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Tuesday, September 4, 2018


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Sandakan: The Family Life and Catechetical Commission of the Diocese of Sandakan organised a two-day Training Workshop on Marital First Responders on 25th - 26th August 2018 at Diocesan Pastoral Centre, Sandakan. This workshop was attended by 39 participants from the parishes of St. Mary Cathedral Sandakan, Holy Trinity Tawau, St. Dominic Lahad Datu, St. Martin Telupid and Our Lady of Fatima Beluran.
The responder, the client and the observer are putting into practice the 4 core skills and S.O.L.E.R.
The training was conducted by a certified Counselor and Family Therapist, Rev. Fr. (Dr) Charles Sim SJ, the Clinical Director of Kingsmead Centre and Head of the Master of Counselling and Couple and Family Therapy, Singapore University of Social Science. At hand to assist Fr. Charles on the training was Madam Daria Joseph, a registered and licensed counselor herself from the Archdiocese of Kota Kinabalu.
Monitoring the participants’ role playing were Fr Dr Charles Sim and Pn Daria Joseph
The Marital First Responder (MFR) is a training program developed by Dr. Bill Doherty, a professor of the University of Minnesota and was Fr. Charles Sim’s lecturer when he studied in the USA. This training is aimed at helping the responder to become more confident and effective in dealing with friends or family members who confide in them about their problems. Research has shown that people with marital problem will confide first to their trusted friends or family members but not to professionals. This MFR training will equip the participants with the skill on how to be a good responder/confidant as a primary prevention helping couples to avoid marital breakdown.
Listening for the “soft feelings” is also a skill before you can truly empathise.
In the first day morning session, Fr. Charles started with interactive session by asking the participants on their understanding of marriages and their expectation in attending the training? He reminded them that their attendance for this training was not by chance, but God called them to be here. At the same note, he joked that this two-day training will not make them a marriage Counselor or a therapist rather to be a better trusted friend and a good listener to the confider who opened up to them in the Catholic context. Through this training, it will empower them in helping to prevent marital issues from progressing.
Offering your own perspective is for many but not for all, and must be shared with humility.
In order to be effective, the responder must start with an assessment on what is his or her relationship to the confider and spouse, what problem is the confider bringing up, is it a ‘hard’ problem or a ‘soft’ problem? And is divorce on the table? Fr. Charles stressed out that the participants' job is to listen and be supportive, not to take sides or figure out who is right and wrong. He explained, “Your job is to help people come to their own solutions, not to tell them what they should do. If they are really distressed and can’t find their own solutions then we encourage them to seek professional help.”
Later in the afternoon session, Fr. Charles imparted on the subject of “4 core skills” for MFR Level One, known by the acronym of “L.E.A.P”. These core skills enhance the responder’s ability to Listen, Empathize, Affirm and (offer) Perspective. As practical, the participants were divided into groups of 3 people each (as a responder, confider and observer) and applied the core skills learnt. Day one ended with the participants adjourned to attend sunset Mass at St. Mary Cathedral presided over by Fr. Charles.
The second day training resumed with Level two core skills known as the acronym of “C.A.R” for Challenge, Advice and (suggest) Resources. This is a part where for some situations, after the responder have done a good job on L.E.A.P and the confider seems to open up, the C.A.R might be needed. Generally, the indications are when the confider is not doing something basic, like telling their spouse about their concern, the person is stuck on talking the same story over and over, when it is clear they need help and are not seeking it, when Hard problems (abuse, affair, addiction) that is threatening, and when divorce is on the table. This session also covered the subjects of the need for the responder to maintain their boundaries, and when to pull back.
Participants from Tawau  and Telupid left early to go back to their respective places
In last part of the MFR Training, Fr. Charles opened the floor to all the participants to share what they have learnt and what were their expectations after undergoing the two-day training. The majority agreed that the training benefited them greatly as they become more confident, better equipped, more clarity on the issues involved in marital problems and are well prepared than before. Some shared that the knowledge imparted to them will definitely improve their own marriages.
In response to the sharing, Fr. Charles Sim thanked all the participants for attending his training and hoped that this two-day knowledge are helpful in enhancing their skills and be able to apply them in their respective parishes. As a note of reminder, Fr. Charles said “Pray to God always for guidance before your meeting with the confider, seek the Holy Spirit to lead you, for it is God that work through us;  we are only a mere instrument in reaching out to others.”
The training concluded in the late afternoon with a token of appreciation presented to the speaker and Madam Daria Joseph by the Family Life Commission Chairperson, Eva Siruno, followed by awarding of certificates to the participants.

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