Learning the Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques (4th Edition)

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9780132410298: Learning the Art of Helping: Building Blocks and Techniques (4th Edition)
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Assuming no prior knowledge of counseling techniques, this highly interactive text takes students step by step through the acquisition of the skills and techniques for effectively helping their future clients. The author's straightforward writing style, clearly stated instructions, and numerous practice exercises prepare students to use assessment information, plan treatment, and implement helping strategies. Coverage encompasses the full complement of commonly used techniques, from basic "building block" skills to more advanced therapeutic skills.


Unique Features

  • Stop and Reflect exercises ask readers to consider their reactions to real cases and situations.
  •  Group Exercises offer opportunities for critical thinking and class discussion.
  • Journal Starters encourage readers to test new ideas and reflect on conflicts and challenges as they develop as helpers.
  • New! Video Exercises ask readers to watch unscripted, unrehearsed counseling sessions on the enclosed DVD and answer critical-thinking questions based on specific observations and skills. 

Praise for Learning the Art of Helping


“Young’s long experience as a therapist and training mentor is evident throughout as he leads the novitiate into the essentials of helping....the inclusion of structured reflection opportunities permits the learner to become a participant/observer along the route the author has taken.”

                                                                         – Deborah J. Youngman, Boston University


“[The text] stands out as a result of the nice flow between the chapters [which] actually mirrors the students’ learning process, the dialogue style that addresses the reader directly, the numerous [opportunities for] self-assessment, [and its] liberal use of client-helper dialogue with examples of good and bad responses.  It is a one-stop shop for the beginning helper.”

                                    – Brigitte Matthies, California State University, Los Angeles

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About the Author:

Mark Young is a Professor at the University of Central Florida.  He received his doctorate from Ohio University.  He has trained helpers for more than 20 years and worked in community mental health, private practice, college counseling centers, and corrections for more than 15 years.  His professional writing has focused mainly on therapeutic methods and techniques, wellness, and counseling couples. 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


A overarching metaphor is used in this book: that learning the art of helping is a journey. It is described as a journey with a beginning but no real endpoint. Those who embark on this quest find it to be a lifelong process of discovery rather than a destination. There is always more to learn about human behavior and the process of change.

Let us take the metaphor one step further. Let us suppose that two people are traveling to a foreign country to learn more about that country. One person is an engineer and the other is a historian. As they travel together, the engineer notices and responds to the bridges and buildings, while the historian looks for monuments and clues to the great events of the past. If you were the tour guide for these two people, you would want to know something about each person's interests in order to accommodate them on the trip. Learning words and phrases that incorporate engineering feats or historical situations might increase interest and make each learner feel that his or her field is important. Similarly, in your journey to become a helper, you will bring along your life experience, family history, and cultural background, as well as your biases and prejudices, your likes and dislikes. At every stage, you will test your new learning against what you already know. You will accept most readily those things that mesh with your present way of looking at the world.

Not every learning environment can achieve this kind of tailor-made curriculum. Your teachers will probably not have time to think about the background you bring to this new experience. But you can be responsible for your own learning and integrate new thoughts with what you already know through the process of reflection. In every chapter, there are opportunities to stop and reflect and to engage in additional learning activities. The decision to present the material in this way is based on the philosophy that people carry with them a set of assumptions about the world that affects what they learn and how they assimilate new learning. Reflecting on new material helps you integrate it with what you already know. It lays bare your prejudices and untested assumptions. In addition, new material becomes connected to the storehouse of information you have already collected and the skills that you already possess.

Reflection means thinking about new learning through writing, contemplation, or discussion with others. It is particularly important to reflect on issues that cause you emotional distress, that clash with what you already know, and that you have trouble grasping. Reflection is a skill that will serve you well in difficult situations on the journey to becoming a professional helper. Helping is filled with difficult diagnostic, ethical, and practical problems. By incorporating a reflective process early in your journey, you will avoid many of the pitfalls caused by making snap judgments.

There are several effective methods for reflecting. They include discussion with a small group, bouncing your ideas off another person, or e-mailing fellow learners and teachers. One of the best ways to learn to reflect is through the use of a journal. A journal is not simply a collection of emotional reactions. It should include your feelings about the material, but it should also contain a serious consideration of alternative viewpoints or competing voices. In other words, use reflection when you find yourself at a crossroads between two points of view. Learn to state your current thinking on a particular topic and then write down an alternative viewpoint as well. For example, you may have learned that giving advice is very helpful in dealing with friends and families. In this book, it is rather strongly stated that you should consider retiring that skill for the time being because it is not very effective and can, at times, be dangerous. Perhaps you could write a bit on the virtues of each argument before blindly accepting my premise or rigidly sticking to your own point of view. See if there is a way to integrate these divergent positions.

