Process Consulting: Foreign Concept or Familiar Practice

USNS Mercy - 2006 Deployment

Every now and then you have one of those full circle moments when thoughts, concepts and ideas come together – in a nice neat way that resonates deep within.  Such was the case as I read through the Schein (1999) material on process consulting.  I have to admit that prior to starting the readings, my own perceptions of a consultant were that of an expert who arrives on scene to provide analysis, diagnosis and solutions for a troubled organization or company.  I was not familiar with the term, “process consulting” nor could I appreciate how it more appropriately describes what it is that consultants must do in order to be effective.  Perhaps even more enlightening was that I never imagined how similar the role of a consultant might be to that of a social worker in the helping process.  As I progressed through the material in Schein’s book, I was reminded time and again of much of what was studied in my Master’s program in Social Work.  I am almost certain that one of my former texts was entitled, The Helping Process, although I couldn’t find any such text in my house (you’d be surprised, maybe even horrified, at how many of my old textbooks I have saved).  My mind was flooded with memories of classroom discussions centering on building relationships with clients; the importance of listening and learning to identify problems (not just those identified by the client but sometimes, most importantly, those not disclosed by the client); looking for non-verbal clues given through body language, lack of eye contact, etc. and learning how and when to probe for information to help the client identify for themselves what, if any, change needed to occur and if they were ready to do what would be needed in order for change to occur.

It was exciting to realize that much of the material on process consultation simply built upon a foundation laid long ago.  Human interactions, relationships and the dynamics of change have always fascinated me and although I ended up working in a field other than social work, I’ve felt many times that I benefited from my studies in this area.  These words from Schein’s book, in particular, resonated with me.

“Process consultation is a philosophy about and attitude toward the process of helping individuals, groups, organizations and communities.”  p. 1

“… one can only help a human system to help itself.”  p. 1

“Central to any organization improvement program is the creation of a situation in which learning and change can take place by individuals and groups.  How, then, does the consultant build readiness for learning and change?  How does the consultant function as trainer, teacher, mentor, or coach in facilitating learning and change?” p. 4

“It should also be noted that the consultant may or may not be an expert at solving the particular problems that may be uncovered.  The important point in adopting the PC mode initially is that such content expertise is less relevant than are the skills of involving the client in self-diagnosis and helping him to find a remedy that fits his particular situation and his unique set of needs.” p. 16

“We must recognize that everything the consultant does is an intervention.” p. 17

“Process Consultation is the creation of a relationship with the client that permits the client to perceive, understand and act on the process events that occur in the client’s internal and external environment in order to improve the situation as defined by the client.” p. 20

“Of particular relevance are the client’s own actions and their impact on other people in the organization, including their impact on the consultant.  As counselors and therapists have found in other domains, one of the most powerful sources of insight is the interaction between the client and the consultant and the feelings this interaction triggers in both of them.” p. 21

Finally, it was rewarding to realize how much relevance this subject matter has for not only my professional life, work and relationships but my personal life, as well.  How fortunate to be given the opportunity to learn how to be more effective in impacting change in the professional sphere but how cool to have the privilege of taking these skills and applying them to my personal life in order to become a better wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend.  How cool, indeed!

“The ability to be an effective helper also applies to spouses, friends, managers vis-à-vis their superiors, subordinates, and peers, parents vis-à-vis their own parents and children and teachers vis-à-vis their students. Sometimes help is solicited explicitly, sometimes we sense the need for it though the request remains implicit, and sometimes we sense that others need help even when they do not recognize it themselves.  The ability to respond at that point, to adopt a helper role when it is solicited or simply when we recognize that it is needed, is a central requirement of being a responsive and responsible human being.” p. 2

Schein, E.H., (1999) Process Consultation Revisited: Building the Helping Relationship. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

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One Response to Process Consulting: Foreign Concept or Familiar Practice

  1. Journeygirl says:

    Hi Wally,
    I really enjoyed your post. I also took comfort in the knowledge that we both seemed to come away from our first two ADLT 610 classes with very similar insights and impressions. I, too like you was surprised to learn that I had very specific thoughts about what a consultant was and like you, never really thought to apply that term to myself; whether it be on a professional or personal basis. However, I can now see connections between the terms and methodology from both texts to the “everyday world”.
    I like how you’ve correlated your past experience and education in Social Work to your roles now as an Adult Learner, in this course. We all wear different hats and it’s exciting to see that awareness come to light in different applications. Great Post – as always – you’ve got me thinking! 🙂 

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