What Counseling is to Me: Definitions, Thoughts, and Reflections

What Counseling is to Me: Definitions, Thoughts, and Reflections

An Explanation/Definition of Counseling and the Most Essential Characteristics of a Helping Relationship:
In 2010 the American Counseling Association adopted the following new working definition of counseling: Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals(American Counseling Association,2011). As an upcoming counselor I would like to personalize or expand the definition to embrace the ideologies I will bring to the counseling setting. After looking at a number of theories and definitions of counseling my definition is a bit eclectic. Counseling is a helping relationship established between a professional and a client. The counselor encourages, challenges, enables and assists clients in making independent life altering changes and choices. This process occurs over a period of time through self-examination, exploration and the aid of other therapeutic techniques. In this relationship clients are also challenged to accept the responsibility and consequences for the choices they make.

According to Carl Rogers the following three characteristics are necessary for the evolvement of a helping relationship: First the counselor must be able to offer Unconditional Positive Regard for the client (Rogers,1951). The counselor enters the relationship free of bias and understands that problems are part of God’s process to conform man to his image (Meir, Minrith, Wichern, & Ratcliff, 1992).

Unconditional positive regard encompasses the idea that counselors must look beyond the clients weaknesses, and problems to clearly see their needs, worth and potential. Clients that experience unconditional positive regard are more inclined to move toward change, especially when they know that the counselor respects and cares for them."People also nurture our growth by being accepting—by offering us what Rogers called unconditional positive regard," explains David G. Meyers in his book Psychology: Eighth Edition in Modules. "This is an attitude of grace, an attitude that values us even knowing our failings. It is a profound relief to drop our pretenses, confess our worst feelings, and discover that we are still accepted. In a good marriage, a close family, or an intimate friendship, we are free to be spontaneous without fearing the loss of others' esteem." (Meyers, 2006).

Second the counselor must be Genuine, real or congruent. In the helping relationship the counselor is a change agent not a superior. The counselor’s ability to be fully present and without pretense is vital in establishing and maintaining trust. The client is approached with a spirit of humility and humanness. Clients are more likely to respond to a person with whom they are able to identify as real and reachable, rather than an inanimate object spewing out advice.

Third the counselor must be Empathetic. Empathy is the ability to walk in another person’s shoes without actually tying them up. The implication for empathy is that the therapist is fully aware, and to a certain degree shares in the clients subjective world. Rogers felt that it is extremely important for the client to know that they are not only heard but understood as well (Rogers,1975). Carl Rogers and Heinz Kohut (1991) agreed that employing empathy or understanding another person’s pain, plays an essential part in relieving the pain and suffering of the client (Rogers&Kohut,1991).
Rogers,gives the following explanation of empathic understanding: "If I am truly open to the way life is experienced by another person...if I can take his or her world into mine, then I risk seeing life in his or her way...and of being changed myself, and we all resist change. Since we all resist change, we tend to view the other person's world only in our terms, not in his or hers. Then we analyze and evaluate it. We do not understand their world. But, when the therapist does understand how it truly feels to be in another person's world, without wanting or trying to analyze or judge it, then the therapist and the client can truly blossom and grow in that climate." (Rodgers, 1975).

A Detailed Explanation of the Key Elements that Must be Covered in the First Session with a New Client and Why They Must be Covered
To help establish the purpose and validity of the counseling relationship key elements must be covered in the first counseling session. These key elements pave the way for effective utilization of theories and techniques of counseling specifically appropriate for the client.

Dr. Edward Watke Jr (1992) listed seven “Key” elements in the counseling process. Six out of seven are essential for the first counseling session. In review of his selected elements I have chosen to select the following elements:
1. Building Rapport: Establishing a good helping relationship is essential in setting the tone of the counseling process. A client’s willingness to enter into a helping relationship can be greatly impacted by their perception and level of comfort with the counselor (Watke,1992). Such perceptions, are influenced by a number of things the client either experiences and/or believes they will receive during their interaction with the counselor such as; respect, level of compassion and genuineness.

