So many people we encounter daily, would describe themselves as ‘stuck.’ Often, the best way to help them become ‘unstuck’, is to help them with their immediate, pressing issues, which may be causing them to feel overwhelmed. Even though many of their issues may be rooted in their past, when they have a brief conversation with you, they probably don’t want to talk about their childhood or their dysfunctional relationships from their past. More often than not, during short conversations, they just want guidance regarding the most immediate issues they are facing.

Unfortunately, though, many people think that since short-term work is brief in nature, that the results will also only be short-lived. However, this is not necessarily the case. Many studies suggest that short-term methods are as effective as more traditional longer-term models at providing help to move on. Although longer-term models are excellent when you want to get into deeper rooted issues, it’s not always the most appropriate way of working with somebody when there is not much time and you want to help them move forward.

In fact, if you do not always have much time with clients, it would make a lot more sense to use a system that has been designed for these time-limited encounters. In my work with people struggling with addictions, I found that there are many techniques and tools that could be beneficial in helping clients to move from being ‘stuck’ to becoming ‘unstuck.’ It is vital, though, that these so-called ‘tools’ are always used within a supportive and empathetic environment, where clients experience unconditional acceptance and warmth. Consequently, I incorporated many of these ‘tools’ to develop an effective short-term intervention, called Pastoral coaching. This method has proved to be very effective in helping clients to ‘move forward’. One of the key elements of this intervention, is to focus the conversation on what clients want, rather than what they do not want.

Helping clients to see where they would like to be in the future and helping them realise their options and the steps they need to take to get there can create a lot of hope, since they will feel empowered to take some practical actions towards achieving their goals.

Therefore, if you want to help people become ‘unstuck,’ you need to keep the Golden Rule of effective brief work at the back of your mind at all times while working with someone: ‘How can I help this person right now?’

This question will help you to remain focused on what the particular client needs to do next to start moving forward again and not get side-tracked by the myriad of other issues they may be facing. In other words, when you’re doing ‘brief work’ with a client, your job is to ensure that when they leave your presence, that they will know exactly what to do next. Even if their next step is just to make another appointment, they’ve got to know what to do, as this will give them something specific to focus on. If they leave your interaction with a clear idea of what to do next, they are more likely to do it and more likely to become ‘unstuck’.

Therefore, when you only have a few moments with a client, do not try and resolve unresolved issues out of their past. In the long-run, they may decide to look at these deep-rooted issues in the secure setting of long-term counselling. In the meantime, realise that you have a great opportunity to support them with many of the practical issues they may be facing.

Often, all they need, is someone who believes in them; someone who can come alongside them and help them to ‘see’ their options and offer some guidance to them as they are moving towards their future goals.

Keep on asking yourself how you can help them right now, and you can be that someone for them.

 Dr Jaco Beukes

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