Counseling Theories and Practices

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Our world is difficult to understand and constantly changing. Often times we find ourselves not being able to keep up with every day demands. We have complexities to deal with and experiences that we do not know how to cope with. At times, simply sitting down and discussing an issue is a quick fix to some very real and disturbing situations. However, often times, the quick sit down with a family member or friend is ineffective. In order to effectively deal with problems and situations, it is important to understand how a person is wired to deal with problems, where problems stem from, and what support is out there for them. Counseling and different forms of therapy could prove to be a very useful option in these situations. For the purpose of this essay, we will look at Person-centered theory, Existentialist theory, and the Adlerian theory. The Nature of People

Life as we know it is a different experience for many. What is certain is that we are all brought into the world in the same manner, however, aside from that, things can vary tremendously. What then shapes our character? How do we become the people we are? As supported by the Person-Centered theory, “Rogers believes that all creatures strive to make the very best of their existence. If they fail to do so, it is not for lack of desire,” (Boeree, 2006). Regardless of the circumstances we are brought into, it is in our human nature to sort of make it work. That is not to say it is a simple process, when problems arise, we have to find a way to deal with them. Not everyone is wired to handle difficult situations, however, understanding what we want our lives to look like lends itself to self-actualization. People have the desire to be happy, “self-actualization is the most common motivating drive of existence; it encompasses actions that influence the total person,” (Gladding, 2005, p.65). Existentialist focus on the freedom of choice and the action that goes with it, in turn viewing people as the authors of their lives (Gladding, 2005, p.50). If a person does not have the will to make things happen for themselves, then they will not do anything but perhaps “let the chips fall where they may”. People have different motivations, and while there may very well be goodness to them, if they are not willing to strive for better or achieve their ultimate potential, then they will remain the same. One has to decide what they want their life to look like.

Supported by the Adlerian theory, “individuals strive to become successful, that is, the best they can be,” (Gladding, 2005, p.35). Different motivators cause changes in people. “Knowledge is socially embedded and relationally distributed but also affirms that humans are creative, proactive, meaning-making individuals who have the ability to choose and be responsible for their choices,” (Watts, 2013). “People are motivated to engage in social activities, relate to other people, and acquire a style of life that is fundamentally social in nature,” (Pryor and Tollerud, 1999). This is especially evident in school-aged children, where the social status is most often a motivating force behind certain behaviors and attitudes, be they positive or negative.

While the nature of people varies in the views of the above referenced theories, it is important to point out that one must be able to reason logically in order to function in society. It is when one is not able to do that successfully that problematic situations become unbearable and ones mental health is at risk. These situations arise under many different circumstances, and may require therapy sessions with a mental health professional. The Nature of Problems

Counselors have the unique ability to help people in different ways and often time for many different reasons. When person is sick they go to the doctor for a remedy or explanation for their illness. Often times, the illness is unexpected and unwelcomed. A problem is defined as a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome. Where exactly do these problems stem from? According to Adler, “people are as influenced by future goals as by past causes,“ (Gladding, 2005, p.36). That stated, problems often times stem from an incident that occurred in the past, yet was never really dealt with. For example, a child who abused as a child may struggle with trust and having a successful relationship. This individual is likely to suffer and continue to have reoccurring issues with failed relationships. This is likely to continue until they come to terms with and seek help for the trauma they experienced as a child.

Problems often arise from decisions a person makes. As we are the authors of our lives, we are capable of making decisions that will negatively impact us. These problems may ultimately shape our futures. The Existential theory, suggests that while some choices are healthier and more meaningful, other choices in contrast result in self-indulgence, normlessness, and valuelessness (Gladding, 2005, p.51). This is illustrated in the following excerpt

In Nick’s formative years he hadn’t had responsive parents as a mirror to reflect what his own thoughts and feelings were. This left him feeling devalued and ignored, as well as cut off from his own sense of self-a feeling that had a long and painful history and showed up in his depression, isolation and eating habits (Gunzburg, 2011). A person’s problems can also stem from anxieties they might have towards certain issues. Anxiety can be healthy in that it can be motivating to work towards change. If a person is wants to maximize their potential, anxieties should be dealt with.

When a person lacks attention and affection, they will feel insecure. “Positive regard, Rogers umbrella term for things like love, affection, attention, nurturance, and so on,“ (Boeree, 2006) is essential. “It is clear that babies need love and attention. In fact, it may well be that they die without it. They certainly fail to thrive i.e. become all they can be,” (Boeree, 2006). People need to feel that they are important and that they are held in high regard. With that, they will feel have positive self-regard and work towards being the best they can be. The Process of Change

In order for people to change, they have to be willing to change. More importantly, they have to come to the realization that there is something that needs changing. When a person sits in front of a counselor because they “have to,” chances are there will be resistance on their part. Referring to the Transtheoretical Model of Change, a person should be at the Preparation stage, where they begin to self-evaluate and perhaps consider taking a small step towards change (Boston University, 2013).

It is imperative for an intimate relationship to be established between a client and the counselor. The client must feel that they are in a safe and trusting place.

