CURRENT TRENDS IN THE PRACTICE OF COUNSELING

Dr. Krishna Prasad Sreedhar

 Introduction

 Perspective of Counseling

 Theory and Practice of Counseling

 Current Trends in the Practice of Counseling

 Appendix

Introduction 

Counseling in its widest connotation existed in one form or the other from time immemorial. In all cultures the elders not only set the norms of behavior within that culture but also counseled the youngsters to follow the norms. In India, elders especially parents and teachers thought that imparting counseling in the form of advice and guidance was one of their fundamental, and seared duty. The oft repeated adage; "Mata, Pita, Guru, Deivam" (Mother, Father, Teacher, God)reminded the youngsters not only of the agents of counseling but also of the priority as to who should impart counseling at various stages of life. Ancient epics of India are replete with depictions of counseling. Elders were only too ready to take up the role of counselors and youngsters sought counseling with prompt compliance. Many such incidents could be explained away as mere acts of 'giving advice'. But in most of those ancient transactions it is not difficult to see the scientific practice and ethics of modern counseling techniques. The most widely acknowledges counseling situation in the epics is that of the dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Whether this dialogue had all the characteristics of modern counseling may have to be answered by committed researchers in this area. Many, often ask questions regarding the relevance and suitability of modern counselling techniques in all cultures. Experts in this field are of the opinion that the culture of India with the above heritage is potentially oriented to the modern techniques of counseling.

Counseling as Others See It

Counseling is a much-misunderstood concept. To the laymen it is an occasion where an expert solves the problems of others. Laymen believe that the expert has ready-made solutions for all the problems of human beings. Most counselors know that this is far from truth.

Guidance and Counseling

The term guidance denotes explicit directions given by an informed person regarding any subject. An expert in career guidance can impart information regarding different career possibilities. He may also be able to tell us where the careers are open and even the possible openings at the time of consultation. In imparting such information the guidance expert can give pieces of information irrespective of the suitability of the client for the job. However, he has also the option to test the suitability of the client using suitable psychological test.

 

Counselling, on the other hand is more dynamic. It aims at the solution of clients’ problems. Counselling is a much-misunderstood concept. To the laymen it is an occasion where an expert solves the problems of others. Laymen believe that the expert has ready-made solutions for all the problems of human beings. Most counselors say that this is far from the truth. Counselling is a process between the counsellor and the client in which solutions emerge as a joint venture of the two.

 

Characteristics of counselling

  1. is expected to be a process.
  2. Counselling is usually for normal people with problems.
  3. It is essentially a dynamic interaction between the client and the counsellor.
  4. Client is expected to be frank and forthright in his approach.
  5. It is the duty of the counsellor to keep confidentiality regarding the client.
  6. Counsellor is to show warmth and sympathy while listening to the client’s problems.
  7. Counsellor is expected to be non judgmental and non critical.
  8. The relationship between the client and the counsellor is expected to be genuine.
  9. Counselling usually works at the level of rapport and not at the level of transference.
  10. Client’s conscious motives are explored rather than the unconscious motives.

 

 

Perspective of Counseling

The perspective of Counseling may change from counselor to counselor. There are differences in training, clients and settings, and even goals. But the basic perspective of counseling remains the same, through with different emphasis. The best examples are the three different definitions of counseling given by Good (1945), Pepinsky and Pepinsky (1954) and Wrenn (1951). Good defined counseling as the "...individualized and personalized assistance with personal, educational, vocational problems, in which all pertinent facts are studied and analyzed, and a solution is sought, often with the assistance of Specialists, school and community resources, and personal interviews in which the counselee is taught to make his own decisions". According to Pepinsky and Pepinsky, "Counseling is a process involving an interaction between a counselor and a client in a private setting, worth the purpose of helping the client change his/her behavior so that a satisfactory resolution of needs may be obtained". To Wrenn, "Counseling is a dynamic and purposeful relationship between two people in which procedures vary with the nature of students’ needs, but in which there is always mutual participation by the counselor and the student with the focus upon self-clarification and self-determination by the student". All these definitions have common base but are different in their emphasis. The difference among the three definitions stems from the fact that they have three different orientations. Hann (1953) identifies one group as the social welfare advocates with ideographic interest. The second group is more medically oriented and the thirds group consists of people with student personnel administration and has great interest in measurement. Along with the differences it is worth noting the commonalties. Common to all these perspectives are the notions that,

  1. counseling is aimed at helping people make choices and act on them,
  2. counseling is a learning process, and
  3. counseling enables personality development

A recent and much accepted definition is:

"Counseling denotes a professional relationship between a trained counselor and client. This relationship is usually person-to-person, although it may sometimes involve more than two people. It is designed to help clients to understand and their self determined goals through meaningful resolution of problems of an emotional or interpersonal nature" (Burks and Stefflre, 1979).

