Applied Helping Skills: Transforming Lives


Leah Brew & Jeffrey A. Kottler

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    Compared to other subjects in the social sciences, relatively few Applied Helping Skills texts are available for use in criminal justice, criminology, and sociology courses. Those that are available have done a great job introducing students to the topic. One thing I found missing among available texts, however, was a book that approached the topic as a crime problem, a criminal justice problem, and a social problem. In effect, my intent has been to create a work that examines the many facets of Applied Helping Skills by focusing on different crimes committed during the course of work as well as the various systems that are given the task of responding to white-collar misconduct.

    Every undergraduate and graduate program in the various helping professions offers a course (or two) on basic counseling skills and therapeutic interventions. Some would say that this is the most important unit in the program because it forms the foundation for everything else that practitioners do. This is the class where beginners learn the core skills of helping, as well as the essence of what it means to make a difference in the world by transforming lives.

    Skills courses tend to be very practice oriented, a hands-on experience in which students not only learn the basics of helping others but also applying these behaviors and interventions in various contexts and situations. The goal is no less than to equip students with everything they need to begin conducting interviews, planning treatments, engaging in systematic assessment and diagnoses, and structuring effective interventions. Most of this helping activity is centered on core skills, but in order to be truly effective, these strategies must be integrated as part of an overall plan for influencing people in positive ways. This text not only teaches students basic interventions but also inspires them to use these skills in the most powerful and ethical ways possible.

    Unique Features of the Text

    Applied Helping Skills: Transforming Lives is designed to be an experiential text, one that is highly practical and student centered. It not only includes all the basic skills and core interventions that you need in order to begin seeing clients, but it also presents them in such a way that you can internalize them—make them part of who you are, not just what you do when “the meter is running.” The emphasis throughout this book is on ways to apply these skills to your work as well as to your life.

    Although much of the book’s content includes the “little” stuff, the myriad things that helpers actually do to make a difference in the lives of their clients, Applied Helping Skills: Transforming Lives keeps the focus on the bigger picture. All too often in texts such as this, students become so bombarded and overwhelmed with the variety of skills, techniques, interventions, strategies, methodologies, and treatment options, they might forget that the primary purpose of all this is to make contact with their clients, to help them feel understood, and to clarify the major issues that trouble them. Some of the most popular skills texts are so overstructured and rigidly sequenced into a series of stages that students must learn a whole “foreign language” just to be able to communicate to one another about what they are doing. In contrast, this text uses a conversational tone and everyday language to help students facilitate change in clients.

    Applied Helping Skills: Transforming Lives has these important features:

    • The treatment of core skills is combined with issues related to treatment planning.
    • A generic model of helping is used that combines features of humanistic, constructivist, and cognitive theories, and will fit a variety of different settings and clinical styles.
    • Diversity issues are infused into every facet of the process so that you understand the importance of adapting your skills to fit the unique needs of individual clients and cultural groups.
    • Traditional helping skills are augmented with newer, more cutting-edge brief interventions.
    • After core skills are mastered, they are applied to specific settings with special chapters on families/couples/children and groups.
    • Attention is given not only to what effective practitioners do but also how they think and feel. You will be helped to increase your tolerance for ambiguity, complexity, and uncertainty.
    • Case examples and first-person accounts make the material come alive.
    • Reflective activities, homework assignments, and application exercises help you personalize the ideas and apply them immediately in work and life settings.
    • A narrative voice uses humor, authenticity, engaging prose, practical examples, and very straight talk to communicate the passion, the excitement, and the fun of doing this type of work.
    • Beautiful photographs taken by Jeffrey Kottler are included throughout the text.

    Web-based resources for students have been created to help students understand the material more clearly. Open-access student resources are available at and include the following:

    • A section to test them on objective information
    • A written vignette that demonstrated the skills described in the chapter.
    • Common Errors for Beginning Counselors worksheet is a quick and easy resource to use throughout training.
    • Types of Responses lists the strengths and limitations of each type of therapist response, especially when overused.
    • Basic Reflecting Skills Paper Rubric for paper assignments.
    • Video Sessions Rubric for video assignments.
    • “Check What You Learned” short answer and essay questions focus on key terms and concepts outlined in the chapters.
    • Video clips and accompanying questions demonstrate core concepts in the text and help visualize essential counselor skills. Accompanying video questions reflect and assess the counseling situation presented in each clip.

    In addition, this text has a password-protected instructor resources website with the following:

    • A course philosophy and structure document
    • Editable, chapter-specific PowerPoint slides
    • Sample syllabi on how to teach the class with reasoning as to the suggested homework assignments
    • A sample final exam that is practice based
    Use of the Word Therapist

    This is a book intended for a wide variety of helping professionals, including counselors, psychologists, social workers, family therapists, psychiatrists, pastoral care, and mental health workers, among others. We are sensitive to the differences in professional identity, as well as the specialties of each discipline, however, we believe that there are still universal and generic skills that transcend any particular field. For example, although we were trained in counselor education programs, one of us is licensed as a psychologist (Jeffrey) and the other as a counselor (Leah). We teach in a counseling department that prepares students for practice as family therapists. Our faculty consists of professionals who identify as belonging to four different disciplines.

    Certainly, psychiatrists might ask questions differently than would a school counselor, or a social worker might reflect feelings a bit more nuanced than would a crisis counselor conducting intake interviews, but nevertheless the essential and core skills remain similar. As such we have chosen to use the generic term, therapist to apply to any professional in a helping role, even though we recognize that particular specialties of those who identify more distinctly with the role of “counselor,” “social worker,” “mental health worker,” “doctor,” “teacher,” or any other label.

