Muir Gray: What is helping?

Muir GrayRaymond Tallis’ excellent Times article on Humanity on 17 February made me reflect on helping, a topic about which I had been forced to rethink by Edgar Schein’s new book on helping. Schein is one of my heroes. His work on organisational culture has been a major influence on me in the last decade and I knew he was also a clinician but this book is a revelation; short, and humorous. It also refers to another hero of my schooldays – Stephen Potter, whose gamesmanship taught me many ploys, as some of you may have observed. Here is fillet from Schein’s book, but buy it and enjoy it.

Five possible traps for the client

1. Initial mistrust
2. Relief
3. Looking for attention, reassurance and/or validation instead of help
4. Resentment and defensiveness
5. Sterotyping unrealistic expectations and transference of perceptions

Six possible traps for the helper

1. Dispensing wisdom prematurely
2. Meeting defensiveness with more pressure
3. Accepting the problem and over-reacting to the dependence
4. Giving support and reassurance
5. Resisting taking on the helper role
6. Stereotyping a priori expectations, counter-transference and projections’

Whatever the structure, and I have had 21 re-organisations, it is essential to distinguish eternal verities from ephemera and the helping relationship is certainly one of the former.

Muir Gray is visiting professor of knowledge management, Nuffield Department of Surgery, University of Oxford.