The merit of the definition by Burks and Steffler is that it is sufficiently theoretical and at the same time reasonably operational.

 

Theory and Practice of Counseling

Theory and practice should go hand in hand. Many trained counselors initially adhere to the theory while starting their career as counsellor. However, even those who are fanatically tied down to one theory appear to change over time. This is because the client is a human being and he is the link between the theory and practice of the counsellor. Rigid theories, like the Procrustean bed, repel the human psyche. When the man does not fit into the theory the counselor is compelled to change his theory. This is one of the most demanding challenges of counselling.

Counselors should keep their minds more receptive and flexible. The psychological concept of individual difference must be understood thoroughly. Individual clients differing in their personalities come with dissimilar problems, goals and aspirations. To believe that all those clients would benefit from one kind of theory is unrealistic. It is useful to know that all the well-known theories have emerged from the practice of individual counselor’s personal experience with counselees. This is why we have different theories and practices. Trying to know these theories as old and new broadens our perspective. But what would be ultimately useful is the one that is carved out from the counselor’s experience with the counselees. This is why all textbook writers speak of a ‘Personal Theory’.

 

Current Trends in the Practice of Counseling

 Introduction

 Cognitive Approaches

 Affective Approaches

 Behavioral Approaches

 Towards a Personal Theory of Counseling

Introduction

Prospective counselors should be aware of major approaches to counseling so as to enable them to acquire a sound basis for developing their own personal brand of counselling. The current trends in this area can be broadly classified into three approaches. They are:

  1. cognitive approaches
  2. affective approaches, and
  3. behavioral approaches.

It may be observed that the approaches closely parallel the three aspects of personality viz., cognition, affection and conation (i.e. knowing, feeling and doing as given by the ancient Philosophers).

Cognitive Approaches

As Feorge and Cristiani (1981) have pointed out, in the cognitive approaches, the process of counseling is the curing of unreason by reason; i.e., to help clients eliminate most emotional disturbances by learning to think rationally, to help them get rid of illogical, irrational ideas and attitudes and substitute logical, rational ideas and attitudes. It is believed that this process helps the client to attain rational behavior, happiness, and self-actualization. For example Transactional Analysis (TA) aims at the internal dialogues of individuals, which occurs between the various ego states and the struggles between the real parts of their behavior (whether the same is productive or counter productive) and the behavior of others by identifying which ego state is in power at any given time. TA thus gives the clients information about the various types of transactions that occur among individuals and to help them identify the kinds of behavior in which they are involved. The goal of TA is to help clients review their past decisions and make new decisions about their present behavior. It is assumed that this would change their life direction into developing an autonomous life style characterized by awareness, spontaneity. This, it is believed that would, eliminate a life style characterized by manipulative game – playing a self-defeating neurotic tendencies.

Directive teaching is the core in all the cognitive approaches. For example in Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) the counselor takes up an active teaching role to educate clients. The RET counselor makes the client understand that the latter’s internationalized sentences are quite illogical and especially the current illogical thinking are self-defeating verbalizations of the client. The success if the counselor lies in bringing illogical thinking forcefully to the client’s attention. He must also show to the counselee how these thoughts are maintaining his unhappiness and how a rethinking and maintenance of logically and rationality make him happy and contented. In reality therapy, the meaning of reality and the necessity to act responsibly are taught by the counselor.

Affective Approaches

As the term suggests the affective approaches in counseling focus their attention to what is going on inside the individual, and particularly what the individual is experiencing at a given time.

Client-centered counseling of Rogers is perhaps the most well-defined technique in the affective approaches. It also highlights an issue in counseling; namely, how much responsibility can be placed on the client for his own problem solving?

