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Theory of Change: The traditional theory of change is that it occurs from the outside in. Experts make decisions and intervene in a manner to fix the problem. This notion is quite similar in notion to auto repair.

A new theory of change is based on the notion that people are the sum total of what they think. Change occurs only when they think differently.

Several radically different perspectives thus become apparent, there is a shift:

  • from medical to cognitive approaches
  • from external to internal focus
  • from ‘expert’ to enabler
  • from needs to goals

Assessment: If the theory of change causes differences in perspective, it necessarily impacts the method of response as well. When thinking of diagnosis, think of cybernetician, Heinz von Forester’s remark, “Believing is seeing”. If you believe in the representation symbolized by the word, you tend to see it. [Gergen, Hoffman, & Anderson, 2000] This is similar to the concept that ‘if your only tool is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail’. A major issue becomes “Whose problem is it?”. Traditionally, professionals enter the arena either at the request of the recipient or, much more often, at the request of the recipient’s significant network. Often the supposed client recognizes ‘no problem’. This will continue to be true unless we abandon the acceptance of the ‘other people’s problem with the client’ and seek to help the client identify his/her own thoughts, fears and fantasies and determine whether in fact s/he has a problem or not.

This new perspective demands that:

  • we elicit from the individual his/her own internal perspectives which may not be conscious, instead of assessing the individual’s external performance
  • we determine goals, not needs – accepting that need is an externally defined goal.
  • we recognize that assessment is not a ‘one-shot’ perspective, but an on-going process which we can teach the individual to continue to use as a learning feedback.

Helping: A corollary assumption to our theory of change is that the person always makes decisions that at the time they consider to be in their best interest. Thus, when people have obvious problems in living, it should be apparent that their ‘inner logic’ is flawed. To help identify a flawed inner logic, it is necessary to help the individual articulate his/her own goals, personal preferences and desires and to seek to understand the barriers to achievement. This will require that:

  • the individual sanctions the helper.

This means that the individual decides whether or not you are a good change worker and replaces you if s/he thinks not.

  • the individual selects the change targets

The outcome expectations are defined by the client; not the worker. Just because you believe that the individual needs to work on an issue, does not make it so.

  • the individual decides whether or not to change

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” The control of the situation lies with the client. Resistance or noncompliance merely indicates that the helper is not offering what the client needs.

  • the individual receives training, not therapy

Operating on the principle that you should teach a hungry person to fish, rather than supply him/her with food – the process is to 1) train the person to be aware of his/her own thoughts; 2) teach him/her how to analyze these thoughts for truth and efficacy; 3) teach him/her how to develop alternative ways of thinking; 4) teach him/her how to adopt these new thoughts; and, 5) teach him/her how to anticipate future critical experiences and use these strategies to reduce the level of anxiety, concern and problems in living. This is a skill learning process that is educational, not insightful – although insight is always a part of new learning.

  • a recognition that the learning process is interactive

This means that the person is learning from his/her environment [including you] and teaching his/her environment [including you] how to respond. If the client has been teaching the people in his/her environment to respond negatively, this will require you to use your own cognitive process to remain untrainable. “Change the language and change the relationship.” To this extent, all interventions are a ‘will struggle’ – you trying to get the client to learn new strategies for thinking, feeling and acting – and s/he trying to get you to respond as everyone else does. You have the advantage – you have something new to offer.

Moving into the future: This involves preparing the client to live without you or other professional support. In order to move from dependence to independence the client will need to be inoculated to future life ‘pitfalls’ so that when they inevitably run into them they are better prepared to deal with them effectively. This will require:

  • the individual must learn to anticipate
  • the individual must learn how to self-evaluate, self-reinforce
  • the individual must have practiced strategies for coping
  • the individual must know how to ask for help