The Significant Event
Sometimes people can see no way out of a problem. They feel trapped and may
even see their situation as hopeless—unable to change the directions of events.
Trying to force a solution should be avoided. A more effective method is to as
the individual to look at the past and give an example of a difficult situation and
how he/she managed to resolve it. This is called the “significant event.” I
reminds people that they have been in difficult circumstances before and they do
have untapped resources they can call on to overcome their problems.
MATERIALS • Flipchart and markers
• Handouts 47.1 and 47.2 for each participant
IME 20 to 60 minutes
ROUP SIZE Suitable for work with pairs within groups of up to 16 people
ETHOD 1. Explain to participants that there are occasions when people
seem to face impossible situations in which they can see no
way out. For example, achieving a target on deadline, a son
or daughter on drugs, or a failing marriage are all apparently
2. Ask participants to identify further examples and put these
on a flipchart. When it is clear that they understand the idea
of recalling the significant event, ask them to divide up into
3. Ask the participants to practice in pairs the use of recalling a
situation in counseling. Tell them that the significant event
helps people move away from the impossibility of the pre-
sent situation into the past. This acts as a mechanism for
finding a solution to their problems or at the very least being
able to handle their current concerns. Distribute Handout
47.1 and ask participants to review the case study.
4. Ask participants to practice the significant event method,
each pair taking turns playing the role of the person in
counseling and the manager. Distribute copies of Handout
47.2 and adopt the following guidelines. Make sure of the
50 Activities for Developing Counseling Skills in Managers
• The person in counseling raises a difficult or impossi-
• The manager does not challenge it but acknowledges
the extent of the difficulty as perceived by the person.
• The manager asks the person to go back to a time in
the past when he/she faced a difficult situation.
• The manager encourages the person to talk about it.
• After sufficient time, the manager asks how the per-
son resolved the problem and what he/she learned
from the experience.
• The person then answers and the manager records
his/her answer and then gives feedback in a positive
way—emphasizing how the individual has faced a
significant situation in the past and has been
resourceful in dealing with it or finding support
resources to help him/her manage.
• Finally, the manager asks the person what he/she can
use from past experience in dealing with a significant
event to manage the present situation better.
5. When the pairs have completed the exercise, they should
regroup. Examine what they have learned and ask them to
present their cases.
6. Feedback/summary: Remind participants that the signifi-
cant event is used when a seemingly impossible situation
faces people. The significant event gives hope for the future
and also helps people realize they have untapped resources
that they may not have used for a long time. Using the sig-
nificant event in counseling provides the manager with a
potent method to empower people who thought they were
powerless to change themselves or their circumstances.