Permission to Help

One of the most important elements of a helping relationship is permission to help. This applies to all kinds of helping relationships: coaching, consulting, teaching, psychological counseling, medical practice. If you don't give me permission to help you, it's dangerous for me to imagine that we have a helping relationship at all.

I've learned that if I am to help someone, I must first secure the person's permission to help. That's easy when someone asks for help. But what about if someone simply describes a frustrating problem? Is that a request for help? I say no. I've learned that permission must be explicit, and must be continually renegotiated after it's given, because:

  • Your experiencing pain does not necessarily mean that you see the pain as a problem.
  • Your having a problem does not necessarily mean that you want help.
  • Your wanting help does not necessarily mean that you want my help.
  • Your wanting my help does not necessarily mean that you want my help right now.
  • Your wanting my help does not necessarily mean that you want the kind of help I'm offering.
  • Your wanting my help right now does not necessarily mean that you will want my help tomorrow, or three minutes from now.

If I want to help, I must repeatedly make sure I have your permission at all of these levels.

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