Help clients understand and break the lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle

Facilitate effective communication
and problem-solving
- p. 4 of 4

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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Communication skill-building interventions, continued from p. 3

Metatalk Skill

2-22)  Define, illustrate, and model metatalk - talking cooperatively about the current communication process to affirm or improve it. For perspective, first read this, and imagine typical clients reaction to doing the same.

Why? To assess and resolve communication problems, people need to learn to be (a) process-aware, and and (b) use a special vocabulary. Metatalk provides descriptive process terms, and uses them with all six other Lesson-2 skills to improve spot and reduce most communication blocks. This skill works with inner (subself) communications as well as social ones.  

Review as needed...

  • the purpose and definition of effective communication;

  • the difference between communication content (the topic/s under discussion) and process,

  • communication sequences and patterns;

  • the six basic communication needs and how they match or conflict;

  • the learnable communication skill of awareness;

  • the concepts of R(elationship) messages and awareness bubbles; 

  • typical communication blocks; and...

  • the seven effective-communication skills.

Explain and illustrate the prefix "meta-"  - e.g. meta-thinking (thinking about thinking), meta-singing (singing about singing), and meta-reading (reading about reading). Then define metatalk as "communicating cooperatively about communicating."

Describe metatalk as the skill of using...

  • a mutually-respectful attitude, and...

  • awareness (2-xx) and empathic-listening (2-xx) skills, and...

  • knowledge of communication, personality, and relationship basics, and...

  • a special vocabulary & describing common communication-process dynamics,...

to accurately assess communication "problems" (blocks). The results of metatalk are input to using cooperative assertion and problem-solving skills to reduce process blocks and improve communication outcomes (effectiveness).

Ask  clients if the skill-concept makes sense, and respond to any questions they have about how and when to use it and related skills.

Role play this skill, using examples of ineffective communication suggested by the clients. As you do, hilight the results (benefits).

Watch  for chances to demonstrate metatalk skill during typical sessions, and identify it when you do.

Give clients a copy of this metatalk worksheet &, and discuss as appropriate;

Follow up in future sessions to see if clients are motivated to use metatalk and other skills to spot and reduce significant communication blocks - specially those related to their presenting problems. Coach as needed, and affirm their progress. 

2-23)  Propose that these interactive communication and relationship skills are equally useful in filling the current needs of personality subselves (inner families) and people.

Why? Because (a) personality subselves have the same values and need-conflicts and communication blocks as people, causing personal "stress;" and (b) True Selves' teaching other subselves to use these seven skills is just as effective in reducing inner discomforts and conflicts as with physical people. Most clients are unaware of this.

        When appropriate...


  • the concept of normal personality subselves, and assess participating client's reactions. If they're skeptical, ambivalent, disinterested, or disbelieving, see these Lesson-1 interventions.

  • the idea that each subself is semi-independent, and has its own perceptions, values, needs, and communication style. And review...

  • the idea that each person's true Self can communicate, coach, teach, and problem-solve with every other subself, using some version of "parts work;" If participating clients haven't experienced that yet, consider using this experiential teaching intervention.

  • the concepts of...

    • effective communication and problem-solving,

    • communication problem-solving, sequences, patterns, and blocks; and...

    • learned awareness of these inner dynamics; and...

    • the difference between surface and primary changes.

Guide the client/s in identifying significant situational or chronic internal communication blocks ["My Inner Critic and Impatient One have 1-up (superior, self-focused) attitudes, and refuse to listen to my Self and other Manager subselves - so we can't problem-solve."]

Guide and/or role-play having the client's Self and other Manager subselves interest unaware subselves in the benefits of improving their communication attitudes, skills, and reflexes - just as the client can do with important adults and older kids. Then assess the clients' reactions to this experience, and repeat it if/when appropriate.

Watch for chances in future client-contacts to (a) re-state and re-illustrate this idea, and (b) assess whether clients are motivated to try using the Lesson-2 skills with their subselves in calm and/or conflictual situations. If they're not, consider refocusing on Lesson-1 interventions to learn which well-meaning subselves distrust the Self, and are sabotaging this learning and inner problem-solving.

Intervention 2-24)  Follow up in future sessions to affirm and strengthen clients' skills and their benefits

        Why? Because usually the skills are alien to most clients, and require repeated reminders, encouragements, and validations to experiment with them, experience the beneficial results, and stabilize making second-order (permanent) changes..

+ + +

        We've now reviewed basic Lesson-2 interventions, and specific skill-building interventions. The last group of related communication-effectiveness interventions is... 

C) Selected Problem-solving Interventions (with all clients)

        A fundamental premise here is that often, the way most clients try to solve their problems is the problem. The theme of the following interventions is to alert clients to this distinction, illustrate it clearly in a context they can relate to, and motivate their learning how to resolve any problem, regardless of the content, urgency, or people (or subselves) involved.

        For perspective, reflect: on a scale of one ("I'm never effective at teaching clients to practice effective problem-solving") to ten ("I'm consistently effective with all clients at this."), rank your recent effectiveness. Would professional peers who know your work agree with this rating?

See how these premises about typical primary needs, social-relationship needs, communication needs, need-priorities, and relationship problems compare to your beliefs;

Study this overview and slide presentation outlining effective problem-solving. Note that negotiating solutions to most internal and social "problems" requires (a) each person to be steadily guided by their true Sel and (b) fluency in all seven Lesson-2 skills, starting with awareness.

Tho each intervention can stand alone, the order shown offers an orderly way to help clients learn and experience a set of communication fundamentals. Effective clinicians will watch for opportunities to use each session's process to make these interventions. They don't have to be made all at once. The most cost-effective way to present these basics is in a seminar or class for a group of family adults.

        Basic elements of these interventions are...

agree without blame that one or more people and/or subselves have a problem - i.e. have significant unfilled needs.

validate that each involved subself and person is equal in dignity and worth to each other subself and person - regardless of age, gender, race, or other trait. Also agree that the people involved may differ on the degrees of responsibility they have, relative to filling everyone'/s needs effectively

until it's a habit, remind everyone that effective problem-solving (a) fills each person's main current needs "well enough," (b) in a way that's acceptable enough.

The numbering of these intervention-topics continues from above.

2-25)  Resolve typical loyalty (priority) conflicts

2-26)  Resolve typical values conflicts

2-27)  Resolve typical relationship triangles

2-28)  Resolve typical stepfamily identity conflicts

2-29)  Resolve stepfamily membership (inclusion/exclusion) conflicts

2-30 Resolve common (re)marital conflicts

2-31)  Resolve typical ex-mate co-parenting barriers

2-32 Resolve common stepchild-stepparent problems

2-33 Resolve common problems among stepsiblings

2-34)  Resolve typical co-parent problems with biorelatives and in laws

2-35)  Resolve common special stepfamily problems

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Updated September 25, 2014