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Interpersonal Conflict--How counselling can help
by Daryl Landau, West Toronto counsellor and mediator

Bullying boss? Infuriating spouse? Difficult child? Who doesn’t deal with conflict? Still, some have more than their fair share, and the stress can really take its toll.

Some people would not come for individual therapy. “I’m not the one who needs it,” they say. What could they gain, besides a sympathetic ear?

Counselling can be helpful to find ways to cope, reduce stress, learn to set boundaries, and reflect on one’s goals. Let’s look at each of the benefits you might derive:

A sympathetic ear: Try telling someone you know about your frustration. You may get impatient interruptions, unsolicited advice, and blaming the victim – not to mention unwanted gossip. Talking to a good therapist is a totally supportive, confidential experience.

Find ways to cope with stress: You might be so frustrated trying to get the other person to listen to you that you neglect your own self-care. By helping you manage your anger, your counsellor can help reduce the impact that the conflict is having on your life, and prevent you from taking self-destructive actions.

Learn ways to set boundaries: Counselling will not focus directly on how to change the other person (who is absent); instead, it will help you find ways to self-protect. The counsellor may draw out your own innate abilities and ideas, or offer some suggestions on how to do this. Because many people are naturally averse to conflict, they really benefit from some assertiveness skills.

Reflect on your goals: What exactly are you trying to achieve? How realistic is that, and at what cost? If it’s not working, what might be a more realistic goal? Counselling can help you reassess your goals.

Gain perspective: I think counsellors are most helpful when they are willing – and it’s not always easy with clients – to raise some questions about the client’s view of the situation. Some clients are too quick to judge, and to discard important relationships. Counsellors should not block their clients, but they could try to slow them down a bit, in order to reflect.

All this and more is possible through counselling and coaching. Coaching is a bit different. I see a coach as a more active, expert role. The coach may take a step further in offering strategic advice, and encouraging action. The coach may say, “If you want to protect yourself from your bullying boss, what about trying…?” You might role play conversations or craft letters together. In other words, it is more of a short-term, focused, problem solving process.

A final opportunity that this individual work could offer is the possibility of a joint session at some point. From complaining about your spouse, you might decide to invite your spouse for marriage counselling. From feeling frustrated with a boss, you might persuade him/her to try mediation. It will either work, or it won’t. What do you have to lose by extending the invitation?

So don’t suffer alone. Consider counselling, coaching, or mediation to deal with the difficult situations and people in your life.

Copyright © 2009 Daryl Landau


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