Being in a job where people engage you to talk of their woes and despair does not aff0rd you the opportunity to see many clients smiling or talking of heir successes.
But this particular week was different; I had positive messages from two separate clients. Both came from women whom I have been helping for some time with their difficult marriages; married for bout two decades and with several children, both had husbands that had been unfaithful to them, among other miseries. The news that each shared with me was vastly different. Yet they were both announced with a sense of relief.
One announced that her husband had decided, after almost two years of wrestling with this issue, to end his affair and come back to the marriage and family. Her husband had previously applied for a divorce and attempts at mediation had been unsuccessful. So his news that he was finally ready to stop his affair and return to the marriage was a welcome surprise.
The other client had just finished an evening counselling session where we concluded that the marital deadlock she was in for last few years would only be broken when she asked for a divorce. She had been the family’s main breadwinner for 20 years and her husband had twice been unfaithful to her. It was unlikely that he would leave her since he had much to lose with a divorce.
What greeted her when she returned home was the unexpected message that he acknowledged the marriage was not going anywhere and that he would divorce her.
Some may feel very indignant for this second woman. After all, she deserves better and being the hurt party, she should be the one suing for a divorce. Yet as a fairly young Christian and as one who still loves her husband, she felt torn between desiring to forgive and desiring to free herself from this burden. Her release came unexpectedly from her husband’s awakening.
In thinking through the experiences of these two women, I observed that the resolution they experienced had very little to do with the counselling they received. I had the privilege of supporting them through some hard times but the breakthrough happened outside of counselling.
Researchers have identified that up to 40 per cent of change experienced by clients was attributed to things that occurred outside of counselling. Such triggers for change can be: a positive turn in circumstances, doing helpful things like exercising, praying and receiving encouragement from friends.
The biggest positive effect from counselling (30 per cent) came from the “Therapeutic Relationship” that exists between the counsellor and the client: a relationship of acceptance, trust and support. Some might argue that this type of positive and intentional relationship can also be offered by pastors, church workers and friends.
There is one element that contributes to positive change which comes directly and solely from counselling. This is the application of specific counselling models and techniques and it contributes to 15 per cent of the change process. The final 15 per cent comes from the client’s expectancy and hope for change.
These findings1 should be sobering and humbling to the professional helper. Although counsellors are often reliant on their special knowledge and skills honed after years of practice, they should remember that it is only one of the factors that contribute to change.
In this season of Joy, let us remember these two ladies’ situations and consider that joy can take different forms. For one, joy is to be reconciled. For the other, it is to be released. For some, it is to be helped by a counsellor. For others, help comes from caring and thoughtful family and friends. Each of us can contribute to the joy of others through our gift of a caring relationship.
Picture by Phase4Photography/Bigstock.com
1 The Heart and Soul of Change; What works in Therapy. Hubble, M. A., Duncan B. L. & Miller S.D. (1999) Washington DC. American Psychological Association
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award in 2011 and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.