    Updated Edition

    This new edition includes some more contemporary examples and includes a few more references to issues of diversity and school counseling settings. Resources and references were also updated throughout. We chose to adhere to the classic theories rather than delve into the newer modalities, since they are used as examples. Finally, we worked to make the book more affordable by taking out the photographs and multicolor option for publication. We wanted the book to be affordable for all students.

    The Contents

    Each chapter focuses on the skills needed within the many curricular areas taught in training programs. We assume that students will have in-depth courses in all of these areas, but simply introduce the clinical skills needed here for foundational skill development.

    In the first chapter, we introduce you to the overall process that is involved in helping people. We talk about what it takes for a client to be willing to change and the conditions under which such transformations can be more easily facilitated. Chapter 2 expands the context under which therapeutic skills are employed to include the individual, social, cultural, and ethical contexts for helping behaviors. This provides a framework for better understanding the kinds of issues and concerns that people bring to sessions.

    Chapter 3 summarizes the major “classic” conceptual frameworks from which therapeutic skills evolved. Students receive intensive study of theory in other courses, whereas we think it is important to link therapy applications to these models so that it becomes easier to understand not only what you are doing but why you are doing it.

    After this contextual overview, the next series of chapters introduces the major helping skills as applied to building and maintaining relationships (Chapter 4), assessing and diagnosing client issues (Chapter 5), exploring presenting complaints and collecting meaningful information (Chapter 6), promoting deeper understanding (Chapter 7), and moving from insight to action (Chapter 8). The final chapter of this section (Chapter 9) discusses skills for maintaining progress and evaluating the results.

    Although there is considerable overlap between the skills that clinicians use during individual sessions, versus those with more than one participant present, there are some specialized strategies, interventions, and helping behaviors that supplement what you have already learned. Chapter 10 covers family therapy, couples, and child therapy skills, and Chapter 11 examines those that are most useful in group leadership. The final chapter brings things to a close and provides structure for further training and development.

    Leah BrewJeffrey A. KottlerFullerton, California


    We are sincerely grateful to the students who initially “field tested” this text by providing helpful suggestions that were incorporated into the final draft of our first edition: Jocelyn Frandsen, Lynnette Herrera, Judith Passy, Corrin Reynolds, Rick Thomas, Nichole Walker, and Sarah Walker. In addition, we want to thank the following students for their willingness to share their experiences in this second edition: Kayleigh Soto and Alex Smith.

    A number of reviewers, experts at teaching the skills courses, also provided a wealth of experience and wisdom that were crucial in developing the final product. We are indebted to Theresa Benson (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign), Andrew Bratawidjaja (Kansas State University), Karen D. Cathey (Alcorn State University), Marian Connell (The Academy of Creative Psychological Therapy Ireland), Jane Fried (Central Connecticut State University), Monte Gray (Bronx Community College of the City University of New York), Shane Haberstroh (The University of Texas at San Antonio), Beulah Hirschlein (Oklahoma State University), Carolyn W. Kern (University of North Texas), Patricia A. Heisser Metoyer (Walden University), Marilyn J. Montgomery (Florida International University), Ruth Baugher Palmer (Eastern University), and Chester R. Robinson (Texas A&M University–Commerce).

    Finally, we thank our editors, Kassie Graves and Abbie Rickard, for their support and guidance throughout the various stages of this process. We also thank the copy editor Krishna Pradeep Joghee (QuADS).

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    About the Authors

    Leah Brew is Chair and Professor in the Department of Counseling at California State University, Fullerton. She teaches, presents, and publishes in the areas of basic counseling skills and multiculturalism. Specifically, she has several publications and projects that have been centered on working with multiracial couples, families, and individuals. She collaborated on a project to establish “Competencies for Counseling Multiracial Populations,” which was endorsed by the American Counseling Association. She has a small private practice where she specializes in working with diverse clients who struggle with depression and anxiety and are survivors of trauma. She also supervises students at a community agency who are working toward their master’s degrees in counseling. She is active in the profession of counseling in the state of California, and helped to obtain the Licensed Professional Clinical Counseling credential in California, the last state to license counselors. She was also appointed a gubernatorial position as the LPCC representative on the state licensure board and has taken a leadership role in improving supervision requirements in the state.

    Jeffrey A. Kottler is one of the most prolific authors in the fields of counseling, psychotherapy, and education, having written more than 90 books about a wide range of subjects. He has authored a dozen texts for counselors and therapists that are used in universities around the world and a dozen books each for practicing therapists and educators. Some of his most highly regarded works include Creative Breakthroughs in Therapy, The Mummy at the Dining Room Table: Eminent Therapists Reveal Their Most Unusual Cases and What They Teach Us About Human Behavior, Bad Therapy, The Client Who Changed Me, Divine Madness, Change: What Leads to Personal Transformation, Stories We’ve Heard, Stories We’ve Told: Life-Changing Narratives in Therapy and Everyday Life, and Therapy Over 50. He has been an educator for 40 years, having worked as a teacher, counselor, and therapist in preschool, middle school, mental health center, crisis center, nongovernmental organization, university, community college, private practice, and disaster relief settings. He has served as a Fulbright scholar and senior lecturer in Peru and Iceland, as well as worked as a visiting professor in New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Nepal. He is professor of counseling at California State University, Fullerton.

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