Bible College of Western Australia

An analysis of Gerard Egan’s ‘Skilled Helper Model’ of counselling

An Essay by Joe, who has recently completed a Counselling course with Raelene. 

Two broad schools of helping exist – the person centred and problem centred approaches. The person-centred approach is focused on the improving the individual as a person by fostering self-empowerment and a belief that they can navigate themselves through difficult circumstances. This belief is fostered by encouraging the client to consider possibilities for resolution and renewed normalcy. The counsellor therefore acts as a ‘silent guide’ (Egan). The problem-centred approach, however, presents the conclusion of the problem as the primary task. The counsellor becomes a fixer who presents solutions. This disempowers the client and creates a dependent relationship between them and the counsellor, as Prochaska and Norcross observe (Egan, 2012: 66-68).

The problem-centred approach is problematic for two particular reasons. God has endowed his image on human beings (see Genesis 2:2), paying them the highest compliment (Zacharias). People have problems but they certainly are not one, and any approach that treats people as a problem is mechanistic and impersonal. This ignores the fact that people are made in Gods image. Additionally, Christ never said go ye therefore and alleviate suffering. Rather, his instruction was for people to be discipled. This may require investigating the suffering that an individual has experienced, but only because Christians must first seek to disciple people to be Christ like. Christians can take concepts from discipleship in a secular counselling situation by seeking to grow the client as a person. Therefore, a counselling model that focuses on growing people is necessary and biblical, and the skilled helper model provides scope for this to occur.

Egan’s person-centred helping model involves moving the client through a three-stage process, each of which have three tasks. In stage one, the client’s current situation is understood, in stage two the client’s preferred picture is explored and in stage three, strategies and plans for accomplishing that preferred picture are created. The conceptualisation and adoption of solutions is predominantly driven by the client, which requires them to take ownership of the process (Egan). The role of the counsellor is to help the client realise and explore positive changes that can be made to better their circumstances. Importantly, “clients’ needs take precedence over the model” (Egan). The precedence of the client is key if the wellbeing of the client is to be sought. The person-centred nature of the skilled helper model can be used Christianly as the overarching concepts of the model are compatible with Christian beliefs.

Egan does not use the language of journeying with the client, indicating that the assumptions behind the operation of the model are predominantly driven by a ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude. This does not allow the counsellor to journey with the client and express Christian love to them by truly helping them. Egan’s predominantly self-help approach can be helpful to the extent that the client is not babied towards solutions. However, there is limited scope to “carry each other’s burdens…” because the model is focussed in problem management (see Gal 6:1-3).

Stage one in Egan’s model involves exploring the client’s current situation and their desired changes by taking the client through three tasks that can help the client better understand their situation (Egan, 2012: 72). The more information the counsellor knows about the situation the better they can help the client achieve real outcomes. In task one, the client tells their story to the counsellor. Creating a safe environment for the client to tell their story openly is the first step to creating a trust relationship between the client and counsellor, and sets the tone for the counselling experience. Moreover, an individual’s past informs how they react to their present. Once the clients’ story is understood, different points of view can be considered in task two. By considering other points of view the client can better understand their circumstances and identify the changes that need to be made as per task three.

Stage two gives the client an opportunity to develop a positive picture of their desired future and co-create positive goals to achieve the desired changes. However, there are dangers in this stage. What somebody wants may not always be best for him or her. Consequently, the model still places a significant emphasis on the counsellor, given their roles to reality test and reframe. The added responsibility of grounding and reframing should not be taken lightly given that they can significantly alter the clients understanding of their circumstances. The reasonableness and truthfulness of the reframe is vital given that it can change the clients understanding of their situation. The counsellor therefore needs to be tactful (and correct). The client must be grounded in true reality rather than a construction that can result in temporal solutions.

The final stage involves encouraging the client to build a framework and guidelines for accomplishing their desired change (Egan). Exploring the client’s current circumstances and expectations are the groundwork for co-planning and implementing solutions. Task one involves helping clients review possible strategies to achieve their goals and planning for the output of these goals (Egan). This builds off the work begun in task two of stage two. In task two, strategies are chosen that best fit the client’s resources (Egan). These chosen strategies are then brought together into a viable plan in task three. By applying this three-stage process the client’s situation can be fully understood so that appropriately formulated solutions can be implemented. The risk in stage three relates to the fact that the client must actualise the reality that he or she wants. External circumstances may not allow for this, rendering the counsellors investigation in stage one paramount to ensuring the success of the client’s actualisation. The counsellor must also be careful not to create false hopes.

Significant emphasis is placed on showing empathy toward the client as a means of reinforcing the client-counsellor relationship (Egan). Empathy is key to the counselling relationship to create a genuine relationship between the client and counsellor. Without a genuine relationship built on empathy, the client may become reserved because they do not feel safe, which would ultimately render the exercise ineffective. The predominant role of the Christian counsellor is to demonstrate a love that is patient and kind (see 1 Corinthians 13:4). As Christians, we can take comfort from the fact that Christ has suffered alongside us as we journey alongside suffering people (Vitale & Zacharias).

Finally, Egan’s person centred skilled helper model provides a useful framework for  counselling a person towards the resolution of his or her issue. The flexibility of the model allows for the appropriate level of scope to apply the model Christianly. However, dangers exist if the model is applied poorly, and in a manner that is not grounded in Gods reality. Stage one of the model requires the counsellor to understand the client’s situation by listening to their story. This enables the counsellor to fully understand the clients’ emotions and understanding of their situation, and provides the first step for building trust between the counsellor and the client. Stage two involves learning how the client wants their current circumstances to change. In stage three, a framework for achieving those desired changes is developed. Throughout these three stages, the counsellor must constantly update his or her data on the clients’ feelings, emotions and thoughts regarding the direction of the counselling session to ensure that the outcomes best fit what they want. This is positive in that the client drives the counselling session and takes ownership of the solutions. However, what the individual wants may not always be best for him or her. Non-verbals, non-condemnatory dialogue, questions and statements are useful tools that Egan proposes to take the client from stage one to stage three. Finally, empathy is strongly encouraged throughout the text. True Christian empathy is vital if a real compassion is to be displayed to the client. Only then can a strong trust be developed between the client and the counsellor so that real solutions can be formulated.


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