2. Gathering Data: Gathering information is an important step in formulating a future course of action in the counseling process. Historical data paints a broad picture of the clients personal life. It also serves as an opportunity to gain valuable insight into past experiences and problems that may contribute to what brings them to counseling. An important aspect of gathering information that must not be overlooked is that of observance (Watke,1992). Observing a client’s nonverbal behavior can sometimes yield more information than the verbal communication a client provides.

3. Confidentiality is not listed in Watke’s list; however it is important to inform clients of how confidentiality will impact their privacy during counseling. According to Gerald Corey (2009) “Confidentiality is central to developing a trusting and productive client–therapist relationship. Because no genuine therapy can occur unless clients trust in the privacy of their revelations to their therapists, professionals have the responsibility to define the degree of confidentiality that can be promised. Counselors have an ethical and legal responsibility to discuss the nature and purpose of confidentiality with their clients early in the counseling process.”(Corey,2009)

4. Define the problem. Prior to getting ready to move toward taking any steps to solve the problem, you must first ensure that you are clear about what the problem really is. It can be easy to get distracted trying to solving a different problem than what is actually creating distress if it is easier than facing or dealing with the real problem (Watke,1992). Identifying the problem also lays the ground work for identifying the goals and objectives of the helping relationship. In addition it also helps keep things in perspective for both the counselor and client.

5. Giving hope: Having a sense of hope is necessary for clients to believe there is cause to pursue change. Without the realization of the possibility of change clients remain “stuck” and the goals of counseling can seem unattainable and in some cases unrealistic. It is important to emphasize that they are in a helping relationship which assures them that they are not alone in their quest for change. Lynch (1965) defined hope as “the fundamental knowledge and feeling that there is a way out of difficulty, that things can work out, that we as human persons can somehow handle and manage internal and external reality”(Lynch,1965).

6. Homework: Assigning homework extends the time and place of the therapeutic process. It actively engages the client as a “doer” not just a hearer in his process for change. Not only does homework challenge participation in change; it also teaches new skills, and according to Corey (2009) it enables the client to test their beliefs in daily life situations. Another important purpose of homework is that it can serve as an effective assessment tool. Homework provides counselors with a way to monitor clients’ progress, compliance, motivation, and even cases of defiance.

The Theory of Counseling Which I Will Seek to Learn More About and Use in My Own Practice:
The theory I would love to learn more about in order to use it in my own practice is Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. Also known as REBT founded by Albert Ellis, rational emotive behavior therapy’s basic premise is that the state of our emotions are influenced by our “basic beliefs, evaluations, interpretations and reactions to life’s situations.”(Corey,2008).

REBT is an integrative therapeutic approach focusing on the clients irrational and distorted feelings which are precipitated by faulty thinking. The goal is to explore and expose the way a client’s feelings and behaviors are connected to their negative thoughts(Corey,2008). Through the process of REBT a counselor seeks to help clients reach a place where they change their emotional reactions to situations.

One of the main selling points of REBT is that the theory was created with the belief that everyone has potential for being rational but also understands that people tend to be irrational. This view is different than most of the other theories covered in the course. Being a person that believes that everyone can change and that our past actions do not have determine our futures, approaching therapy with this as a core concept is important to me. Another pro is that the theory offers a therapist many options. REBT has many techniques that can be utilized to maximize the effects of therapy, if at anytime the client does not respond to one technique, another is readily available. REBT offers hope for clients and the ability to customize a therapy plan for a therapist, something that I would love to offer every client that comes to my practice.

At Least Two Techniques from this Theory and an Explanation of How and for What Type of Client Issues I Will Use them for in a Clients Treatment:
REBT has many techniques that can be utilized by the therapist. These techniques fall under three subheadings, which include: Cognitive, Emotive and Behavioral techniques. In REBT Homework is one of the behavioral techniques a counselor uses to bring about change. Clients who experience social anxieties such as fear of interacting with people outside of their circle of family and friends can benefit from the following homework assignment.

