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Helpful helping

How can personal trainers help people become more engaged in changing their activity behaviours? Are counselling skills the answer? Debbie Lawrence shares her thoughts

By Debbie Lawrence | Published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 9


There’s been talk recently about the value of offering PTs training in counselling, the idea being that they would be better able to support people through the process of behaviour change.

I suggested similar 20 years ago when I was starting out on my therapy training, and I can certainly see the value of these skills in supporting clients. However, I wonder if it’s really just about skills.

Yes, there are skills that can be practised and developed, such as active listening, open questions and reflective statements – skills that are already covered by many personal training qualifications. However, my view is that it isn’t that simple, with the skills aspect really just the first step.

I use the term ‘helpful helping’ to describe an approach that I advocate. This approach isn’t something that can be learned in just one sitting – it’s a much longer and deeper journey.

Defining ‘helpful helping’
The process of successful change depends on a person’s motivation, their self-belief and their commitment to take action and use all the inner and outer resources they possess to keep going.

For some people, once the decision to make a change is made, the rest is about planning, action and doing what needs to be done to achieve the goal. This is where PTs are helpful, because they have the know-how – the tools and skills to help people achieve their fitness goals. This is where they can work their magic.

However, for many people the decision doesn’t happen that quickly. It’s a slower process, and one that involves swinging between wanting to change and not wanting to change. This is where the ‘helpful helping’ element is needed.

At the decision-making stage, the focus should be on building the individual’s motivation – and this really needs to come from inside. Nevertheless, there are ways to support this externally.

The way not to support motivation is by telling someone what they should do, what’s wrong with what they’re currently doing, or what we think the benefits of them changing would be for them.

Helping isn’t about judging, blaming or shaming – and yet, unwittingly, this is often what happens. Rather than building motivation, this often builds more discord, defence and resistance – all of which sways the balance towards giving up.

What’s needed is someone who can listen empathetically and make contact with the discord, defence and resistance – someone who doesn’t feel the need to change it, fix it, blame it or shame it, but who can ‘move and dance’ with the uncomfortable internal struggles in an accepting way.

Having such a person by your side can be life-changing. It promotes self-acceptance and acknowledgement of things that are usually swept under the carpet. Helping someone get to know their demons – all the voices that stop them making changes – provides a strong foundation on which autonomous decisions and choices can be made. It doesn’t necessarily lead to immediate behaviour change, but it does make everything more conscious.

Facilitating the conversation
The skills aspect is arguably the easiest part to learn: listening, open questions, reflective statements. The challenge is developing the deeper awareness – how to truly tune in to a person, so they feel free to be themselves and do what they need to do in their own time.

Learning the art of facilitating the conversation is key, so the person begins to speak about the potential benefits were they to make a change. When they’re able to vocalise this for themselves, they’re on the road to building the motivation to change. Their focus becomes less on why they can’t do something and more on why they want to do it.

Helpful helping is about working with the person, not working on them. It’s about finding out how they got where they are, and why they stay there, and only then moving on from there.

How to be more helpful
Primarily, helpfulness is about having an attitude of compassion and trust: compassion for the struggles and challenges the person faces, and trust in them that they will know – and do – what’s right for them. It’s a willingness to believe in people’s potential to hold the reins themselves when the time is right for them to shift and make changes.

Being helpful is about helping someone see the resources and skills they have in themselves, affirming and accentuating all the positive things they do and building them up rather than putting them down.

Helpful helping is also about releasing the need to control. If we haven’t lived another person’s life, how can we possibly know what’s right for them? Letting someone make their own decisions in their own time builds autonomy. Every decision they make is an opportunity to learn and build personal power. Every decision someone else makes simply builds dependence.

Finally, helpful helping is about self-awareness and connection – looking deep inside ourselves to explore the prejudices we might have, the judgements we might make about people who are overweight, who aren’t active, who drink or smoke, who don’t follow healthy eating guidance.

The more mindful we become of our pre-judgements and how unhelpful they are, the more able we are to resist projecting them onto others or letting them get in the way of helping and showing empathy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Debbie Lawrence
 

Debbie Lawrence studied integrative counselling to a post-graduate level. She has worked as a voluntary counsellor in a GP surgery and a school, and has since explored a range of other therapeutic approaches such as motivational interviewing and solution-focused therapy. She’s currently qualification lead (sport, active health and fitness) for VTCT.