Rogers believed that when the individual perceived himself as behaving in a manner consistent with his 'picture' of himself, he generally experiences feelings of adequacy, security, and worth. If on the other hand, he acts in a manner different from the way he defines himself, he experiences what is known as "threat" and feels insecure, inadequate, or worthless. Under pressure and with no other alternative, he may then defend himself against this threat using one or more of the commonly described "defense mechanisms". Unless counseling eliminates this defensive chain reaction and strengthens his self-concept, the defensive behavior would increase vulnerability to further threat, guilt, thereby creating more distortion and more self-defeating mechanisms. The role of the therapist is not just eliminating the defense mechanisms. Rogers highlights the importance of 'Congruence'. It means the close 'matching of awareness and experience'. In this context, the client centered counselors emphasizes the importance of accurate communication. If a client is aware of communicating a feeling which he is genuinely experiencing, his behavior is said to be congruent or integrated. In incongruent communication the awareness and experience of the client are two different if not opposing things. So also the recipient may experience an awareness of phony communication. The implication here for the counselor is that the counselor should help the client to face courageously the incongruence between awareness and experience so that communication of his real experiences is in full awareness and not distorted with defense mechanisms and neurotic constrictions.

 

The 'self-theory' of Rogers also assumes a perspective called 'phenomenology'. According to this perspective, people's 'reality' is that which they perceive. The way to understand individuals is to infer the 'phenomenological field' from their behavior. In other words, the 'internal frame of reference' of the client is used in counseling with the implication that counselors must attempt to perceive client's perceptual worlds as closely as they can. This is known as the empathic skill of the counselor.

Individual client's need to strive for wholeness is the focus in Gestalt therapy and counseling. This school of counseling gives importance to the internal world of the individual. Striving for the gestalt or the wholeness is actually a striving for an integration of thinking, feeling, and behaving. The key concept here is awareness. It is believed that the counselors help the clients work toward a total awareness of his experiences. Gestalt psychologists point out that such awareness permits sellf-regulation and self-control in the direction of increased integration and creativity.

Recently, one of the major forces that have come to occupy an important place in psychology is 'Existentialism'. Unlike Psychoanalysis, existentialism is a temperamental way of looking at life. It is basically a philosophy of experiences which need not necessarily be categorized into cognitive compartments. Man is essentially an emotional being rather than a rational animal! The existence of man is unique because he is the only being who reacts to the fact of his existence. The awareness of one's own existence and the possibility of non-existence alters the inner world or the phenomenology. These new premises create new experiences and needs that are yet to be known. The predicament of human beings is such that it includes the individual's capacity for increased self-awareness, the search for unique meaning in a meaningless world, being alone and being in relation with others, freedom to choose one's fate, responsibility, anxiety, finiteness and death, and a basic urge for self-actualization. As a theory existentialism is sound and appealing, but the practice of counseling on the basis of this theory is difficult. However, the existential counselor tries to understand the client as 'a being' and as 'a being in the world'. Counselors are supposed to expose his own inner reality and at the same time be human. This according to existentialists enables clients to become aware of similar conditions and qualities in themselves. It is pointed out that through this process clients come to recognize their potentialities and achieve self-growth by accepting it as their responsibility. In a nut shell, it can be said that making the client accept responsibility for himself is the aim of existential counseling.

 

Behavioral Approaches

While the dynamically oriented theorists try to understand conscious and unconscious through inference, the behavioral counselors concentrate on objective study of client behavior and the learning process. As the emphasis is primarily on overt behavior, the first emphasis is to discover how the behavior was acquired and how it can be changed. The second emphasis, which is a later addition, is on precondition for behavior change. This approach is characterized by (1) a focus on overt and specified behavior; (2) a precise and well spelt out target behaviors called goals; (3) a formulation of a specific and objective treatment procedure to the problem at hand; and (4) an objective assessment of the outcome of counseling in terms of the degree of approximation to the target behavior.

In the behavioral approaches well defined counseling goals are of central importance. The much talked about counselor-counselee relationship in other approaches is of secondary importance only. The main aim of this relationship to the behaviorist counselor is to facilitate greater understanding of the client's view of the problem. This helps to formulate a more successful behavioral plan for bringing about change in the client's maladaptive behavior to one of adaptive behavior (target behavior).

As the behavioral approaches base their understanding of human behavior through the theories of learning, they use very specific techniques like behavior contracts, social modeling, systematic desensitization and assertive training. All these techniques are well known to counselors.