1. Client is instructed to visit a local shopping mall and speak to an assigned number of store clerks during the first week. (The number of interactions are reported during the next appointment)

2. Client is instructed to increase the number of contacts with people in various settings during subsequent weeks,until reaching the point where they are comfortable enough to shake hands and introduce themselves in an environment beyond their comfort zone.

Disputing irrational belief is another technique I have chosen to use in therapy. Disputing irrational belief is a cognitive technique where therapist challenge and teach clients how to challenge their own irrational belief system(Edelstein,1997).

Disputing irrational beliefs is a technique I would like to employ in an academic counseling setting for students who come from high achieving families. Many times these students who are not experiencing high grade point averages see themselves as failures because they don’t “measure up” to family expectations. Students with feelings of failure usually engage in a lot of negative self-talk which stem from irrational beliefs. Challenging the students to engage in diminishing the power of the should, must, or ought beliefs will empower them to value themselves for who they are not what they do. Teaching students to challenge irrational beliefs consist of having them begin by asking the following questions: What proof or evidence do I have to substantiate this must? How could it possibly hold to any truth? Where is it written in stone? After repeatedly asking these questions and accepting the answers many of their irrational beliefs should be eradicated or greatly diminished in strength(Edelstein,1997).

Life Experience(s) of Mine that Will Help Me as a Counselor Work Effectively with a Wide Range of Clients:
I was blessed to be born into a unique military family“situation” where both of my parents were active duty members of the United Sates Air Force. Just the fact of being a military child alone afforded me the opportunity to live and interact with people from different cultural, ethnic , educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. Sometimes the interactions were pleasant, sometimes not. As a military child two of the first skills you learn is survival and adaptability, especially when both parents are in the military.

I can’t number or name all of the cultural and ethnic encounters I have had that have impacted my life. From my Panamanian nanny in Panama to my Nigerian roommate in college, my life has been rich with multicultural experiences.

An added bonus which has had the greatest impact on helping shape the person, the counselor I am evolving into is that both of my parents are Christians. At a very early age I became a Christian, which I believe influences my love to help people live richer, meaningful lives. I have also had the opportunity to worship with people from a wide range of religious denominations and orientations. These opportunities have had a profound influence on how I see man and his relationship with God.

My educational background is just as exciting and interesting as the rest of my life. I attended pre-school through college in various states and countries. Looking at my educational records one might see instability. I see adventure and opportunities. I also see resilience, courage and faith.

Spending time with relatives was and is always an eye opening experience. My relatives live from one end of the socioeconomic spectrum to the other. I have lived as much as several days to months with my maternal grandmother who lives in extreme poverty. On those occasions I learned several things. One thing is that the mindset and priorities of people in poverty are very different from even those with just enough. The second thing I soon embraced was “to be content in whatever circumstances I’m in;” which is something I also learned in Philippians 4:11-13 (NIV 1984). Which states “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry,whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Collectively my life experiences have given me a unique perspective on life. I believe that this perspective coupled with a good theoretical construct, and a biblical worldview makes me a good candidate for the helping profession.

Some Limitations in My Own Life Experience that Might Hinder My Ability to Understand and Relate to Certain Clients:
Just as I have listed my vast “adventures” of being a military child as being an opportunity to experience different countries and to master the technique of adaptability, I must list it as a source of a few limitations also. Being a military child requires agility to deal with the numerous uncertainties and adjustments that must be done, many times without any prior notice. Many of these adjustments such as frequent moving, long and short term separation from a parent, and lacking the support of extended family cause me to be unable to relate to a limited number of clients.

My experiences have lead me to have grown up very attached to and close to my mother, Much more like my best and only friend, my mother is someone I can confide in and trust. With that in mind, clients that have grown up lacking a mother maybe a little hard to relate for a self professed mommy’s' girl.
Another population that I may find harder to relate to, are clients that are have issues with siblings. Although I do have one sibling,my brother was born when I was a junior in high school. I was raised as an only child and lived as an only child for 16 years, living with my brother only one year before attending college. Clients suffering from issues of feeling neglected as a child due to an addition of a sibling(s), or those that have been scrutinized because of their inability to be like their sibling(s) will be hard to relate to.

