Facing Criticism: Turning Conflict into Conversation

Most people in the mental health field have a registering body that requires them to do a certain number of hours of continuing education every year. Continuing education refers to workshops, seminars, classes, conferences, something that increases your knowledge and helps you to stay on top of all of the new ideas and theories emerging in mental health. I’m registered with the Saskatchewan College of Psychologists and they require members to do at least 20 hours per year. Last week I was at an intensive four day seminar put on by Dr. David Burns. He is kind of a big deal in the therapy world and has been around for many years promoting cognitive therapy and his collaborative TEAM therapy.
While not everything Dr. Burns teaches fits with me as a clinician, I did pick up several skills and techniques that I am excited to bring to my practice. One particular technique sounds pretty simply, but is tough to use. The technique, called disarming, is to be used when someone has a criticism or complaint against you. The idea behind it is that when we defend ourselves against criticism, it makes it even more true for the person who is criticizing us. Therefore Dr. Burns suggests finding truth in a criticism and agreeing with it. Easy in theory, not easy when you are on the spot and feeling defensive.
If you think about it for a minute, this disarming technique makes sense. When we get criticized or challenged, we get defensive and the other person has to try prove the criticism. If we find truth in their statement and agree, it takes the wind out of their sails. It helps the other person to feel heard and can promote a positive conversation rather than an argument. I can think of an instance where a new client of mine was really questioning my age and credentials. Instead of acknowledging that I am young and validating his concerns, I explained my qualifications and experience. I proved to him that I was young and inexperienced and I never saw him again. Why didn’t I know about disarming then?! Next time you are on the spot, try the disarming technique and see if things turn out differently for you.



4 thoughts on “Facing Criticism: Turning Conflict into Conversation

  1. Sounds to me like that person judged you with a preconceived notion and regardless of your experience or ability they decided nothing you would say would be of any help to them. Not all people connect and I beleive it can be a part of the journey their travelling on.

    • Thanks for the comment Maria. I definitely agree with you that not every counsellor is a fit for every client and I’m not sure what the outcome would have been if I would have disarmed this client. However, I also think this technique can go a long way in validating the other persons concerns and can help them to feel heard and understood. I have no doubt I will face similar criticism in my practice and I’ll be interested to see if applying this strategy changes the outcome.

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