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How can personal trainers help people become more engaged in changing their activity behaviours? Are counselling skills the answer? Debbie Lawrence shares her thoughts


here’s been talk recently about the value of offering PTs training in counselling, the idea being that they would be better able to support people through the process of behaviour change. I suggested similar 20 years ago when I was starting out on my therapy training, and I can certainly see the value of these skills in supporting clients. However, I wonder if it’s really just about skills.

Yes, there are skills that can be practised and developed, such as active listening, open questions and reflective statements – skills that are already covered by many personal training qualifications. However, my view is that it isn’t that simple, with the skills aspect really just the first step. I use the term ‘helpful helping’ to describe an approach that I advocate. This approach isn’t something that can be learned in just one sitting – it’s a much longer and deeper journey.

Clients often need an empathetic approach


DEFINING ‘HELPFUL HELPING’ The process of successful change depends on a person’s motivation, their self-belief and their commitment to take action and use all the inner and outer resources they possess to keep going. For some people, once the decision to make a change is made, the rest is about planning, action and doing what needs to be done to achieve the goal. This is where PTs are helpful, because they have the know-how – the tools and skills to help people achieve their fitness goals. This is where they can work their magic. However, for many people the decision doesn’t happen that quickly. It’s a slower process, and one that involves swinging between wanting to change

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and not wanting to change. This is where the ‘helpful helping’ element is needed. At the decision-making stage, the focus should be on building the individual’s motivation – and this really needs to come from inside. Nevertheless, there are ways to support this externally. The way not to support motivation is by telling someone what they should do, what’s wrong with what they’re currently doing, or what we think the benefits of them changing would be for them. Helping isn’t about judging, blaming or shaming – and yet, unwittingly, this is often what happens. Rather than building motivation, this often builds more discord, defence and resistance – all of which sways the balance towards giving up. What’s needed is someone who can listen empathetically and make contact with the discord, defence and resistance – someone who doesn’t feel the need to change it, fix it, blame it or shame it, but who can ‘move and dance’ with the uncomfortable internal struggles in an accepting way. Having such a person by your side can be life-changing. It promotes self-acceptance and acknowledgement of things that are usually swept under the carpet. Helping someone get to know their demons – all the voices that stop them making changes – provides a strong foundation on which autonomous decisions and choices can be made. It doesn’t necessarily lead to immediate behaviour change, but it does make everything more conscious. FACILITATING THE CONVERSATION The skills aspect is arguably the easiest part to learn: listening, open questions, reflective statements. The challenge is developing the deeper awareness – how

Profile for Leisure Media

HealthClubManagement September 2016  

Health Club Management is the magazine and online community for decision-makers in the global health club, fitness and gym industry.

HealthClubManagement September 2016  

Health Club Management is the magazine and online community for decision-makers in the global health club, fitness and gym industry.