Therapists of diverse theoretical positions have long realized that numerous clients with a variety of psychopatho-logical complaints are deficient in interpersonal or communication skills. Persons diagnosed as schizophrenic, neurotic, or mildly mentally retarded, as well as alcoholics, those having marital difficulties, and parents with child management problems, have all been seen as having difficulties in interpersonal communication. In the period from 1970 to 1980, three major trends led to the increased emphasis upon communication skills training as an important therapeutic and preventive tool. The first and perhaps most important trend was the disenchantment of many psychologists and other therapists with the medical model of therapeutic intervention. As Goldstein has noted in Psychological Skills Training (1981), an increasing number of therapists turned to a different set of assumptions. Basic to this new approach is the assumption that the client is suffering from a skill performance deficit and that the role of the therapist is to teach or train the client to perform the requisite set of skills.
The second trend was the increasing application of be havioral strategies to the treatment of a diversity of behavioral problems. It was quickly recognized that before psychiatric clients could be deinstitutionalized or normalized they would have to learn an extensive array of communication skills, such as conversational skills and job acquisition and maintenance skills. Those behaviorists working with neurotic clients quickly learned that many of their clients required assertiveness training.
The third trend involved the use of microcounseling procedures to train counselors and psychotherapists in interviewing skills. To those using this method of training and to those trained by it, it quickly became obvious that similar methods could be used to train clients in interpersonal communication skills. Thus, the microcounseling technology has been used to train institutionalized psychiatric clients, parents, marital partners, and families in communication skills.
Communication skills training usually is focused upon two broad sets of interpersonal skills: skills for interacting with one or more persons, and skills involving interpersonal or shared problem solving. Conversational skill training is directed toward the enhancement of an individual's ability to initiate and maintain conversations with other people. This form of training has been employed with institutionalized and formerly institutionalized persons and with individuals experiencing social anxiety. Communication skills training is a central component of most assertiveness-training procedures, since effective communication is seen as an important precursor to assertive behavior.
Another specific form of communication skills training is job interview training directed toward chronically unemployed persons and students about to enter, and others reentering, the job market. Most premarital, marital, and parenting programs, whether developed for therapeutic or preventive/educative purposes, include communication skills training in both interactional and shared problemsolving skills. Many organizational development programs, directed toward increasing the quality of working life, include communication skills training as a critical component. Programs concerned with facilitating interpersonal communication or shared problem solving have been developed for managers, supervisors, and coworkers. With the increasing realization that primary prevention programs are best directed at the younger members of our society, social skills training programs have been developed for use from prekindergarten to high school. Kelly, in Social-Skills Training, has presented an excellent review of many of these varied communication skills training programs.
As the various communication skills training programs developed, it became increasingly obvious that there is perhaps a common set of communication skills that pervade the many and varied interpersonal activities in which people engage. Thus, the same communication skills are important in interactions with a person's spouse, children, family, friends, and coworkers. There is a need to identify these skills more precisely and then to develop a modular program, elements of which can be used to train individuals who are deficient in one or more skills. This approach assumes that assessment methods exist to assess an individual's skill level in each area of expertise.
With the shift from the assumptions of the medical model of intervention to the assumptions of an education or training model has come greater reliance on the principles of instructional psychology. Most communication skills training programs are based on a very similar model of training that involves an instructional sequence, a practice sequence, and a generalization sequence. Gagne and Briggs, in Principles of Instructional Design, summarize many of the important characteristics of instruction included in various communication skills training programs.
Initial research in this area involved the demonstration that communication skills training methods produced significant increments in performance during training. A current focus of research involves the demonstration that increments in communication skills performance lead to changes in other behaviors, such as decreased delinquency, reduced drug and alcohol abuse, improved marital and parent-child relations, and improved academic performance. A subsequent concern of researchers is the demonstration that educationally based methods of communication skills training are superior to methods based upon other assumptions, such as sensitivity training. Yet another focus of research has been the specification of the skills that should be included in communication skills training programs and the best methods of training the constituent skills. It can be concluded that communication skills training programs are effective; however, research is still required to develop programs that enhance the generalization of the skills to different situations and over time.
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