helping the clients tell their story, and then helping them clarify a new perspective that will enable them to be more constructive, and finally to help the client focus in on which area will create the most return on their investment of time. Task one really centers on allowing the client to talk through their problem as they see and define it. The skilled helper will listen and nudge accordingly, but not interfere with the story as it takes shape. As Egan puts it, the client is in the driver’s seat of the story’s makeup. (73) Another important aspect of stage one is trust. The relationship hinges on how stage one proceeds.
In task two, the object is to help clients fill in the meaningful and missing details, so that they can be shown a more constructive view f their dilemma. Helpers should be cautious to not direct clients toward conclusions, but instead direct the client to new self discoveries about their own personal journey. Allowing the client to discover for him or herself new perspectives, see blind spots in their own lives, and make connections that may be missing is a main part of task two sessions. (230-231)
In task three, the skilled helper narrows down the issues that are plaguing the client to actionable points that can be dealt with. Attempting to fix too much too soon is a sure fired recipe for disaster and failure. Counselors can help their client to define the most problematic issues, prioritize the strategy for fixing those problems, and, when necessary, to break down larger problems into manageable (bite sized) projects that are a sub-set of the larger problem. Confrontation and immediacy are major portions of the skilled helper’s job in task three.
Stage two focuses on the future. Task one here challenges the client to visualize a better life. What would a life missing the problem at hand look like? Visualizing the preferred future can open up the client to possibilities they may have otherwise not envisioned. Task two puts the impetus on goal setting. Now that we know the problem and have it defined, and have begun to look and imagine a better situation, what realistic goals can be set to challenge ourselves to reach that future? Likewise, task three deals with motivation. Keeping the client motivated to reach the goals that have been set up. Creating a desire in the client and them asking them to contemplate what they are willing to sacrifice for the preferred future is a core component of stage three. By seeing the sacrifices ahead of time, the client is less likely to see those same sacrifices as insurmountable later.
Stage three focuses on the path. The client should be asking him or herself, “What pathway, what game plan, what approach best allows me to accomplish my goals?” Nevertheless, Egan cautions the helper that, “action—though essential—is valuable only to the degree that it leads to problem-managing and opportunity developing outcomes.” (355) In other words, action for action sake helps no one. It must have a controlled accomplishment scenario to be effect.
In task one; we see that goal setting is now turned into a strategy session, making a battle plan for achieving the goals. Clients can brainstorm the issue taking advantage of the helper’s presence and counsel. As Solomon wrote, “plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22 (NIV)
In task two the objective is an actionable plan. Taking the brainstorming points and boiling them down to an actual task that can be, with deference to the client’s personality DNA, be accomplished. Here a pro/con list can be established to see how the client’s value system best matches strategies proposed.
Lastly, task three takes the strategies and plan and executes them in a clearly defines step-by-step procedure. The procedure will hopefully keep the client from becoming overwhelmed and rushing into stages and problem resolutions that have yet to be addressed.
The last item is the action arrow, which simply put is actually executing the plan. Once accomplished, the process of stage three can be repeated for the next problem on the chain.