Last but not least, clients dealing with marriage issues may be a challenge to relate to, but not to understand. I am a single women that has never lived with a boyfriend, shared finances, raised children with someone, nor have I ever been married. These are all events that I am by no means an expert on but, I have been in several long term relationships that have gone aery. I can relate to them relationship wise but, understanding some issues my pose an issue.

Client Populations I Do Not Believe that I Would Be Able to Work with and Why:
Honestly There is not a population that I can not work with. As professionals we must all know how to differentiate between a clients needs and our personal views, beliefs, and preferences.

I would never say that I would be excited for my first session with a someone like a convicted rapist or a pedophile. Trying to comprehend how your could take advantage of any innocent unsuspecting individual or child, goes way past my finite mind; Yet,I understand that the comprehension of their crimes is not my job. I am to be the beacon of light that may help the next person that they have contact with to not be the next victim. I believe by changing even a rapist or pedophiles way of thinking and helping them to become in control of their actions, they can be closer to healthier thinking and controlled actions.

Previously I felt that the only population that I could not work with would be the “resistant” population. I asked myself how I could help someone whom refuses to participate, refuses to talk, participate, nor show any signs of listening to you? I envisioned sitting across from someone; having a 20 minute staring contest with them, after asking them “How have things been since the last time we met?” After attending many courses and listening to several lectures I finally realize that every person, even those that are resistant, are like a shut locker door. Once you find the correct combination or key you can gain entry into their minds and hopefully their hearts.

I admittedly look through rose colored glasses when it comes to clients. I believe and stand by the thought that everyone can be helped. If with just sessions and prayer or with the assistance of medication, there is hope and a way to help everyone. I think that is why a Christian aspect and a Godly worldview is important within psychology.

Client Populations I Do Believe that I Would Be Able to Work with and Why:
I believe that I will be able to work in an effective manner with any and every population. I have come to this conclusion due to one factor: I have been equipped to help all of God's people. This one occurrence makes a world of difference in my eyes, especially when you look at the differences between wanting to assist clients and being equipped to deal with the people of God.

One of the biggest differences; which is my educational background, is a very important one. Not everyone that graduates with a psychology degree can say that they have been prepared for their field like a Liberty graduate can. I attend a university that instills in its students, the importance of having God as the center of therapy. The fact that students are taught that God has made us all and that He understands our strengths and weaknesses, and He can help you become greater than you have ever imagined, places me in a different league. Unlike other non- Liberty students, this knowledge gives me enough courage to attempt to help someone with confidence and assist them in taking on any issue that they are having or any problem they feel is to hard to handle. After all, I know someone that can fix anything!

American Counseling Association, Definition: Counseling, Accessed: April 27,2012 Corey,G.(2009).Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Belmont,CA: Brookes /Cole. Cengage Learning

Edelstein,M.R.&Steele,D.R.(1997).The Three Minute Therapy: Change Your Thinking,Change Your Life. Aurora, Colorado: Glenbridge Publishing Ltd.

Lynch,W.F.(1965). Images of hope: Imagination as the healer of the hopeless. Baltimore, MD: Helicon Press.

Meir,P.D.,Minrith,F.B.,Wichern,F.B., & Ratcliff,D.(1992).Introduction to Psychology and Counseling,(2nd ed.).Grand Rapids, MI:Baker Book house Co.

Meyers,D.G.(2006). Psychology, Eighth Edition in Modules. Dallas, TX:Worth Publishers Incorporated. New International Version.(1984).Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan Inc.

Rogers,Carl (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist's view of psychotherapy. London: Constable.

Rogers,C.(1975).Carl Rogers: The Man and His Ideas. New York, NY: E.P. Dutton & Company Inc.

Watke,E.(1992).Biblical Counseling. Tempe,AZ:Revival in The Home Ministries.