Confrontation and Focusing
Confrontation is a skill that can assist clients to increase their self-awareness. It can be used to highlight discrepancies that clients have previously been unaware of. Focusing enables a therapist to direct client’s conversational flow into certain areas, and it is useful in all stages of the counseling interview. In this article, we explore how confrontation and focusing counseling micro skills can be used to support clients.
Generally speaking the term confrontation means challenging another person over a discrepancy or disagreement. However, confrontation as a counseling skill is an attempt by the counselor to gently bring about awareness in the client of something that may they may have overlooked or avoided.
There are three steps to confrontation in counseling. The first step involves the identification of mixed or incongruent messages (expressed through the client’s words or non-verbals). The second step requires the counselor to bring about awareness of these incongruities and assist the client to work through these. Finally, step three involves evaluating the effectiveness of the intervention evidenced by the client’s change and growth.
During the counseling process there are four (4) discrepancies which the client could display. The discrepancy can be between:
- Thoughts and feelings
- Thoughts and actions
- Feelings and actions or
- A combination of thoughts, feelings and actions.
Having identified a discrepancy, the counselor highlights this to the client, using a confrontation statement such as:
“On the one hand… but on the other hand…”
This is a standard and useful format for the actual confrontation. Of course, you may also use variations such as:
“You say… but you do …,” or
“Your words say… but your actions say…”
E.g. “Your words say you would like to spend more time with your sister, but your actions say that it’s not a priority for you.”
Ivey and Ivey (2003) have identified seven areas a counselor can focus on in the counseling session to bring about broader perspectives and potential solutions.
The first is Individual focus, where the counselor begins the counseling session by focusing totally on the personal aspects of the client; the demographics, history, and the reasons why counseling is sought, from the client. The counselor will often use the client’s name, to help bring about total focus on that client. For example, “Joan, tell me a little about yourself”. “Joan, are you the oldest daughter in the family?”
The second is: Main theme or problems focus. Attention is given to the reason why the client sought counseling. Other focus, as no problem is truly isolated, the client will often speak of friends’, colleagues, extended family members and other individuals that are somehow connected with the reason for the client seeking counseling.
Family focus concerns siblings, parents, children. Flexibility is required in the definition of “Family”, as it can have different meanings to different people, i.e. traditional, single parent, nuclear and/or can include extended family members, or very close friends who are given family titles such as Aunt or Uncle.
Mutuality focus is concerned with how the client reacts to the counselor, because this could be an indication of how the client develops in relation to other people. It attempts to put the counselor and client on an equal level, with the counselor asking: “How can we work together?” “How would you like me to help with this situation at this point?” Interviewer focus is where the counselor may disclose information about themselves.
Finally,cultural/environmental/context focus. The counselor will understand how a client is influenced by the community/ies in which they grew up, but this can be extended to other issues such as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic status to gain a greater understanding of the person the client is today.