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Values in Counseling and Integration of Individual Theories

            Counseling is a profession that tailors the approach to the needs of the client, presenting issues and the personality of the individual.  A counselor’s approach is also unique based on belief systems and personal values.  Counseling is an activity where personal values are an important part of the development of the individual and the community at large.  Counselors are in a unique position to be able to affect the society in which we live, guiding clients in decisions that often have a dramatic life changing impact.  This paper is an expression of my current thinking regarding a theoretical perspective of individual counseling.  My approach is founded on understanding of irrational beliefs and the implication of this on thinking, feelings and behavior.  Combining the rational therapy process with a focus on emotions creates a personalized approach to therapy.  This focus complements the three components of personality, thinking, feelings, and behavior by providing depth to the reason behind our thoughts.  Individual’s feelings are the first indicator that something is not right in the individual “system”. Individuals may also not be aware of faulty reasoning at core levels that gave rise to the current breakdown that brought them to the counselor.  Belief systems lead to thinking, feeling, and actions.  These responses may be a symptom or a trigger that leads to inappropriate behaviors often used as coping mechanisms. 

Values and Feelings in Counseling

            In this perspective on individual counseling is the behavior link between feelings and thinking.  Feelings of sadness, apprehension, and anxiety create the desire for a response that exhibits in behavior, either socially or privately.  Behavior is motivated to produce a change in the operating system.  If the responsive behavior based is on faulty emotions and irrational beliefs it can manifests with negative and possibly harmful results.  In some instances, this negative behavior may be a symptom that triggers awareness of the need for change.  With children, inattentiveness may be the only indicator that a child is struggling with an issue.  What may be viewed as the problem, whether sadness or poor grades, may actually be symptoms of a larger issue.  The counselor needs to be prepared to suggest or explore patterns as a part of the larger picture.  It is important the counselor remain alert to emotions and behaviors that present themselves from the individual as potential insight into thought patterns and interpretations of events.  The symptom is generally a “door” to the other issues in counseling and not the focus, the causes are.   There is great importance, therefore, on the role of  values in counseling.

            An understanding of the emotions and behaviors that no longer function for the individual provide the counselor a basis for assessing the underlying belief systems, schemas, and assumptions.  With this technique, emotional health can be restored through changing maladaptive thinking, removing negative biases and distortions in thoughts, and moving the individual towards greater balance in their personality and functioning.  These three approaches: understanding belief systems, irrational thoughts, and behavioral responses provide significance to the change process.  Through self-awareness and insight gathered through understanding thinking, about how the “puzzle fits” provides insight and goals for change in the feeling and behavior.

Counseling Relationship

            There are specific personal characteristics necessary in the counselor to establish a healthy and therapeutic helping relationship with the client.  Clients who enter counseling have issues that may be unknown to them; or they may have awareness of a problem, but cannot see it with a clear perspective.  Every issue can be boiled down to: 1) You know what you want, but not how to get it, or 2) You do not know what you want.  Providing empathetic understanding through the initial stages of the developing relationship and during difficult periods of change provides the client with a feeling of compassionate understanding during a process where there may be little support elsewhere.  Counselors must remain genuine and congruent consistently providing genuine and open feedback to the client without becoming sympathetic for the sole reason of giving comfort or feeling with the client.  Pain and discomfort are not necessarily negative and are a potential source of insight ready for discovery. 

            Providing clients with respect for their pain and suffering, and offering positive regard in areas of worth and potential, are important components for the counselor to affirm an individual’s optimistic sense of self and provide hope for the future.  Counselors help to clarify and reduce ambiguity by providing an unbiased and balanced view.  Addressing the needs of the client in the “here and now” and possessing sensitivity to immediate needs, provides acknowledgment to the client’s current situation.  For example, it is important for the counselor to take an active role in understanding the common cultural perspectives of a wife in Islamic culture and how counseling may be modified to produce change.  These characteristics form the individual uniqueness in the counselor and are a significant component to the counseling relationship. 

Theory Building Ingredients

            This paper covers eight aspects of individual counseling.  Structure and basic understandings of the theory that differentiate it from the foundation are compared with the applied therapeutic approaches.  Motivation and the involvement in goal setting is detailed along with development of personality over the lifespan.  Individual differences are reviewed to illustrate the unique attributes addressed in the counseling process.  This perspective outlines individual health and dysfunction.  Finally, techniques specific to the integrated theories in this perspective are provided to enhance understanding.   

Structure

            The foundation of this integrative perspective of individual counseling begins with observing and dialoging of problem feelings.  What has brought the client to counseling now?  The “now” is the focus at this stage in counseling.  An individual may not have insight into what the issues are that need to be addressed, but may have an awareness of what does not feel right in their environment and daily living.  Emotions are viewed as the result of thoughts and belief systems held by the individual.  Feelings of resentment and anger may be present with behavior that is both conditioned and learned in response to these feelings.  The counselor needs to acknowledge and affirm these feelings as genuine.  This is one aspect of positive regard and respect for the experiences that shaped the client.  As dialogue continues and rapport is built, the counselor works to uncover the thought processes that maintain the disruptive behavior and feelings.  Thoughts based on faulty learning result in an irrational belief structure for the individual’s development.  Ultimately, the counselor’s role in this perspective is to address these faults in programming that maintain the dysfunctional system. 

