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This essay will discuss what it means to be a modern day counsellor. Specific reference will be made to the origin of counselling, the counselling setting, characteristics of an effective counsellor, the importance of unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence, and the importance of counsellor self-care.
ORIGINS OF COUNSELLING
Counselling has evolved from what it was initially thought of into what it is understood as today primarily because of the contributions of the West. Counselling can be seen to stretch back 200 years ago when the Iroquois Indians, for example, believed that one of the causes of ill-health was the existence of unfulfilled wishes, some of which were only revealed in dreams (Wallace. 1958). This suggests that counselling was more of a cultural practice, thus inferring that it could be interpreted and practiced differently in different cultures. This perspective of counselling can be noted to produce some fundamental flaws. Because of the vast interpretations of counselling and lack of a basic, universal fundamental understanding, the consciousness of this phenomenon was only limited to those who were deemed worthy of its knowledge. It is in understanding these implications that we can better understand and acknowledge the contributions of the West.
The West, gradually, turned this cultural phenomenon into a science, thus inferring a capitalist society in which abstract ideas such as lunacy, anxiety, and self-image came to life. This shift has perpetuated a generation of modern day free thinkers, and has led to a more comprehensive idea of what counselling is and means to the modern man.
"Counselling denotes a professional relationship between a trained counsellor and a client. This relationship is usually person-to-person, although it may sometimes involve more than two people. It is designed to help clients to understand and clarify their views of their lifespace, and to learn to reach their self-determined goals through meaningful, well-informed choices and through resolution of problems of an emotional or interpersonal nature" (Burks & Stefflre. 1979:14). Counselling is a process and not a "quick fix." It requires both the counsellor and client to participate and be honest with themselves as to find realistic solutions. As much as it requires both the client and the counsellor to participate, it is important to note that the focus needs to be on the client. Thus it is crucial that a good, open and consistent relationship be established.
The modern man or woman opts for counselling to deal with trauma, to define and, re-define themselves, to make peace with the past, to find solutions in relationships, etc. Thus, it is the counsellor's responsibility to make sure that the client feels welcomed and accepted. People's intuition is so acute that people can decide unconsciously in a matter of seconds whether they like someone or not. It is important that the counsellor presents the idea that he/she is approachable.
As much as the counsellor's dress code needs to coincide with his/her profession, it is important that the counsellor dresses in a way that not only supports the profession, but also personal interests; the counsellor must feel comfortable. When the counsellor is dressed well and is relaxed, the client automatically picks up those feelings and is more likely to become more relaxed.
The counsellor must orientate himself/herself both physically and psychologically towards the client. Physically, the counsellor must present good body posture, a relaxed alertness, appropriate distance between the counsellor and the client, moderate eye contact, etc. These are but a few ways of physically appealing to the senses of the client in terms of delivering the message of "Feel free to be yourself." It is difficult, however, to separate the physical messages from the psychological messages, because even when one is not communicating verbally, non-verbal messages are being carried through.
Counsellors must become even more psychologically aware of non-verbal messages/cues, especially during sessions. Nonverbal messages function in one of five ways: they reinforce, complement, contradict, replace or regulate a verbal message (Knapp & Verderber. 1990).
A nonverbal message reinforces the verbal message when it adds to its meaning (Steinberg. 2010). A smile reinforces a friendly greeting more than a friendly greeting would single-handedly.
Nonverbal messages complement the verbal message when they convey the same meaning (Steinberg. 2010). When a counsellor greets a client in a friendly manner, adds a smile, and perhaps a warm handshake, the idea of complementary feelings is being conveyed.
Nonverbal messages can very easily contradict the verbal message; People often say one thing, but do another (Steinberg. 2010). For example, a counsellor may say that "I hear what you are saying," but present an almost oblivious look or an incongruent gesture like move aside a magazine.
Nonverbal messages may replace verbal messages; Gestures, facial expressions and other nonverbal cues generate meaning without the use of words (Steinberg. 2010). An empathetic facial expression may effectively communicate empathy better than words ever would.
