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Establishing the Environment

As in any counseling, a warm, caring relationship is the foundation for change. It is important to listen carefully to Maria, allowing her to tell her personal story and situation in her own words. Reflective listening and empathy are crucial at this stage. However, as the relationship progresses, the reality therapist does not listen passively but rather attempts to identify themes related to the procedures. For example, Maria's frustrations can be translated into wants. When she states that she feels lonely, the counselor can ask, "Would you like to have a meaningful relationship with a friend?" Because she is a verbal client, Maria will probably use metaphors to describe how she feels and other aspects of her current plight. Such metaphors might include: "I'm at the end of my rope," "I feel like I live in a dark woods," or "I feel like I'm sinking in quicksand; the more I struggle the more I sink." These can be used later in the counseling to help her gain a sense of inner control.

In establishing the environment, the reality therapist intervenes directively and emphatically but does not encourage "venting of feelings" in such a way as to indirectly communicate that merely talking will solve a problem. Feelings are always connected to actions. Such questions as "What did you do yesterday when you felt so depressed?" are very useful. The counselor also helps Maria describe problems in the past tense and solutions in the present or future tense. This results in addressing an immediate goal – communicating hope (i.e., Maria can improve her life and achieve some degree of happiness).

Following the standard practice and ethical standards, the reality therapist assesses the seriousness of the suicidal ideation while eliciting a Level 5 commitment not to kill herself.

From the counselor's perspective, Maria is not hopeless. Rather, she is a strong and capable person characterized by determination and fortitude who has done her best to cope with offensive assaults from the world around her. After establishing a trusting atmosphere and communicating appreciation for both her plight and her possibilities, the counselor uses the WDEP system more explicitly.

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