 

Personal Theory of Counselling

The three basic approaches (Cognitive, Affective, and Conative) with their differing foundations vary in their theory and practice of counselling. By about 1973, Patterson began to think in terms of commonalties among the approaches. Fortunately most of the controversies existed only as academic gymnastics at a theoretical level. The practicing counselors were undergoing transformation as the clients were not interested in theories and their subtleties but were interested only in immediate problem solving. This demand of the client to the counsellor had made many counselors to abandon their dogmatic approach. Orientation of the counselors started changing towards a pragmatic approach. The client and his needs became more important than the counselor’s theory and dogma. This was how ‘personal theory’ emerged.

Here it is absolutely necessary to point out that training in some known approach is better than no training. Corey (19977) recommends the eclectic approach as a framework to begin with. However, George and Cristiani (1981) point out that although beginning counselors need a firm understanding of all the major approaches, they should start first with a thorough grounding in one theoretical approach to counselling. It is further pointed out that judicious integration and assimilation of techniques from other approaches could be done with experience.

Caution has been sounded in developing a personal view of counseling. Counselors must know their own assumptions about the nature of people, they must explore in depth their own values, attitudes, and beliefs about what constitutes a good life, what people are like, and what they themselves are like. Counselors should also identify their own models of mature, well-functioning individual so that they can keep this as a goal. (A summary of the above is given as appendix).

The present author’s personal opinion is that here in the cultural setting of India, let us start with the behavioral approach. The advantage of this approach is that it is sufficiently objective. It is based on sound principles of learning. The process involved is clear and well defined. The tangible alone are taken into account. There is high accountability for the behavior of the client and counsellor. The goals are operationally defined and free from philosophical overtones.

In conclusion I wish to quote this important paragraph form Brammer and Shostrom (19977) as guidance to all of us who are interested in the area of counselling practice.

"Each counselor and psychotherapist must ultimately develop a point of view which is uniquely his or her own. Freud was not a Freudian, Jung not Jungian, and Rogers not a Rogerian. Each of them was himself most fully and completely, while building upon the wisdom of the past. Each practitioner must feel that his counseling practice reflects such individuality. This is the reason why no one text or school is fully adequate, and why we try to exemplify an approach which we have termed 'creative synthesizing'. This approach is not an arrogant attempt to put down predecessors. Ideas are rarely developed in solitary efforts. Usually, they are the results of many years of cumulative cross-fertilization of numerous minds. Isaac Newton is alleged to have said on this point, 'If I have seen further, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants'. ".

 

Appendix

 

Established single theory

Eclectic Approaches

Creative Synthesis

Main Characteristic

Integrated set of assumptions related directly to strategy and method

Strategies and methods from several approaches applied selectively to clients

Application of broad and varied strategies and methods related to a synthesized theory evolved and "owned" by the practitioner

Examples

Freud's Psychoanalytic

Rogers's Client Centered

Thorne's Integrative Psychology

Lazarus's Structural Eclectism

Assagioli's Psychosynthesis

Shostrom's Actualizing Therapy

Advantages

Ready-made system of assumptions and concepts

Extensive experience and database

Consistency of theory and method

Collection of various methods

Flexibility of choice on methods

Wide agency application of methods

Continuous synthesizing, Extendeding and amplifying personal system

Discourages competition

Fosters therapist's identity with own views

Limitations

Tendency towards restricted view of data

Often a closed system

Encourages hero worship

Fosters competition and divisiveness

Encourages uncritical picking and choosing

De-emphasizes integrative theorizing

Tends toward fadism

Additive collection of what works for now

Imitative, and tends towards limited creativity

A continuous lifelong task

Tends to be idealistic

Futuristic -- ahead of its time

Requires continuous creativity

Requires trust in self

Risky -- requires standing on one's own

Illustrative comments by practitioners

"Client-centered theory"

"Speaks to me"

"Ellis is my here"

"I dig Freud"

"I am analytic"

"I stick with the tried and true"

"I use what works"

"I'm flexible"

"I like TA methods but not the basic assumption"

"Everyone says something important"

"I'm constantly reevaluating my ideas"

"I develop my own theory to fit me"

"I try to keep open and take some risks"

"I trust my own observations and judgements"

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