Monday, October 25, 2010

Could's, Want's and Will's: Three Steps to Creative Solutions for Complex Problems

"If I knew how to solve these problems, I wouldn't be here!" My client was aggravated, but they'd misunderstood my question, which was, "What have you thought about doing to solve this?" I understood their frustration, and was sorry that I'd contributed to it, but still, I always want to work collaboratively with counseling clients. As I see it, I'm their servant with expertise to diagnose and suggest a treatment plan according to proven best practices that research has demonstrated to be effective. Still, a collaborative approach empowers them to actively participate in the process instead of passively awaiting direction.

True, counselors have expert knowledge and experience in mental and emotional disorders, complex marital and family situations, addictions, etc., but still the client has to live with the results of their choices. Thus, the ethic under informed consent is always that they have the right to refuse any recommendation from the counselor, and/or to terminate services at any point. The way I make this arrangement with clients is to generate solutions together. Sure, I offer ideas based on research and experience, but ultimately what they choose to do is up to them.

Here is an efficient brain-storming and evaluation process to develop and select solutions:

1. Could's (could do's)
What could you do to work toward a solution? What ideas have you thought of? What have you considered? If I have some ideas would you like to hear them?

The task in step #1 is to generate as many ideas as possible. This is green-light brainstorming. Everything is on the table. No idea is too ridiculous to mention. Often an idea that isn't realistic gives birth to an idea that will work.

2. Wants (want to's) - The second step is to evaluate the list of could's. Which ones do you like, and why? What do you like about them? Which one's do you not like? What are the advantages or disadvantages to each one? What are obstacles or barriers? Which would you like to try? Which do you think have the best chance of being helpful?

The idea with #2 is to check in with your heart and mind. Which ones are you motivated to try, and which ones do you think will work? Scratch the options from #1 that don't make the cut.

3. Will's (will do's)- Now that the list of possible solutions has been shortened, it's time to make a decision about what you will do. Which of the want to's do you want to do?

The premise of this last step is that people are more likely to do what they want to do than what you tell them to do. However, different than coaching, in counseling there are some choices that a client makes that are a deal-breaker for the counseling relationship; such as repeated no-show's, delinquency with fees, AND the Big One, not coming for appointments per the frequency recommended per the assessment of the acuity of their problems. Just as in medicine, if a client doesn't comply with a minimum treatment format (prescribed frequency of sessions), the counselor can't be responsible for their welfare.

Okay, back to the commitment phase for solutions. What will you do? What will you commit to doing? An action-step toward solution of problems isn't legitimate until a client specifies the date and time they are going to do the step. In counseling these can include talking with a spouse about the truth in a situation, making an appointment with their doctor to be evaluated for medication, setting a limit or boundary with a child or extended family member, journaling about a traumatic experience, etc.

In summary, effective solutions to problems can be efficiently generated through three steps. Consider what you could do, evaluate this list according to your desire, "Which of these do you want to do?", and finally, which one's will you commit to doing?

FYI, this post was a result of such a process. "I could write a blog to educate current and potential clients about an effective problem-solving process. I want to do that because I want it to be in writing so that I can reference it and make it a hand-out. I'm going to do it this morning while the idea is fresh." Voila, done in 30 minutes!

Continuing the journey in His Grace and by His Truth,

Jeff Williams
Professional Clinical Counselor
State of Ohio, License #E-3098

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