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Counsellor Approaches


Counsellor and Psychotherapist

There is sometimes much confusion in the public domain over the difference between counselling and psychotherapy, they are terms used for very much the same process. Both give emotional support and deal with clients who have issues and difficulties which can be emotional and stressful, helping them towards a positive change.

The key difference between the two courses of therapeutic communication treatment lies in the explanation of theoretical approaches and the  recommended time required to see benefits. Counselling usually builds relationships and refers to a brief treatment that centres around behaviour patterns as model of therapy. Psychotherapy focuses on working with clients for a longer-term and draws from insight into emotional problems and difficulties as model of therapy.

“A counsellor, experienced of working in the humanistic approaches to counselling, is less concerned with past experiences of the client and uses techniques from client-centred therapy. Therefore, a psychotherapist possibly helps a client to become conscious of experiences which they may be unaware of. – Author: Anna Martin ‘The Counsellors Guide'”

The Role of the Counsellor

Although the experienced counsellor will not try to fit their client into a match of how they (the counsellor) think they should be and how they should act. Their training (certificate of proficiency) tells them that no two people think the same and that their understanding will always be linked to their (the client) personal experiences. The counsellor will see things through the eyes of the client by using active listening skills which will prevent them from drawing on their own experiences.

The basis of the relationship a counsellor builds with their client is to help the client to open up and to talk freely without fear of being judged about any aspect of their life they are troubled with. Usually this is very difficult if talking to family or friends as they are emotionally involved with the client and are not trained to take a non-judgemental approach to listening. It is vital that the counsellor never becomes emotionally involved with a client regardless of the situation or life experience of the client, nor should the counsellor offer advice. The role of the counsellor is to give a client freedom to express themselves, their thoughts and feelings about, guilt, fear, anger or any other emotion all in a confidential atmosphere.

Sometimes to help a client bring about life changing behaviour, a registered counsellor will encourage the client to look at parts of their life where they may have found difficulties. Even at times asking the client to think back to their childhood to see if they can see why they react in certain ways to a given situation. This is often followed by helping the client to consider ways in which they may change those behaviours.

Effective counselling practice is not giving advice to a client but rather helping the client to make effective decisions that lead to a positive change in their attitude or behaviour. The ultimate aim of a counsellor is to help the client to make their own choices and decisions and having done so to act upon them in the future.

There are three distinct approaches a counsellor may take

  • Psychodynamic
  • Humanistic
  • Behavioural
  • Some counsellors with many years experience will only use one approach where others may use more than one or perhaps use a variety of techniques from more than one approach.

    There are some roles outside of counselling that call on some of the skills of a counsellor (e.g. Human Resources), these individuals could improve their abilities by taking a professional counselling certificate course.

    Counsellors using the psychodynamic approach

    Psychodynamics counselling came from the work of Sigmund Freud who investigated the unconscious mind in order to help his patients. Some of his theories have developed since his day, some have been disregarded and even discredited. His work was based on the patients who came to him suffering from a mental disorder that appeared to have no physical basis.

    Freud believed that true knowledge of people and their problems is possible through an understanding of their minds. Most people today are familiar with the mind having three areas;

    • The conscious mind
    • The subconscious mind
    • The unconscious mind.

    The conscious mind is about things that we are aware of in our daily living, our emotions or feelings such as anger, grief, sadness, love, happiness.

    Below the conscious level lies the subconscious mind. Here Freud believed lay memories that had been suppressed but by using appropriate questioning an event could be brought back into the conscious mind.

    Finally he believed there was the unconscious mind, this was an area of the mind that was hard to get access to. Quite often traumatic events are buried in the unconscious mind which have been blocked off by the client and requires a highly skilled counsellor to help them to recover.

    A term generated by Freud and in popular use today is psychoanalysis. It is this method that is used to help a client examine past events even back to childhood so that they can gain a better understanding that in turn can release negatives that they hold many years later.

