Characteristics of Effective Helpers
Eight Core Conditions of Helping
In his adaptation of Robert Carkhuff's work, Gary Sweeten in his work, Apples of Gold I and II, shows eight qualities that are necessary for any person to be effective in helping relationships. When used successfully, these core conditions can benefit all relationships. These qualities are a process which requires practice. Local church helpers can have great tools, but without proper interpersonal skills, their success will be limited. A church may choose to put big dollars into various models and programs, but it will fail without proper people skills. These skills are centered on a person's tongue: "The tongue has the power of life and death" (Proverbs 18:21).
It is important to know the difference between empathy and sympathy. A person with accurate empathy can correctly perceive the feelings of another person without being captured by the victim's emotions. A person with sympathy actually feels what the victim feels, and this may prevent him from being objective in a helping relationship since he is likely to be caught up in the victim's emotions. The key to accurate empathy is understanding the pain while remaining in a neutral position. The helper's goal should be to feel with the hurting person versus feeling what the individual feels. Whenever the helper and the seeker are experiencing the same feelings of pain, the focus may become pity and prevent the healing. Compassion and understanding assist the helper in perceiving the other person's feelings and experiences accurately.
One can be effective in helping a hurting person even though he or she may not be able to identify with the problem. A popular myth is a person must be a former drug user before he or she can help a victim of drug abuse. Jesus was effective in helping the hurting, yet he was sinless.
It is true that a divorcee can relate to another divorcee or a recovering addict can relate to a person caught in the web of an addiction. With accurate empathy, however, a person who has not experienced the same hurts can also be effective. The helping relationship starts with the development of trust and accurate empathy. "Two skills that appear to be easily taught to paraprofessional counselors are empathy and basic skills in cognitive behavior therapy" (Benner, 89).
Warmth is communicated primarily through nonverbal ways including eye contact, nonpossessive touch, and body language. A congregation that has warmth will be accepting and caring instead of ignoring, rejecting, or giving a cold shoulder. Warmth is shown by a person's concern and affection for others.
People's inner feelings are often displayed by their tone of voice or body movement. A warm voice and a caring touch can bring peace and calmness to a brokenhearted person. Warmth communicates openness and thus lessens the defensiveness of a person seeking assistance and helps to build a trust relationship. Paul states in Romans 12:10 (Phillips), "Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit." Warmth is nonverbal openness which helps create an environment for healing and growth in the local church.
People with this quality display agape love which accepts a person as he or she is. They treat other people as equals and do not put them down. Having respect for another person does not mean the helper takes ownership of the problems or rescues them from responsibilities.
This quality in a helper separates a person from his or her behavior and looks beyond the sin and sees the person as being created by God. A genuine interest is shown in the person with the life-controlling problem. This kind of interest does not always provide quick answers but gives the person seeking help space to gain personal insight. The helper respects the topics initiated by the person seeking help and does not try to divert attention to the helper's interests. A person shows respect by understanding limitations and time restraints. There may be times when the helper must refer a person to someone else for help thus displaying respect for the individual. Every person, regardless of social or moral status, deserves respect as a human being. "Show proper respect to everyone" (1 Peter 2:17).
A genuine person is not a phony and does not play the role of superiority. He or she is truthful, honest about feelings, and does not wear a mask which presents a false image. Paul's genuineness is described in 1 Thessalonians 2:5: "You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed--God is our witness." Being genuine does not mean a person is so transparent that he or she hurts or offends people with honesty.
This quality presents a good role model. This person is consistent from day to day and does not live two lives. A genuine person does not get caught up in fads just to please others. The best example of genuineness is Jesus Christ. Paul says Jesus "made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (Philippians 2:7). A genuine person's inner feelings are consistent with words and deeds. "Genuineness implies spontaneity without impulsiveness and honesty without cruel confrontation. It means that the helper is deeply himself or herself--not thinking or feeling one thing and saying something different" (Collins, 25, 1980). A genuine person is an open individual who has nothing to prove.
A helper can share his or her own personal experiences and insight that may assist the seeker in understanding how to deal with a life-controlling problem. A helper should use caution and not overuse self-disclosure by talking too much thereby shifting the focus of the conversation away from the seeker.
The helper should have a clear goal for self-disclosing. Self-disclosure should not be confused with empathy which seeks to "feel with" the person. The goal is to provide insight the person seeking help does not appear to have. While sharing with the individual, the helper should not talk down to the seeker as being inferior or as a child; rather, the person should be treated as an adult talking to another adult. Sharing insights for the purpose of helping should always be positive in conversation although the outcome may be painful. "God is not the Author of all events, but He is the Master of all events" (Seamands, 139). Stay at the level of insight relevant to the person's need. "Admit your faults to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed" (James 5:16 tlb). Self-disclosure should be for the purpose of bringing healing to the person enslaved by a stronghold.
This quality is used to help move a person from the generalities of a discussion to the specific areas of need. It is common for an individual with a life-controlling problem to provide the presenting problem before giving the real problem. The truth often comes in bits and pieces before all the facts are assembled. Gary Sweeten in his work on the eight core conditions of helping states:
There are some basic principles which come through the Scripture in a very consistent manner. One of those principles is this: be sure to take all the facts into consideration prior to deciding a major course of action (this implies using concreteness). There are numerous proof texts to support the conclusion that concreteness is important. . . .
There are some who believe that living by faith demands that we ignore the facts of life. However, Biblical faith enables us to look squarely at the facts and yet have faith in God's deliverance, mercy, and power (66).
Andrew presented the facts to Jesus in regard to feeding the 5,000. "Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many" (John 6:9)? Jesus did not ignore the facts, nor did he rebuke Andrew for his lack of faith. He simply responded to the specific facts and "took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish" (John 6:11). Jesus acted on the facts he received from Andrew.
It is no accident that this quality is listed near the end of the eight core conditions of helping. There must be a display of the previous conditions such as empathy, warmth, and respect before a relationship can benefit from confrontation. Careful confrontation can be helpful in bringing about action and accountability after the helper has won the right to be heard.
The helper must be careful not to be harsh in his confrontation of a person who has a life-controlling problem. "Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). Confrontation should not be used as a means of power or control. It should be done with sensitivity with the purpose of helping the person break out of delusion and grow in Christ.
Focusing on the health of the relationship, this quality deals with the immediate relationship between two people. Immediate feedback cannot be effective without regular use of the other core conditions. This quality represents understanding of each other, warm acceptance, dealing with specifics, genuineness, reflection on each other's feelings, and confrontation when necessary. Immediate feedback is necessary to prevent walls from being built in a relationship. This helps individuals keep in touch with possible delusions that could develop. Paul worked hard to prevent walls from being built between himself and others. "Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it--I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while--yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance" (2 Corinthians 7:8-9).
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