Asking the right questions

Nov 2016    

The enquirer stated in her email that she was looking for a counsellor who was experienced and competent, as her husband could be a “difficult man”. I guess she meant he was not convinced that he had problems or needed anyone’s help to change. I have had a number of enquirers with similar concerns. Some have asked for my resume, or requested that I pen a few words to appeal to sceptical partners or family members to give counselling a try. I have to admit that these requests are often met with equal scepticism and reluctance on my part.

To be fair, it is perfectly reasonable to expect a person starting counselling to be apprehensive. It is also understandable that enquirers are anxious about whether they can get along with their counsellor; whether the “fit” in thinking and values would be right. After all, to receive help, you need to be willing to disclose some facts that may leave you feeling exposed and vulnerable. And if you are to take advice from your counsellor, you certainly want to feel confident of his or her ability.

Yet I cannot help but feel that the question some have when they consider counselling may not be the right one. If we do not start with the right question, we will probably end up with an answer that is not relevant for our needs. Some may not be querying whether the counsellor has the right answers for them, but whether they even need help. This is a more fundamental question that has to be answered by the client or client-to-be, not the counsellor.

There is an approach to counselling called Motivational Interviewing which many hope will work with particularly reluctant clients. This approach seeks to help those not yet committed to change (or “pre-contemplators”) to make a decision for change. This is done by giving them as accurate a picture of their situation as possible. The hope is that with this rational and objective presentation of facts, such as the costs of their problems on themselves and others and the potential benefits of change, a logical decision for change will follow.

The theory and logic is sound enough. However, I have seen too many instances of rational individuals making irrational decisions: Where husbands leave their spouses and children for another person, where the addict continues their destructive behaviour despite the appeals of the family, where pride rules over reason and people refuse to admit their wrong.

So what are the right questions a person should consider when they reach out for help? Here are a few: Do I recognise there are things in my life which are not going well that are consequences of action or inaction on my part? Am I willing to take responsibility for the hurt I have inflicted on others and be ready to make amends with them? Do I need the help of someone who can assist me with these necessary changes and to whom I can be accountable?

A person’s recognition of the need for change and a desire to take action is an important start to the change process. Often, it seems that we must be confronted by the consequences of our actions and even by our Maker before we decide to change.

Not all of us will need the help of a counsellor, but all of us may need to ask whether we are asking the right questions in life. Some are wondering which course of study to pursue, what career they should consider, whether they will find or have found the “right person” or should commit to marriage, etc. All these are important questions, but are they the right question? Not asking the appropriate questions often leads us to answers that are not truly satisfying.

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.


Picture by digitalista/Bigstock.com




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