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Unconditional Positive Regard


Brad Washburn, Do the Dad Thing bloggerSometimes people will ask me how I am effective as a counselor.  I wish they would ask with wide-eyed wonder, or awe, or with groveling and pawning like Wayne & Garth in Wayne’s World.

(Yes, I know some of you reading this have not seen the comedy classic of Wayne’s World.  If you watch it in response to this reference, e-mail me your personal review of the movie)

It would be nice if people came up and gushed:  “I heard that you were a ROCK STAR Counselor!  How do you do it?!”

But honestly, usually people don’t grovel or shout or throw roses . . .  they just want to know how to effectively help people when they share their problems.

There are several tricks that almost everyone could do that would ‘dupe’ even the most savvy person into thinking that you are a great counselor.  Here are two:

  1.  Listen (actively)
  2. Periodically prompt people to “Tell me more about that.”

Do those things well and you could pass yourself off as a counselor in the top 20% of counselors.  I’ll explain.   When you listen to people you are giving them a great gift.  You are helping them express themselves and work through issues in their own way.  You are ratifying their experience and showing them that they are important.  In counseling, we add the term “active” to show that listening isn’t just silently hearing a person; an “active listener” will stay engaged, periodically repeat what the other person said, share affirmations, and ask questions that are open.

Distressed person:  So, I was at Starbucks getting a drink.  I overheard a movie spoiler, and I was so startled, that I accidentally spilled my latte.

Active Listener:  Oh, my!  [nods head to indicate encouragement to continue]

Distressed Person:   I had just put in creamer, and hadn’t put the lid on yet.  Some of it splatted on my jeans!  It was a disaster!

Active Listener:  So, you put in creamer and it spilled on your jeans while the lid was off?  Wow, that was a disaster.

Distressed Person:  [Begins crying in anguish]

Active Listener:  Please tell me more about how you felt when this happened.

. . .  and . . . scene

That’s a ridiculous example of using the first two counseling skills in a way that would have someone think you are an actual ROCK STAR Counselor.  People love to feel like they are heard, and important.  I’ve seen people blossom and brighten, become a warm and engaging person, just by someone actively listening to them.

Those two skills anyone can use to become an effective counselor OR a good friend or spouse – listening isn’t just for counselors.

But the third skill I will share is probably the most important thing to be an effective counselor:

  1.  Unconditional Positive Regard.

That’s three big words to say:  Accept people no matter what they’ve done.

You’ve probably been reading this wondering, “What does this have to do with being a great ‘Do the Dad Thing’ Dad?”

Ah, aren’t all Dad’s preforming the role of counselor with their kids at some point?

Daughter:  Dad, Jimmy broke up with me.

Dad:  Oh no, tell me about it.

Daughter:  He texted me that something bad happened to him, and he needed time to rethink his life.

Dad:  He texted you that he wanted to break up to rethink his life? [expresses sadness]

Daughter:  [Sniffle]

Dad:  Let’s eat a pint of ice cream and you can tell me more.

And . . . end of scene two

Isn’t that counseling?  I’ve done a similar interaction with many, many clients – all except the ice cream.  (*idea* “Ice Cream Therapy” . . .)

Unconditional Positive Regard means that no matter what choices a person makes, or the mistakes they’ve made, or their beliefs; you still treat them like they are special and important.  If someone comes to share something very sensitive, or if they are ashamed, or defensive, or angry, or embarrassed; the greatest thing I can do is to convey that I think they are worthwhile.

So, how do you do Unconditional Positive Regard – especially as a Dad?

  • Smile
  • Let them know that their choices and mistakes are different than them as a person (i.e.  you love your kid . . . you may not love their choices)
  • Show understanding of their emotions.  Counselors say that ‘emotions are neither right or wrong.’
  • Put yourself in their shoes.  Remember the times you’ve felt the way they do.  Remember what it’s like to be an irrational kid, or moody teenager, or frustrated adult.
  • Remember that God is the only real Judge.  And that God offers forgiveness that is absolute:   “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”(Psalm 103:12)

Let’s put it all together for one more scene.  Remember, you could fake it and become a counseling sensation by using my 3 counseling skills.  Use this knowledge with discretion!

Son:  Dad, I accidently revealed a spoiler to the new Avengers movie

Dad:  Oh man!  Well, anyone can make a mistake.  Wanna tell me about it?

Son:  This guy named Jimmy overheard me talking to my friend, and I accidentally spoiled that Thanos dies.

Dad:  That must have been tense.  [puts hand on son’s shoulder in reassurance]

Son:  Jimmy was so upset that he spilled coffee on his jeans.

Dad:  [knows that his son is a great kid, but has committed a grievous sin]  It’s going to be ok.  This Jimmy kid will eventually recover.

Son:  Thanks Dad, I just hope that he doesn’t do anything rash in his trauma.

. . . end of final scene.


Three steps in review:

  • Listen
  • Prompt to ‘Tell me more’
  • Show Unconditional Positive Regard

 Take a moment and consider trying out these steps on someone.  See what kind of difference you can make.  I’d love to hear your success stories.  Drop me an e-mail and I might post some of the best responses.

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