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When entering into the profession of counseling, one must begin to think about the impact they wish to make within the field early on; establishing one’s theoretical orientation, comprised from information learned through life experiences and course material, is not only important, but crucial when identifying their approach to counseling. Over the span of the semester, I have done just that, and am presenting my current theoretical orientation – which is subject to change as I learn more content and experience more as a counselor-in-training.
- Theoretical Model of Human Nature
Values and Philosophy of Life
Included in the values shared among the human species are dependability, reliability, flexibility, open-mindedness, honesty, dedication, respect, motivation and passion, and perseverance. These traits are vital; most consider these qualities ideal in spouses, friends, and within other relationships. Philosophically, life is not easy. True growth towards ideal human values within the individual happens outside of one’s “comfort zone”; in order to truly grow as an individual, one must be willing to make changes in their life, even if it is not the most comfortable option. By being complacent in their current state, one cannot improve.
Theory of Human Nature
Individuals have an intrinsic motive to be liked, in every capacity, and that innate need fuels their interactions with others and their world. Among the common experiences of humans are the areas of legislation, science, inter-personal relations, mating, eating, and playing. In each of these areas, there is an urge to be liked; an urge for people to like our opinions, like our findings, like our personality, and like our overall personhood in order to achieve some desired result. This result may not always be interpersonal, and could have other motivations. People want themselves or products of themselves (i.e. their performance at work or school) to be liked, and will either make changes swiftly or experience extreme discontentment.
Beliefs About the Development of Normal and Pathological Personality
Those developing normal personality are those who are affirmed by early relationships with others, who understand that their reality is not the reality of others. This development shows comfortability and decrease of self-consciousness in the individual, and can be measured through an individual’s willingness to change, feelings of competence while conducting change, and progress towards positive changes. Pathological personality, on the other hand, develops as a result of cognitive distortions. These cognitive distortions are described as “specific, habitual errors in thinking…aris[ing] from maladaptive assumptions which are triggered by environmental stimuli.” (Wishaar, M. & Beck A., 1987, p. 61) Pathological personality develops if the individual does not have positive relationships that foster positive growth, as well as an increase of self-consciousness. When making changes, the individual with pathological behavior experiences discontentment.
Ultimately, the ways in which one views the world, as well as their view of self, determines the presence of normal versus pathological behavior. (Wishaar, M. & Beck, A., 1987, p. 62) A way of determining this presence is by evaluating the client’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are interconnected, in that if an individual is experiencing negative thoughts, they are likely to feel negative emotions, thus creating a negative behavior. (Beck, J., 2011, p. 30) The opposite is seen of normal personality. This takes the form of a cycle, and will continue until the individual intervenes.
Description of the Characteristics of Healthy Versus Pathological Behavior
As alluded to above, healthy behavior consists of making needed changes to personality, acceptance of shortcomings, and recognition of cognitive distortions. Individuals with healthy behaviors are comfortable making changes in their lives and while experiencing some strain in making changes, feel competent. Their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as mentioned in the section prior, are all positive and they repeat this process.
Pathological behavior is seen in people who may be searching for someone to like them in the way others have liked them in their past, or want others to like them because they were not liked in the past. Their thoughts lack relevant information connecting to an experience or feeling, leading to cognitive distortions. (Beck, A., 1976, p. 25) Also present are repetitive irrational beliefs, leading one to partake in different defense mechanisms to protect themselves from perceived danger. They often experience discontent when attempting to make changes to their psychological functioning. This negative behavior can be seen as a result of negative thoughts and negative feelings, and is cyclic.
Impact of Culture, Gender, and Class on the Development of Beliefs
Interpersonal relationships change somewhat drastically from culture to culture, thus impacting one’s perception of negative versus positive thoughts and emotions. Some cultures may differ from American culture in regards to what is seen as positive. In addition to cultural impacts, the different societal gender-based expectations may influence the development of one’s beliefs. The pressure to change to fit the roles society provides may impact an individual’s development of irrational belief systems or cognitive distortions. Class may impact one’s ability to change, as some changes may require monetary support that some may not have available. For instance, the cost of therapy for additional assistance with targeting distortions and irrational beliefs may not be feasible. This provides an unnecessary barrier to care, as well as the addition of a complex third variable of helplessness, thus continuing the cycle of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
- Counseling Process and Treatment Applications
Beliefs about Roles and Responsibilities of the Counselor and the Client
The counselor should show unconditional positive regard and model a positive interpersonal relationship for the client. The counselor must make the counseling environment one in which the client will be able to address their underlying cognitive distortions or thoughts regarding their personhood and not feel as though they are being judged or attacked. A plan must be established and expectations of the counselor must be set early on to allow the client to make calculated progress and forward motion in therapy. The counselor, in summation, is responsible for understanding the client’s thought processes, assisting the client to identify their distortions, and collaboratively determining realistic ways to approach the client’s issues. (Beck, A., 1976, p. 3) The client has the most critical job within the relationship, as the client is responsible for recognizing cognitive distortions, deciphering them to determine ways to overcome illogical thinking alongside their counselor. The client holds answers to their problems, and the client would not be benefitted if the counselor provides the answers. As Aaron Beck has stated regarding therapy, “Man has the key to understanding and solving his psychological disturbance within the scope of his own awareness.” (Beck, A., 1976, p. 3) The process of assisting the client in recognizing their responsibility may be grueling, but the bulk of the work in therapy should come from the client, both inside and outside of sessions.