[email protected]


PTs must learn how to tune in to clients more deeply Credit: PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM; Shutterstock.com
 


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SELECTED ISSUE
Health Club Management
2016 issue 9

View issue contents

Leisure Management - Helpful helping

Training & qualifications

Helpful helping


How can personal trainers help people become more engaged in changing their activity behaviours? Are counselling skills the answer? Debbie Lawrence shares her thoughts

Debbie Lawrence
Clients often need an empathetic approach PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM; Shutterstock.com
PTs must learn how to tune in to clients more deeply PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO.COM; Shutterstock.com

There’s been talk recently about the value of offering PTs training in counselling, the idea being that they would be better able to support people through the process of behaviour change.

I suggested similar 20 years ago when I was starting out on my therapy training, and I can certainly see the value of these skills in supporting clients. However, I wonder if it’s really just about skills.

Yes, there are skills that can be practised and developed, such as active listening, open questions and reflective statements – skills that are already covered by many personal training qualifications. However, my view is that it isn’t that simple, with the skills aspect really just the first step.

I use the term ‘helpful helping’ to describe an approach that I advocate. This approach isn’t something that can be learned in just one sitting – it’s a much longer and deeper journey.

Defining ‘helpful helping’
The process of successful change depends on a person’s motivation, their self-belief and their commitment to take action and use all the inner and outer resources they possess to keep going.

For some people, once the decision to make a change is made, the rest is about planning, action and doing what needs to be done to achieve the goal. This is where PTs are helpful, because they have the know-how – the tools and skills to help people achieve their fitness goals. This is where they can work their magic.

However, for many people the decision doesn’t happen that quickly. It’s a slower process, and one that involves swinging between wanting to change and not wanting to change. This is where the ‘helpful helping’ element is needed.

At the decision-making stage, the focus should be on building the individual’s motivation – and this really needs to come from inside. Nevertheless, there are ways to support this externally.

The way not to support motivation is by telling someone what they should do, what’s wrong with what they’re currently doing, or what we think the benefits of them changing would be for them.

Helping isn’t about judging, blaming or shaming – and yet, unwittingly, this is often what happens. Rather than building motivation, this often builds more discord, defence and resistance – all of which sways the balance towards giving up.

What’s needed is someone who can listen empathetically and make contact with the discord, defence and resistance – someone who doesn’t feel the need to change it, fix it, blame it or shame it, but who can ‘move and dance’ with the uncomfortable internal struggles in an accepting way.

Having such a person by your side can be life-changing. It promotes self-acceptance and acknowledgement of things that are usually swept under the carpet. Helping someone get to know their demons – all the voices that stop them making changes – provides a strong foundation on which autonomous decisions and choices can be made. It doesn’t necessarily lead to immediate behaviour change, but it does make everything more conscious.

Facilitating the conversation
The skills aspect is arguably the easiest part to learn: listening, open questions, reflective statements. The challenge is developing the deeper awareness – how to truly tune in to a person, so they feel free to be themselves and do what they need to do in their own time.

Learning the art of facilitating the conversation is key, so the person begins to speak about the potential benefits were they to make a change. When they’re able to vocalise this for themselves, they’re on the road to building the motivation to change. Their focus becomes less on why they can’t do something and more on why they want to do it.

Helpful helping is about working with the person, not working on them. It’s about finding out how they got where they are, and why they stay there, and only then moving on from there.

How to be more helpful
Primarily, helpfulness is about having an attitude of compassion and trust: compassion for the struggles and challenges the person faces, and trust in them that they will know – and do – what’s right for them. It’s a willingness to believe in people’s potential to hold the reins themselves when the time is right for them to shift and make changes.

Being helpful is about helping someone see the resources and skills they have in themselves, affirming and accentuating all the positive things they do and building them up rather than putting them down.

Helpful helping is also about releasing the need to control. If we haven’t lived another person’s life, how can we possibly know what’s right for them? Letting someone make their own decisions in their own time builds autonomy. Every decision they make is an opportunity to learn and build personal power. Every decision someone else makes simply builds dependence.

Finally, helpful helping is about self-awareness and connection – looking deep inside ourselves to explore the prejudices we might have, the judgements we might make about people who are overweight, who aren’t active, who drink or smoke, who don’t follow healthy eating guidance.

The more mindful we become of our pre-judgements and how unhelpful they are, the more able we are to resist projecting them onto others or letting them get in the way of helping and showing empathy.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Debbie Lawrence
 

Debbie Lawrence studied integrative counselling to a post-graduate level. She has worked as a voluntary counsellor in a GP surgery and a school, and has since explored a range of other therapeutic approaches such as motivational interviewing and solution-focused therapy. She’s currently qualification lead (sport, active health and fitness) for VTCT.

[email protected]



Originally published in Health Club Management 2016 issue 9

Published by Leisure Media Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385 | Contact us | About us | © Cybertrek Ltd