For a person to “grow”, they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self-disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (being listened to and understood). Without these, relationships and healthy personalities will not develop, as they should (McLeod, 2007) When a counselor is able to provide the client with the aforementioned environment, the client will begin to self-actualize and there will be congruency between their ideal self and their self-image. The focus must stay on the client, through empathy and at times, if necessary, through self-disclosure a counselor will gain the trust of the client. Plans for change can begin to be introduced through a myriad of techniques. My Theory in Practice

As a Person-centered therapist there is a desire to create a climate that reflects genuineness, realness, and congruence. Setting up this climate with a client is crucial to the success of therapy. In order to accomplish this, there must be a level of transparency that brings security to the client, which in turn will enable them to open up and be transparent to therapist. Empathy is evident and appreciated by the client, as then the therapist is seen as a person with real feelings and concern. Establishing a relationship with the client, “in turn creates an environment that facilitates the process of self-awareness,” (AIPC, 2007, p.26).

Once the relationship is established and there is a level of trust, it would be essential to incorporate techniques that would most benefit the client. Some of those are: reflection of feelings, open questions, and paraphrasing. Examples of each follow: Reflections of feelings: the therapist would restate to the client what they have stated. Open-ended questions: the
therapist would as questions that would require more of an answer then yes or no responses. Paraphrasing: the therapist restates in other words what the client has said (AIPC, 2007, p.28)

While establishing a relationship is essential in Person-centered therapy, it is extremely important to maintain ethical boundaries between the therapist and client. Self-disclosure should be kept to a minimum and only incorporated when and if it will benefit the client. When therapists disclose too much, it may be perceived by the client that the therapy is no longer focused on them. This could prove to be extremely detrimental to the wellness and success of the client.

Following is an example of how an existential approach would be used with a student who is capable of doing well academically, however, recently his grades are suffering and he has begun to act out in class.

Establishing a deep relationship with the student would enable the counselor to conceptualize the situation. As stated, the student is capable of doing well academically; making it very likely that the recent change in his behavior is emotional. After going through the conceptualizing step, the counselor might work on setting goals with the student. Reminding the student that his past behaviors are not the focus. This would encourage the student to keep his focus on improving his behaviors in class as well as bringing up his grades. Using the existential approach would help the student achieve his potential and develop a clearer understanding of what he should or should not do to get there. Multicultural Considerations

Multicultural considerations refer to a number of different issues to keep in mind when working with clients. Some of these are sexual orientation, gender, race, religion, culture, and ethnicity. While in some cultures, it is acceptable to open up and share personal accounts, in others it is not.

Adlerian counseling is well suited for use in multicultural and gender sensitive areas, because of its emphasis on social interest (Gladding, 2005, p.40). This is describes in that many minority cultures value social
interaction and social groups. “The Adlerian approach emphasizes that healthy individuals need to extend themselves beyond themselves and their families, regardless of the cultural groups to which they belong,” (Gladding, 2005, p.40-41).

“Existential counseling really focuses on human conditions that are universal in all walks of life and all circumstances, this approach to counseling is probably as multicultural as any,” (Gladding, 2005, p.54). Existential therapy emphasizes that we are the authors of our lives. Therefore, through therapy and specific techniques, when implemented appropriately, most people will be open to share their experiences.

“Person-centered therapy has mixed reviews regarding its appropriateness in a multicultural context,” (Gladding, 2005, p.68). While it has been used widely in building cross-cultural communication and understanding, it is less effective in cultures that have an authoritarian orientation (Gladding, 2005, p.68). Another reason Person-therapy has mixed reviews is due to the fact that there is no gender focus. It is questionable that one gender would be to genuinely empathize and relate to the other. While there are mixed reviews, the approach of Person-centered therapy seems to be effective and beneficial for both the therapist and client in many situations.

Clients from new and different cultural groups are often times negatively stereotyped and heavily discriminated against because of their differences from the mainstream culture. In a counseling relationship, both the counselor’s and client’s cultures influence that dynamic. It is important for the counselor to be aware of client’s possible cultural differences. Summary

While only Person-centered, Existentialist, and Adlerian theories were the discussed throughout this essay, there are other theories that can prove to be just as effective. Most counselors identify themselves as eclectic, “combining theories or techniques from a wide variety of therapeutic approaches,” (Gladding, 2005, p.7).

It is extremely important in counseling to utilize the most effective approach for the client. Every client and every situation will be different. Several different counseling styles may be necessary. Establishing a relationship and following the clients lead is key. The counselor remains transparent and empathetic throughout the process in order to meet the needs of the client. In keeping things professional and ethical, there will be a successful outcome for the client, and that is the ultimate goal of the counselor.

Australian Institute of Professional Counselors, (2007). AIPC’S Five Therapies EBook. Retrieved July 21, 2013, from Boree, C. G. (2006). Alfred Adler. Retrieved June 22, 2013, from Boston University School of Public Health. (2013, January). The Transtheoretical Model (Stages of Change). Retrieved July 22, 2013, from Gladding, S. T. (2005). Counseling Theories: Essential Concepts and Applications. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc. Gunzberg, N. (2011). Working in the Here-and-Now of the Therapeutic Relationship. Retrieved July 19, 2013, from McLeod, S.A. (2007) Carl Rogers- Simply Psychology. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from

Pryor, D., & Tollerud, T.R. (1999, April). Applications of Adlerian Principles in School Settings. Professional School Counseling, 2, 299-304. Watts, R. (2013, April 1). Reflecting ‘as if’. Counseling Today. Retrieved July 22, 2013, from

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