A Japanese exercise called the pillow technique illustrates good reflective thinking. Each corner of the pillow represents an area to ponder when a controversy arises. The exercise begins when you identify two contrasting viewpoints on a topic: A is true or B is true. For example, A = Giving advice is extremely helpful, B = Giving advice is not helpful. In reflecting on the issue, move methodically from one corner of the pillow to the next, giving each point of view due consideration. In the first corner, think of all the reasons you believe that giving advice is extremely helpful. In the second corner, think of all the reasons why giving advice is not helpful. At the third corner, think of all the reasons why neither A nor B is true, and finally, in the fourth corner, list all the reasons why A and B might both be true.

Of course, it is not necessary to go through this entire process when you reflect on the material in this book. But it should be a conscious process for which you set aside time. That is why journal starters have been included in each chapter. If you wish, you may choose one of the starters and write a new journal entry for each chapter. Alternatively, you may choose to write in your journal when you experience a conflict or wish to test a new idea. Try to write about things that interest, excite, or trouble you. Share your writings with others and reflect together.

Organization of the Book

This book contains 15 chapters and teaches 22 basic building-block skills and several more advanced skills. Chapters 1 and 2 introduce you to the book and its organization and approach. Chapter 3 delves deeply into the therapeutic relationship, perhaps the most important ingredient for producing change. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 teach the basic helping skills, including nonverbal skills, opening skills, reflecting, and advanced reflecting. Chapter 7, a chapter new to this edition, is an overview of basic assessment techniques to collect data and gain a clearer picture of the client and the client's problems. Chapter 8, "Challenging Skills," teaches how to give feedback and how to confront inconsistencies in the client's story. Chapter 9 adds goal-setting skills so that you can narrow down the list of client issues and focus on the most important ones. Chapter 10, "Solution Skills," describes techniques to assist clients in creatively solving problems. In essence, Chapters 4 through 10 present the key skills or basic building blocks you will need to facilitate change in a person seeking help. These skills are fundamental and must be practiced until they become second nature.

The final five chapters of the book axe organized around curative or therapeutic factors. These are the "megaskills" that helpers from different persuasions commonly use to enhance client growth. In this book, we describe six such factors. The first is the therapeutic relationship, which is covered in Chapter 3. It is so important that we decided to address this early in the book. The remaining curative factors are enhancing efficacy and self-esteem (Chapter 11), practicing new behaviors (Chapter 12), lowering and raising emotional arousal (Chapter 13), activating client expectations, hope and motivation(Chapter 14), and new learning experiences (Chapter 15). In the discussion of each of these therapeutic factors, you will learn standard helping techniques such as role-playing, relaxation, and refraining. Although these techniques are more advanced, once you have established the foundation with the building blocks, you will be ready to construct these more elaborate methods.


In my own journey, many people have taught and inspired me to be a better person and a better helper. I must acknowledge my teachers: Rajinder Singh, J. Melvin Witmer, Harry Dewire, and James Pinnell. I must also mention my friends who have encouraged me in nay writing: Sam Gladding, Gerald Corey, and Jeffrey Kottler. My best source of learning continues to be my students. I was helped in this edition of the book by Samantha White, Anna Doyan, Liza Leite, and Scott Rasmus.

I appreciate the feedback from my friends and collaborators at the Ohio State University Paul and Darcy Granello, and I recognize the helpful comments of those who reviewed various drafts of the manuscript: Julia Madden Bozarth, Illinois State University; Carroy Ferguson, University of Massachusetts-Boston; John Lewton, University of Toledo; Debbie Newsome, Wake Forest University; Ken Norem, Texas Tech University; Norman Stewart, Michigan State University; and Michael Taleff, Pennsylvania State University.

I would like to thank my editor, Kevin Davis, for his confidence and his high expectations, which helped to make this book so much better. I am also grateful for the work of Hope Madden at Prentice Hall, who helped to edit this manuscript and manage its production. Finally, I recognize the contribution of my wife Jora, who is both my most demanding critic and my staunchest supporter.

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