13 August 2015

How counselling works: Finding a natural, skilled helper

I am frequently asked by clients either before or during counselling, “How does counselling work?” I respond with the 40-30-15 rule created by Scott Miller. But before we get to that, it is important to understand what a counsellor’s background to better understand how the rule is applied.

A counsellor is part of the helping profession. A helper is anyone who looks after the mental and emotional well-being of their client. There are many kinds of helpers with varying degrees and credentials. There are counsellors, social workers, psychotherapists, therapists, marriage & family therapists, psychologists, coaches, and so on.

Typically individuals that pursue these paths have been told that they are “good listeners” because of their natural helping abilities. They then acquire education to build upon and hone their natural abilities. Some training programs are: less than a year, two years, four year degrees, two year master’s degree, or higher.

It is commonly recommended that private helpers seek both a professional body and regulatory body where available. A professional organization has the best interest of the helper in mind, whereas a regulatory organization has the best interest of the client/consumer in mind.  Both lend credentials to distinguish adequate training in helpers.

A helper, typically with less than two years training, is referred to as a natural helper, as they are relying on their natural abilities to have empathy and support. A skilled helper is a masters-level or higher trained therapist with the natural helping abilities, and typically is a member of a professional and/or regulatory body. However, an often missed category is a trained helper that doesn’t have the natural abilities to connect and form a relationship.

And this is where the 40-30-15 rule comes in.

There is such a focus on the technique and skill level of a helper, when only 15% of the effectiveness is dependent on their skill. Which is not to undermine its importance, you gain that 15% when the helper is skilled.

Therapy success has two large portions: the client (40%) – meaning their motivation and life influences; and the relationship (30%) between helper and client. The remaining 15% is a combination of hope and expectations that the helper sets.

A skilled helper, in theory, should be able to employ the relationship (30%), skill (15%) and hope (15%); which is 60% of the process, the rest (40%) is up to the client.

A natural helper, again in theory, should be able to employ the relationship (30%) and hope (15%); which is 45% of the process, bringing about as much to the process as the client (40%).

A trained helper without natural abilities should be able to employ the skill (15%) and hope (15%); which is 30% of the process, lacking the relationship. The client, in this scenario, brings more to the table (40%) than the helper.


With that, what makes counselling work? Ensuring that you as a client are ready for counselling and that you have found a naturally skilled helper that you are willing to work and build relationship with.

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