Beliefs about the Counseling Relationship
The counselor should acknowledge the daunting process of change, and offer positive guidance when necessary. Taking the role of expert and educator, the counselor shows their knowledge of the field, as well as a desire to share that knowledge with their client. The counselor is level-headed, even when the client is hysteric or apathetic, and is accepting of their view points; however, the counselor is aware of the presence of cognitive distortions. The counselor will not, knowingly or unknowingly, encourage the client to cultivate those distortions and apply them to their daily life.
Perspectives About How and Why People Change Within the Counseling Process
People are more likely to change when they are given a safe environment in which to do so, a positive individual encouraging change within their life, and a mindset in which they are aware of their cognitive distortions and work towards eliminating them. People change because they are given the tools they need to turn a desire to change into action to change, and the counselor provides those tools – yet the counselor does not build the plan or execute it themselves. It is the client’s responsibility to do so.
Techniques and Strategies That Are Most Effective
Disputation and positive regard for the client are very effective, but only work if the therapeutic relationship is strong. The client may see disputation as aggressive or positive regard as manufactured or forced if the client does not have a positive relationship with their counselor. Counselors may take multiple routes to counter their client’s distortive thoughts, but the counselor should be objective, rational, and humorous when appropriate. (McMullin, 1986, p. 31-44) Due to the nature of client’s cognitive distortions, confronting their irrational thought processes and working through them rationally is one of the most effective methods of intervention available for this specific theory.
The Impact of Multicultural Issues on the Counseling Process
Multicultural issues bolster the overall applicability and generalizability of the theory to others, and allows counselors to be abreast on problems that people face, especially given cultures that the counselor may not be a part of or fully understand. Individualized therapy can assist with preventing blocks in progress due to multicultural issues, however in group therapies, the client’s backgrounds would need to be explicitly and immediately discussed among the group so that all present understand the varying perspectives. Regardless of the therapeutic environment, the counselor should allow the client to define any issues, especially cultural issues that the counselor may not face.
- Personal and Professional Growth and Development
Current Theoretical Approaches at This Point in Training
Among the theories learned throughout the Counseling Theories class, I found myself liking a few theories, including: Adlerian, Relational-Cultural, and Cognitive Behavioral. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the closest fit to my theoretical orientation, so I consider this branch of therapy as my primary theoretical orientation.
The Impact of This Course on Awareness of the Role as a Counselor
Prior to this class, I have had experience both in working at a summer camp and working as a Therapeutic Day Treatment Counselor, so I had an understanding of some of the duties and responsibilities of counselors, yet this class affirmed that counseling is not easy. There is not a set procedure for counselors; there is never a way to predict how a session will go. This class has shown that effective counselors, while having a theoretical orientation, use other theories or techniques when their client is in need of them.
Areas of Transference and Countertransference
I am aware that clients may transfer feelings towards me during my time as a professional counselor, for numerous reasons such as young age, gender, race, and my dialect. However, I will be sure to handle a client’s actions towards me with grace, and recognize that working through transference is key in moving forward in therapy. Recognizing the responses clients are having to an interpersonal relationship can be key in finding ways to improve their interactions with others, which can be seen or alluded to within transference. This allows the counselor to discuss interpersonal relationships and inquire alongside the client as to what triggers may exist even outside of the context of therapy. (Weiner, I., 1999, p. 78) On the topic of countertransference, I will need to be careful not to transfer my personal struggle with mental illness onto clients who are handling similar issues. I will monitor my bias, and ensure that the client is experiencing and define their feelings without feeling pressured to mimic mine.
Growth Areas as a Counselor
I am often an empathetic person, which is why I am pursuing this profession. However, I will need to find a way to distance myself from my clients and their cases. I worked through this issue as a Therapeutic Day Treatment Counselor, and will likely experience similar issues early on in my profession.
This approach to therapy is new, and somewhat uncomfortable in that I have not had the background or knowledge to determine whether or not this is a long-term view I will hold, however, that is okay. Counselors must be swift and accept changes, adapting to issues as they come, and always, before anything else, considering the effect of the impact they make on others and on their own counseling approaches.
- Beck, A. (1976). Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders. New York, NY: Penguin Group.
- Beck, J. (2011) Cognitive Behavior Therapy: Basics and Beyond (2nd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
- McMullin, R.E. (1986). Handbook of Cognitive Therapy Techniques. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.
- Weiner, I. (1999). Cognitive Case Conceptualization: A Guidebook for Practitioners. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
- Weishaar, M., & Beck, A. (1987). Cognitive Therapy. In Dryden, W., & Golden, W.L. (Ed.), Cognitive-Behavioural Approaches to Psychotherapy (pp. 61-91). Great Britain: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.
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