Nonverbal messages regulate the flow of verbal interaction; the counsellor's eye contact, tone of voice, nodding of the head, slight hand movements and other nonverbal cues suggest to the client when to talk, to repeat a statement, to hurry up or to finish conversation (Steinberg. 2010).
THE ROLE OF THE COUNSELLOR
Many people become counsellors to help those who feel that they cannot help themselves. This could be due to the idea that counsellors are people that have experienced some degree of trauma themselves and find that helping others satisfies or brings them pleasure in some way. Regardless of one's reasons for choosing this profession, as a counsellor, it is important to know and understand the role of the counsellor.
The role of the counsellor includes the following: adhering to the code of ethics (confidentiality, etc), helping clients manage problems effectively, develop unused or underused opportunities to cope, empower clients to help themselves (in the future), help to encourage constructive change and making a substantive difference, and to help clients focus on life beyond the trauma and not on the constraints of the trauma (Cormier & Hackney. 2005). This is the basic outline for any counsellor. However, to be an effective counsellor, one needs to subscribe to a broader and more diverse perspective.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EFFECTIVE COUNSELLOR
To be an effective counsellor, one needs to subscribe to the following notions:
be sensitive, empathetic, and sensitive, have the ability to convey the belief that the belief that the client is capable, respectable, worthy, and dependable, be sensitive to cultural differences, have tolerance for ambiguity, have self-awareness one's own biases and prejudice, be open-minded in terms of being a student of life, demonstrate a positive belief in himself or herself as a counsellor, be ethical, have the ability to model appropriate behaviours, respect the client's worldview, be honest and genuine, show unconditional positive regard, show empathy, and congruence (Allyn & Bacon. 2004).
Also, an effective counsellor follows counselling ethics such as confidentiality, debriefing clients about the rules of counselling, being liable for the client up to a certain extent, being on time etc.
These are but a few of the quintessential characteristics of an effective counsellor. Carl Rogers, father of the Rogerian method of therapy, cites 3 main characteristics that not only capture the true essence of being a counsellor, but are most crucial when dealing with a client: Unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence.
UNCONDITIONAL POSITIVE REGARD
Unconditional positive regard refers to when the counsellor experiences whatever the clients brings to the table in a positive, nonjudgmental, accepting attitude, which in turn creates a climate for change (Sanford. 1984). The question that most training counsellors have in relation to unconditional positive regard is that, does it mean that the client is always right and should counsellors then put aside the general understanding of what is right and wrong? Does it mean that if a 56 year old male client expresses that he wishes to have sex with 2 year olds, that idea should be reinforced with complementary remarks?
On the contrary, the idea behind unconditional positive regard is not to reinforce such ideas, but to present the idea that the client is not bad for feeling like this, however, needs to realise that these thoughts are not morally right and if acted upon could lead to time in prison. The idea is to understand human beings as entities built and geared towards being and doing good and that acting otherwise simply means that the "good fundamental energy" is not being channelled correctly. Simply put, it's a way to understand that all humans make mistakes and whether they are aware of it or not, deep down, their intentions came from a good place, but were just poorly executed.
Essentially, every human being has the potential to develop a positive outlook on life, but not everyone is willing to go through this process. It requires both the client and the therapist to participate in creating an environment that promotes such change. It takes time to properly develop this skill. Counsellors not only have to preach it, but even more importantly practice it in their own lives as for it to come more naturally during sessions. Unconditional positive regard goes hand-in-hand with being empathetic.
Empathy refers to having the ability to accurately feel what the client is feeling and reflecting it. Empathy builds the client-counsellor relationship, stimulates self exploration, checks understanding, provides support, assists communication, and focuses the attention on the client (Professional Development. 2010). It lets the client know that the counsellor feels and understands the client's world view.