    Further Freud expressed that the human personality consisted of three elements;

    • ID
    • EGO

    ID satisfies instinctual basic needs such as food, pleasure and comfort. He stated that ID was present from birth.

    The awareness of self is called ‘EGO’, which is the commonsense and logical makeup of a personality. Freud believed that EGO developed as the infant becomes aware that it is a separate being.

    Finally the SUPEREGO in Freud’s teaching develops later in life. Freud believed that the superego controls the basic instincts of the ID, which may be socially unacceptable. Some would say that superego is our conscience.

    The EGO balances the tension, according to Freud, between the ID wanting to be satisfied and the superego being overly strict.

    A counsellor who is qualified and experienced in using the psychodynamic approach helps a client to balance the three elements of their personality so that neither ID or the Superego is dominant.

    Counsellors using the Humanistic Approach

    A counsellor using the humanistic approach may not pay as much attention to childhood events and difficulties. To the humanistic counsellor every person is unique and has an innate capacity to grow emotionally and psychologically towards the goal of personal fulfillment.

    It is the belief of the qualified counsellor using this approach that it is not life events that cause a problem but how the client experience that life event. They believe that a clients self-esteem and feeling about themselves is brought about by how they experience life events. There is a need to balance and accept both the positive and negative acceptance of the person as they see themselves.

    An accredited counsellor using the humanistic approach will encourage a client to develop their own thoughts and feelings and to use this to work out their own solutions to their problems. Carl Rodgers, the American psychologist, is held as the person who developed client-centred counselling, having the client concentrate on how they feel at the present moment in time.

    A counsellor using client-centred approach believes that we all have an inherent resource that enables us to deal with whatever life throws at us. The approach zeros in on that it is the client not the counsellor who is the best expert on their own feelings and problems. Because of this belief it is the client who is best placed to find the most applicable solution to their problems.

    The counsellor plays a passive role when encouraging the client to explore their feeling and emotions, they make no recommendations or ask probing questions, their aim is simply to reflect and clarify what the client is saying.

    The strength of a client-centred counsellor lies in their empathy, warmth and genuineness that they believe will aid a client reach greater self-understanding.

    Empathy not sympathy, is responsiveness to a client, understanding the issues from a clients frame of reference. They must be able to be totally non-judgemental and accept whatever a client says or does without evaluating the situation. They must show the client how they are valued regardless of anything that happens during the session with the client.

    Genuineness, or congruence, shows the counsellor therapists as open and honest never acting in a superior manner toward the client.

    Counsellor using a Behavioural Approach

    This is a counsellor who focuses on the assumption that the environment determines behaviour of a client.
    This behaviour may have been established when a child with the therapies being evolved from psychological research on observable behaviour. The behaviour need not have a basis in realities but rather perceived realities such as fear of someone or something.

    If behaviour is learned then according to this approach it can be unlearned which is in direct contrast to the psychodynamic approach which states that behaviour is determined by an instinctual drive.

    It is the aim of the behavioural therapy counsellor to help a client change behaviours that cause problems. An unwanted behaviour is considered as an undesired response to a given situation. That situation could be a phobia of say spiders (arachnophobia), where the fear is unfounded but very real to the person. The client and the counsellor identity the unwanted behaviour and work to change or adapt the behaviour. Counsellors will use a variety of behaviour modification techniques to help with such things as eating disorders, anxiety as these have a high success rate.

    The method of changing or adapting the behaviour is usually started by the counsellor and client jointly drawing up an action plan of realistic and attainable goals. The idea being that the client recognises that by following these steps which they were party to setting up the behaviour will be changed in such a way that it is no longer a problem within a designated time period.

    It is not unusual for the client to be taught skills to help them improve the behaviour, that may be simply learning to relax in situations that presently result in the behaviour that is to be changed. A client may be encouraged to watch another person who already behaves in the desired way, because the behavioural approach is concerned with outcomes and not processes.

    Along with their other skills the behavioural counsellor will use active listening, reflection and clarification not as a service but to make an assessment of all the factors leading to the undesirable behaviour.

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