            Man is designed as a uniquely rational and goal oriented individual (Ellis, 1996).  Man also develops, learns and conditions from observing the environment and his interpretations (Bandura, 1997).  Individual emotions are therefore highly complex and personalized and formulating a biased component to thinking which results from the unique life experiences and belief system generated from events.  When an individual enters into counseling, something in their current system is not working.  Something is causing distress motivating the client to attend.  Through an understanding of an individual’s feelings, behaviors, and thoughts, the counselor is challenged to uncover in the client the specific beliefs that are determining the individual’s emotions and actions.  This structure combines the three theories of development and expression, which form the foundation of this integrative perspective to individual counseling.   

Motivation

            Common among the theories in this integrative approach is the view that individuals are motivated in their emotions, behaviors, and thoughts to achieve a result (Dryden, 1990).  When looking at an individual’s goals, factors to consider include asking the individual what they are trying to achieve and how they are expecting to achieve this.  This elicits goals and processes that are incongruent with the desired reward, pleasure, or avoidance of pain.  Discussing this develops the partnership with the client towards resolving the issues (Ellis, 1996).  Integrating the structured approach discussed in the previous section, the counselor begins with an analysis of the feelings the individual has about their goal.  What is motivating the feelings of the individual to attempt to produce these desired benefits?  As Ellis discovered (Ellis & Dryden, 1997) man “seeks” continuously throughout life to fulfill his short term needs when focus needs to be redirected to a long term outlook.  This long-term focus is the key to success.  This is where counselors “lose” most clients without focus on the benefits of long-term goals.  Trying to find enjoyment in self, social groups, sexual expression, work and leisure activities, and the counselor requires an understanding of distorted beliefs to work towards changing maladaptive thinking that may be motivating the individual. 

            As Beck (1991) outlined, dysfunction can be caused by a combination of biological, environmental, and social factors.  Individuals are motivated to adapt to these factors to reduce perceived distress.  Behavior motivated to alter negative or painful experiences (repression of assault) provides an opportunity to assist the individual in working through the feelings (e.g. anger, shame), the behavior (e.g. repression), and the thinking (e.g. I am a bad person).  This assists in redeveloping emotions, actions, and thoughts that are healthy and positively motivated.   In the example of an individual whose thinking is pragmatic (e.g. I am a bad person), regarding a physical attack, the counseling process may involve changing the maladaptive thinking to ‘this was not my fault’.  This possibly includes moving behavior from passive to active through a group setting for assault victims, and moving through feelings of anger to forgiveness and personal growth. 

            Counseling that assists individuals to clarify the perceived reward based on realistic expectations and cognitive understanding is the desired result of integration in the area of motivation.       

Compare / Contrast to Other Approaches

                This integrative perspective is comparative to other theories of personality and counseling in terms of goals of therapy and some basic concepts.  Gestalt therapy has as its goal individual awareness leading to growth, responsibility, and maturity.  A difference in these theories is the focus for the individual.  Gestalt therapy uses the concept of contact boundaries and relations to objects, similar to the object relations theory as the emphasis for resolving and establishing health. 

            Comparing cognitive, REBT, and behavior therapy, which are focused on present belief systems to psychoanalytic theory, based on unconscious drives, we see the significant difference in perspective of problem resolution.  Freud’s psychoanalytic theory works to change personality and character structure through the reconstruction and reinterpretation of childhood experiences.  In cognitive therapy, the counselor works with the client to understand belief systems and challenge these with knowledge and goals rooted in the present.  Whereas psychoanalytic therapy typically requires more than two years to produce desired results; cognitive (thoughts), rational emotive behavior therapy (beliefs and emotions), and behavioral therapy have the ability to produce change in as short as six to eight sessions. 

            Another comparison is the assessment techniques utilized in therapy.  Adlerian therapy looks at lifestyle, birth order, family dynamics, and early recollections in establishing personality and health.  The integrative perspective outlined in this paper looks at consequences to behavior, goals, and thoughts observed through interviews with the client.  Where the Adlerian theory looks at nurturing issues and lifestyle choices, the cognitive, rational emotive behavior therapy, and behavioral integration looks at current behavior, emotions, and thoughts as understood by the client.  It also looks to prioritize these to actively work with the client on redirecting these aspects to align with their goals.

            Various theories are available to integrate and add value to approaches applied by counselors.  Congruence in the theories integrated creates a counseling environment where both therapist and client have a process that works together towards the determined goals.  Integration of theories versus a commitment to only one theory of counseling allows a specific, unique application to the client’s needs and level of ability.

Conclusion

            Eclectic therapeutic integration provides a unique opportunity for the counselor to create a distinctive healing relationship specific to the individual in need.  With a cognitive foundation looking at thoughts, I have integrated the theories of rational emotive behavior therapy with the focus on beliefs and emotions and the behavioral model to provide a comprehensive perspective to individual counseling.  In each of these theories, there are common factors that must be included in an eclectic approach.  The relationship between client and therapist is important for progress and paramount is the client’s perception of the relationship.  Counseling provides an opportunity for clients to express themselves emotionally, experience catharsis, and discuss problems.  Clients learn new behaviors and have an opportunity to practice these behaviors.  Additionally, counselors explain clients problems and how to resolve issues.  Individuals in this perspective have an opportunity to change behaviors, emotions, and thoughts through the healing relationship and hope for resolution to their problems. 

Recommendations:

A primary source for this article is The Marriage Therapist Resource Directory which further defines values in counseling and integrative approaches to therapy.

 

 

 

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