When dealing with difficult clients, a counsellor should give himself/herself time to think, time to listen and understand the client's perspective, use short responses, be natural, and always respond (Professional Development. 2010). Sometimes it is difficult for a counsellor to show empathy especially when under normal circumstances they would not. This is why counsellors need to practice this skill and perfect it. This does not imply in any way that empathy is something that is counsellors have to learn, but rather implies that it is something that needs to be worked on as to produce better results for the client.
When using empathy, counsellors should refrain from asking inappropriate questions, using clichés, making interpretations or judgements, giving advice, pretending to understand, parroting, and using sympathy or agreement (Professional Development. 2010). This suggests that empathy should come across as a natural, spontaneous response that should not in any way patronise clients as clients are very perceptive. Thus, a counsellor's responses should always be congruent with the client's feelings, words, and context.
Congruence simply stated means that the counsellor is present and aware with the client, being genuine and real (Martin. 2010). History dictates that a counsellor or therapist should wear a white coat thus to infer the role of the "fixer" and the patient as the "broken"; Carl Rogers was the one who changed the "Patient" into the "Client" (Martin. 2010). It can be particularly challenging for the counsellor to adapt to this, because the very nature of a counsellor suggests someone of a higher understanding of life who is geared towards helping those who feel they cannot help themselves. How, then, does a counsellor achieve congruence?
Congruence is about being in accordance, meaning that whatever the counsellor says or implies must be in direct relation to his/her facial expression, hand gesture, tone of voice, etc. This can be practiced of course, but a more natural approach will be more readily accepted by the client. The following scenario will reveal what congruence is and the effect it has on the client:
Jeff, a 26 year old, self-proclaimed ladies' man, expresses to his counsellor how hurt he was when Michele rejected him. The counsellor finds this amusing and chuckles. Jeff, in turn, feels offended and demands an explanation for this insolence. The counsellor has two choices: the counsellor can either lie and say that he/she was just coughing, in which case, the already anxious client will feel the need to withdraw from the session, or the counsellor can be honest and apologise, and maybe explain or elaborate a little more as to why he/she found that amusing.
The second approach is more likely to be more effective in that it allows the client to see the counsellor not as a stuck up, incongruent fool who only knows how to act, but more so as someone who has had a similar experience and is not afraid to share his/her shortcomings. This will in turn create a more genuine and realistic relationship between the client and the counsellor.
As seen and suggested by Carl Rogers, unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence are quintessential in Person (client)-focussed therapy.
THE IMPORATANCE OF SELF CARE
Self care is a necessary way of living in counselling that incorporates behaviours that help one to be refreshed and promote personal growth (UT Dallas. 2011). Many people often think that counsellors and therapists are snobby people that have no problems in life. What they fail to see is the work they put in behind the scenes. Because of the amount of trauma counsellor have to face on a daily basis, it is of utter importance that they realise their limits. This means taking care of oneself physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
Physically, regular exercise and a healthy diet are important. Pampering one to a manicure, shopping spree, etc, is encouraged. It never hurts to pick up new hobbies like mountain biking or even taking up dancing lessons.
Mentally, video games are a great way of not only keeping your mind stimulated, but also focussing on something else other than work. Also, counsellors are encouraged to try new things, step out of their comfort zone and experience life for what it is - a journey.
Emotionally, reading books of personal interest and watching one's favourite movies are an excellent way of taking care of one's emotional side. A counsellor can engage in charity work that they find self-fulfilling or perhaps listen to music.
Spiritually, praying and being more spiritually in tune with ones inner self and a higher power has a profound impact. Some people find peace and enlightenment in religion, while others may find it in yoga or alternative methods of tapping into one's soul. Whatever the chosen route, spiritual maintenance should be a priority as any other form of humanity.
It is importance for counsellors to practice self care, because of the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual demand of the job.
This essay has discussed what it means to be a modern day counsellor. Specific reference was made to the origin of counselling, the counselling setting, characteristics of an effective counsellor, the importance of unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence, and the importance of counsellor self-care.