Tag Archives: collaboration

Using an Invitation for Collaboration in Counseling and Psychotherapy

As I’m sure you know, I believe (rather strongly) that counselors and psychotherapists should work hard to collaborate with clients. Being an authoritarian therapist is passe.

Sometimes collaboration sounds easy in theory, but it can be difficult in practice. It’s especially difficult if clients come into your office not “believing in therapy” and not trusting you. In the following excerpt from the forthcoming 6th edition of Clinical Interviewing, you can see how a skilled therapist deals with some initial client hostility.

Case Example 3.1: An Early Invitation for Collaboration

Sophia, a 26-year-old mother of two was referred for counseling by her children’s pediatrician. When she sat down with her counselor, she stated:

I don’t believe in this counseling thing. I’m stressed, that’s true, but I’m a private person and I believe very strongly that I should take care of myself and not have anyone take care of my problems for me. Besides, you look like you might be 18 years old and I doubt that you’re married or have children. So I don’t see how this is supposed to help.

It’s easy to be shaken when clients like Sophia pour out their doubts about therapy and about you at the beginning of the first session. Our best advice: (a) be ready for it; (b) don’t take it personally, Sophia is speaking of her doubts, don’t let them become yours; (c) be ready to respond directly to the client’s core message; and (d) end your response with an invitation for collaboration. An invitation for collaboration is a clinician statement that explicitly offers your client an opportunity to work together. In some cases, an invitation for collaboration is a time-limited “let’s try this out” offer.

Here’s a sample counselor response to Sophia:

Counselor: I hear you loud and clear. You don’t believe in counseling, you’re a private person, and you’re concerned that I don’t have the experiences needed to understand or help you.

Sophia: That’s right. [Sometimes when the counselor explicitly reflects the client’s core message (i.e., “. . . you’re concerned I don’t have the experience needed to understand or help you”) the client will retreat from this concern and say something like, “Well, it’s not that big of a deal.” But that’s not what Sophia does.]

Counselor: Well then, I can see why you wouldn’t want to be here. And you’re right, I don’t have a lot of the life experiences you’ve had. . But I do have knowledge and experience working with people who are stressed and concerned about parenting and I’d very much like to have a chance to be of help to you. How about since you’re here, we try out working together today and then toward the end of our time together I’ll check back in with you and you can be the judge of whether this might be helpful or not?

Sophia: Okay. That sounds reasonable.

In this case the counselor responded directly and with empathy to Sophia and then offered an invitation for collaboration. As the session ends, Sophia may or may not accept the counselor’s invitation. But either way, the counselor’s skillful response provides an opportunity for a collaborative relationship to develop.

Round Bales


Building a Therapeutic Relationship with Parents: Part III – Collaboration

Collaboration, as an attitude, requires that at least to some extent, parenting professionals come from a position of “not knowing” (Anderson, 1993; Anderson & Goolishian, 1992). As Anderson (1993) stated: “The not knowing position is empathic and is most often characterized by questions that come from an honest continuous therapeutic posture of not understanding too quickly” (p. 331).

[This excerpt is from How to Listen so Parents will Talk . . . http://www.amazon.com/How-Listen-Parents-Will-Talk/dp/1118012968/ref=la_B0030LK6NM_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1368845509&sr=1-5%5D

Not knowing requires professionals to resist the ubiquitous impulse to be all-knowing experts. Resisting the impulse to demonstrate one’s expertise is especially important when initially meeting with and working with parents.

It can be very difficult for parenting professionals to  establish and maintain a collaborative attitude. This is partly because human services providers who work with parents also need to be experts and must demonstrate their expertise. Similar to radical acceptance, collaboration between professionals and parents is a dialectic where the professional embraces both the parents’ expertness and his or her own expertise.

Some writers have emphasized that true collaboration between professionals and parents requires a form of leaderlessness (Brown, Pryzwansky, & Schulte, 2006; Kampwirth, 2006). In contrast, our position is that professionals who work with parents can and should bring the following knowledge, skills, and expertise to the consulting office:

  • How to lead or direct a counseling or consultation meeting
  • How to quickly form collaborative relationships and a working alliance with parents
  • Knowledge of what contemporary research says about child development and child psychopathology
  • A wide range of theoretically diverse and research-informed strategies and interventions to use with parents
  • A wide range of theoretically diverse and research-informed strategies and techniques for parents to implement with their children

At the same time, parents are also experts who bring the following knowledge and expertise into your office:

  • Their own personal memories and experiences of being parented
  • Knowledge and experience of their children’s unique temperament and behavior patterns
  • Awareness of their personal parenting style and efforts to parent more competently
  • Knowledge of their existing parenting strategies as well as the history of many other parenting ideas they have tried and found to be more or less helpful
  • An understanding of their limits and abilities to use new or different parenting strategies and techniques

In a very practical sense, it would be inappropriate (and probably ineffective) to ignore the fact that parents come to human services professionals expecting advice and guidance about how to be and become better parents. This is the frame from which virtually all parenting interventions flow. Consequently, if the consultant or therapist behaves too much like an equal and doesn’t act at all like an expert who offers concrete and straightforward advice, the meeting will likely fail because the basic assumption that the therapist is a helpful expert will be violated.

On the other hand, for many reasons, parents are in a vulnerable state and consequently, if they feel their parenting consultant  is acting like a judgmental or condescending expert, they will usually become defensive and antagonistic. To counter this possibility, the professional  needs to hold a collaborative attitude that honors the parents’ knowledge and experience. This collaborative attitude will help parents see themselves as respected and relatively equal partners in the therapeutic and/or educational consultation process.

Overall, the model we describe in this book (How to Listen so Parents will Talk and Talk so Parents will Listen) emphasizes that, from a position of respect, interest, and curiosity, parenting consultants, counselors, and therapists work to quickly establish a partnership with parents. When therapeutic or educational work with parents is most successful, parents will likely perceive you as an empathic, accepting, and collaborative expert willing to offer a wide range of theoretically divergent, practical, meaningful, and simple suggestions for how to parent more effectively.