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Unit 2: Theories of Counseling
How do counselors counsel? What do they say, think, and do? and how do their actions influence the person being counseled? The ‘hows’ of counseling are many. This unit will only give you the basis or starter pack.

Each approach is one (or more) helper's attempt to construct a set of procedures and methods based on a personality theory, or a set of hypotheses about human functioning, which is effective and different from earlier approaches. Some major counseling/psychotherapy approaches have been selected for presentation in order to illustrate and explain the ‘hows’ of counseling.

Learning Outcomes
By the end of the unit, you should be able to:

  1. Explain a list of theoretical terms and concepts routinely used in talking about counseling
  2. Explain the different theories of counseling
  3. Describe how to translate theory into counseling practices
  4. Develop  a personal theory of counseling
A] Client-Centered or Person-Centered Theory
The name of Carl Rogers is associated with client-centered counseling, for he was its founder and leader, having devoted his entire professional life to the practice, teaching, research, and refinement of the approach. It is still one of the most important approaches to counseling. The core of the theory is that humans have an inherent self-actualizing tendency, a movement towards developing capacities in ways which serve to maintain and enhance the individual. By following this innate drive, people can meet their needs, develop a view of themselves, and interact in society in a beneficial way. This may not occur without distress or ‘growing pains’, but theoretically, if humans can be helped to follow their nature, they will move towards a state of relative happiness, contentment, and general psychological adjustment (Patterson, 1980).

Problems in the personality development process arise when significant people in our lives, (for example, parents, teachers, peers), place a condition of worth upon us, rather than accept us unconditionally. They value us only if we meet certain conditions and expectations. Because humans need the regard of others in order to have self-respect, we strive to meet the expectations of others, though this often requires us to suppress, or ignore, our self-actualizing tendency and the opportunity to accept and value ourselves unconditionally. A false self-image is created, based on meeting the conditions of worth, and we then distort and deny reality, in the quest to confirm our maladjustment.

The key to healthy personality development and self-generated rehabilitation of psychological problems lies in the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions of personality change’ (Rogers, 1957). When clients interact with counselors who behave in this manner, they begin to share their experience; the self-actualization tendency is activated; they question and cast off conditions of worth, and move towards unconditional acceptance and respect.

Case Example
A Phiri is 27 years old and is employed as a carpenter. His wife, Anachisale, is a full-time house wife with three children. When A Phiri and Anachisale were first married, they both had jobs, but for the last three years of their marriage A Phiri has provided the sole income. Rising inflation, increasing family expenses, and a wage that cannot be raised, have placed A Phiri and Anachisale in financial difficulties. Worse is the strain on their marriage that has arisen from their practical problems. These concerns are related by A Phiri in part of an initial interview with a professional counselor.

Excerpt from First Session

A Phiri:      The bills are just killing us. It seems, as the children get older, they need more and more. I don't know how other families do it!
Counselor: Yes, it is hard to see how others make ends meet when your pay cheque doesn't go far enough.
A Phiri:     I work harder than most people, and still there's not enough money to meet expenses. It just is not fair. And now Anachisale is pushing me to enter a partnership with my father. He is a small contractor here in the city, but I don't want to leave carpentry. It's my work!
Counselor: You'd like to be a carpenter, but it just doesn't seem to pay enough, and now you feel as though you are being pushed into something you don't want.
A Phiri:     Yes… but if I don't get a better paid job … (shakes head back and forth). I just don't know what to do.
Counselor: … It seems you can't win either way…
A Phiri:     Yes (sigh).
Counselor: How does Anachisale react to the situation? You did say she was pushing you towards the partnership…
A Phiri:     Oh, she thinks the partnership would be a solution to all our problems, and my father wants it too.
Counselor: So they both want you to do it … but … you'd have to give up something you love … a kind
A Phiri:    I am one of the best carpenters around here. Lots of people say so!
Counselor: And you don't want to lose that skill, something which you do so well.
A Phiri: Yes, and damn it, I shouldn't have to give it up. They don't understand!
Counselor: Anachisale and your father don't understand how much carpentry means to you. Yet, you feel that they are pressuring you to give it up? Is that how it is?
A Phiri: Yes. My work, what I want to do, doesn't seem to matter.
Counselor: How have they told you or shown you that they don't care about your interest in carpentry?
A Phiri: Well, I've been at the job for over five years. They ought to know by now how much I love it.
Counselor: They ought to know, but do they? Have you talked this over with Anachisale?
A Phiri:   She wouldn't understand, anyway!
Counselor: You don't think she would understand your feelings.
A Phiri: I don't know, maybe … but I hate to cry on her shoulder!
Counselor: That's what it would seem like to you?
A Phiri: And besides, I don't want to burden her.
Counselor: If she knew how you feel, she'd be burdened?
A Phiri: Yes, she'd worry.
Counselor: I think you're right. If she cares for you, she might be concerned about your unhappiness.

A Phiri's financial problems were not solved in the first counseling session. Indeed, the counselor chose to respond more to A Phiri's feelings and attitudes than address his practical problems. Not surprisingly, after the first session, A Phiri expressed his feelings to Anachisale and a healthier line of communication was established. A Phiri related this experience to the counselor in the second session, and another aspect of A Phiri's financial problems was revealed.

Application to the Case Example
Client-centered counseling attempts to enact Rogers' facilitative conditions. The counselor genuinely accepts the person counseled, whatever his thoughts, feelings and behaviour. An unconditional respect is transmitted through the counselor's words and non-verbal behaviour, and deep empathetic understanding is communicated through reflective responses.

In terms of skill or technique, the client-centered counselor is a master at listening and reflecting on the intra-personal and experiential domain. When clients receive such counseling, they explore themselves and describe experiences, feelings and attitudes which they denied, and of which they became aware. A re-organization of the self takes place and a more authentic person emerges, free of previous defenses, disturbed emotions and disordered behaviour.

In the case example, an excerpt from the first counseling session demonstrated client centered techniques. Most of the counselor's responses were reflective, attempting to mirror feelings and meanings, and convey acceptance, respect and honesty. From this feedback, the client would gain self-awareness and self-acceptance, perhaps leading him to clarify the pressures and conflicts he felt, to realize that he had not talked over his concerns with Anachisale, and that she could not be expected to understand his innermost feelings unless he expressed them. It is also likely that the first session helped A Phiri accept his feelings, rather than feel guilt for not wanting to enter a partnership with his father.


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Activity 3: Group Discussion on Video
After viewing the video discuss…
  1. In what ways did the counselor try to use the Client Centered approach in this scenario?
  2. Identify specific ways he tried to apply the theory.
  3. Do you think he was effective?
  4. Discuss both his strong and weak points.