Posts Tagged islam and psychology

Counseling Tips: Don’t make rookie mistakes

Bismillah walhamdulillah

A few things to keep in mind so that you don’t make rookie mistakes (like I did):

  • Seeing it through their lens and Defining terms. Don’t worry about trying to understand everything about the client through your own lens. Try to see it from their lens, and one way to do this is to ask them to define their terms. Don’t let them say “I feel lonely,” without getting them to define what “lonely” means to them. Yes, I know you know what lonely means. That’s what lonely means to you. Find out what it means to them. And what are the implications of being lonely?
  • Try not to show approval or disapproval towards things that the client is saying. They probably already know what is right and wrong. If that’s what their problem was, they would ask you “Is this right/wrong?” If this is not what they wanted, by expressing your approval or disapproval, you’re essentially letting them know what you’d like to hear from them and what you’d dislike. They will then alter themselves accordingly. That doesn’t mean their problems are solved, it just means they’re going to only tell you what they think you want to hear. The goal is not to encourage them to share everything with complete disregard, but to allow them to mention what they feel is necessary in terms of finding a solution.
  • Realize that you are only hearing a piece of it. Your client is one person. Their issues will usually involve other people. Realize that you will always hear one side of the story.
  • Giving advice. Don’t be too focused on giving the client advice, especially not right away. Just hear them out first. Sometimes giving someone that space to talk is therapeutic in and of itself without you interjecting with what you think they should do. If it looks like they want advice, don’t just give it straight away.  Ask them what they want you to say. What kind of advice would they like to hear. The answer should be an interesting point to launch from.
  • “I was in that same position!” – The problem of trying to “identify.” Don’t identify with the villains in the client’s stories. Sometimes the client will tell you about a huge issue between them and their best friend and after explaining the entire situation to you, the worst thing you can say is “I know exactly what that feels like, the same exact thing happened to me. Except I was in the position of your friend.” You know what she’s probably thinking now? …. ” Great, now I don’t wanna hear anything you have to say.” In my opinion, what’s best is to remain neutral and not identify with anyone. People are very inclined to identify with the client too, and this isn’t necessary. You can advise them without admitting that you were in the same mess a few years ago.
  • Don’t react to them and don’t reciprocate. Some people have a way of being and acting that makes other people act differently too. It’s good to make a note of this to yourself, but be aware of it, and remain who you are. Example: Your client may be someone with an attitude. Now you feel like putting her in her place. But don’t. Stay calm and neutral, alter yourself if you have to. And when the time is right, you will have a chance to point this out to her, gently (I’ll mention ways to do that later, inshaa’Allah). She’s probably used to people reacting to her in a certain way, and it’ll catch her off guard to see you behaving differently from what she is used to, and it may open up her heart to listening to what you have to say.

More to come inshaa’Allah

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Counseling Tip: Someone is complaining of family problems

Bismillah walhamdulillah

Someone comes to you and begins to complain of a terrible relationship that they have with someone in their family, or better yet, with their entire family!

“My mom and I just don’t get along, it’s been like this for years. She’ll never change.”

“Me and my sister are always going at it, and I can’t take it anymore! What should I do?”

And so on.

After providing them with a space to talk and feel understood, try these tips:

  • Try to get them to role-play an actual argument that occurs, so they can feel what it’s like to be on the other side, and so that they can hear themselves.
  • Gently get them to assume responsibility for any of the friction in the relationship. Don’t fall for the “it’s not my fault” bit. Remember that the counselor always receives a biased and one-sided account. Encourage them to be un-biased and to assume some responsbility, even if it is just a little.
  • Ask them if it is important for them to improve the relationship, and if it is, ask them if there is anything about themselves that they can change in order to improve it. They will probably respond with a reasonable course of action they can take like “Maybe I can do the dishes more often.” Work with them to make the plan more specific and very do-able. This includes any possible hurdles that may come in the way and solutions for those possible hurdles.

An example:

“Is there a possible outcome that you’re afraid of, something that would happen as a result of you starting to do the dishes more often?”

“Yeah, she’s going to think she won.”

Now you have something to work with.

A possible way to respond: “What does it mean to you to “win?”

Sometimes it helps for them to just hear themselves answer these questions.

  • Final tip: Point out to yourself, and then to them, any patterns that you notice in the troubled relationships. Then inform them that if they can alter certain things about themselves and their own interactions, that relationship can change and in fact, the entire dynamics of the family can change. Every family has a set of unspoken rules. There are so many of them that sometimes we don’t even realize they’re there. Some of these rules need to be broken, so that those harmful patterns can be broken. [An interesting side point: Many times we see an entire nuclear family take a 180 degree turn in a matter of years, and all it took was for one person in that family to be guided and to turn towards the deen. This person then begins to break many different unspoken (and harmful) rules, has excellent manners in a house that is not used to such manners, is sincere, consistent and steadfast, and eventually everyone’s heart is turned, walhamdulillah.]

waAllahu Alam

[Some ideas taken from] Reference: The Gift of Therapy by Irvin D. Yalom; published 2002

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