July, 2014

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THE UMBRELLA PLAN: A Counseling Strategy for Planning Ahead, Just In Case


Have you, like most people, ever taken an umbrella with you just so it wouldn’t rain? You know the old adage about how it won’t rain because you are uncharacteristically prepared for it?!  That’s this strategy!

When a student seeks you out because of a current significant stressor, grab the Umbrella Plan Worksheet and fill it out together.  Students leave with a completed worksheet and a heightened sense of control. They have anticipated what “might happen” and have thought through what to do “if”…if his parents fight again tonight, if her sister starts an argument with her between classes, if that kid teases him on the bus. It is the student’s individualized plan so that hopefully it won’t “rain” (the problem won’t occur), but if it does, the student will be ready to “stay dry” (cope with the problem in a healthy manner)!

This strategy is really best used when there is a particularly sticky situation, one where the student cannot fully solve the problem because it involves people and issues outside the student’s zone of control.  An example of this might be parents fighting or a parent’s substance abuse problem.  Sometimes the student gets pulled in to the conflict, either willingly or unwillingly.  Often, even if not directly involved in the conflict, the student is directly affected.  If her parents are fighting, she might go to bed without dinner or without doing her homework.  The Umbrella Plan lets students anticipate what they will do IF someone else repeats a problem behavior that affects them.

The Umbrella Plan is an example of proactivity in action…Students cannot always control what happens to them, but they can think through options and make a conscious decision about how to handle the “what if’s” that may come their way.  Having a plan may not make the problem go away, but it will offer some degree of predictability in responding to the problem, which in and of itself, helps the student feel some relief and a sense of control.  The Umbrella Plan is not a solution…rain still happens…but it can keep students from getting “soaked” when the rain does come down.

The Umbrella Plan Worksheet, which is a great visual for students, includes four specific “sections” on the umbrella so that together you and the student can identify stressors, list coping strategies the student can do, list ways others can assist the student, and designate a planned time to follow-up with the student.  If you are interested in having the Umbrella Plan Worksheet, it is found by going to “Umbrella Plan Worksheet”.