Scott I. Goldsmith, author of Experiential Activities for Enhancing Emotional Intelligence: A Group Counseling Guide to the Keys to Success, discusses his book that was designed for counseling professionals working with children and young adults.
It seems that educators face a host of problems these days. You do much of your work in school-based settings. How do the activities and concepts in this book address some of these concerns?
If you ask educators and others working with today’s kids and teens, you will likely hear that some of the biggest problems are lack of social and relationship skills, negative attitudes, disrespect towards each other and adults, and lack of focus and tenacity, or grit. While these issues have become more prominent for a variety of reasons, it is falling more and more on school staff and other youth workers to address them. Through highly engaging, fun activities, and tailored debriefing techniques, the book helps kids develop what I call the Three Keys to Success: emotional awareness, behavioral control, and positive relationships.
Your title implies that the concepts and activities in this book will help enhance emotional intelligence. What do you mean by that?
I believe we are experiencing a sort of national crisis in emotional intelligence. Kids appear to have more difficulties understanding and managing their emotions and behaviors and establishing relationships with others than at any other time in my 20-year career. In my book, I have taken the sometimes complex topic of emotional intelligence and boiled it down to Three Keys to Success, which provide a simple language where adults and kids alike can communicate about complex issues. By connecting each activity to the Three Keys to Success, the book addresses these emotional intelligence weaknesses in a fun, highly engaging manner. It’s not easy to engage kids today, and these activities do it with minimal props and in almost any physical environment.
Why would anyone providing traditional counseling consider using experiential counseling methods?
While there will always be a place and need for traditional talk-based therapeutic methods, there are some distinct advantages that experientially based counseling methods have over traditional methods for many groups. First, the activities are highly engaging, even for those kids who are usually disengaged. Second, whatever difficulties a child has with emotional regulation, behaviors, or relationship skills will surface at some point during the activities. This gives the facilitators of these types of groups the unique opportunity to intervene while a behavior is actually occurring, as opposed to talking about it after the fact. Finally, the activities themselves are a vehicle to get to the conversations you hope to have with these kids. If I try to open a discussion about anger management or goal setting or support systems in a traditional talk group with the kids I work with, some may engage, but others will have their heads down or simply zone out. When kids engage in these activities, they want to talk about what happened. From there, using the debriefing techniques and questions in the book, it’s much easier to help them connect what happened during the activity with their real lives and readily engage in deeper discussions.
Do the activities in the book help kids with skills that prepare them for the real world, so to speak?
Forbes has a list of the top 10 skills employers most want in their 20-something employees. The top four were the ability to work as a team; the ability to solve problems and make decisions; the ability to plan, organize, and prioritize; and the ability to communicate effectively. These are exactly the skills the book focuses on developing. While we can talk about these skills till we’re blue in the face, the best way to learn them is experientially.
It seems that our education system has realized that creating a positive school climate is essential in fostering a conducive learning environment. Does your book promote a positive school climate in some way?
If you look at the factors that the National School Climate Center considers essential, they include supportive norms, respect, staff and student engagement, staff modeling, and a belief that everyone contributes to the educational environment. These factors align with the Full Value Commitment in experiential counseling, a living philosophy that provides the foundation for everything else we do. It emphasizes fully valuing each member. Facilitators act as models; students are engaged and are learning skills such as communication, problem assessment, planning, and goal setting.
What traditional psychological theories or perspectives were important in developing your book?
There were many, including social learning theory. But for me, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs was essential. In order for students to be in their optimal zone for learning and creating, we need to take care of lower level, basic needs. A student who doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t feel like they belong or are respected, will not be able to learn effectively. Experiential groups, and in particular those using the Keys to Success philosophy, meet many of these lower level needs. The full value commitment helps kids feel safe. This creates an atmosphere of respect which fosters a sense of community, encouraging each participant to trust more. That trust allows them to explore their issues and move towards the best they can be.
Today’s educators are very busy, with many demands that they must meet. I know that learning a whole new way of doing things can be daunting. Is it difficult to take this book and make it useful?
While I have directly connected emotional intelligence and experiential teaching and counseling methods, the concepts in the book are not really new. Most of us learn most naturally through experience and reflection. That is what this book has you do. The activities in the book can modified in so many ways to fit all sorts of groups. I have used the same activities for Fortune 500 company team building programs and depression support groups, leadership groups and social skills groups. There is enough guidance and structure in the book to allow someone just starting out with experiential counseling to use the activities effectively. There’s also enough flexibility to allow experienced facilitators the ability to customize activities in the book and use them in a way that maybe they haven’t been used in the past.
Many educators and parents believe that today’s youth are overly connected, technologically speaking. Do you feel that has impacted our kids, and does your book help address that issue?
From what I have seen, the reliance on communicating through electronic means has had a negative impact on social skills. Many of today’s kids don’t seem to have the basic skills to form healthy relationships with either adults or peers. Experiential groups provide a sort of old-fashioned form of fun that many of us adults grew up with. When kids engage in this purposeful play, they begin to lose themselves in the fun. Debriefing the activities makes their value beyond the fun become evident as you watch skills begin to improve.
For additional information about the author, visit his author page.