A counsellor is defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘one who give advice or counsel’ (Coulson et al 1983).
Counselling deals with the subjective aspect of a person’s life the internalised feelings that can effect its quality. A person seeks counselling for many different personal reasons such as relationship difficulties, help with addressing a traumatic unresolved life event, working through issues of inner conflict and phobias or bereavement. The humanistic approach aims to help the client to promote the necessary ability to develop their own personal skills and inner strengths, to help themselves.
Nelson-Jones (2000) holds this view and purposed that by capturing a sense of autonomy, better self understanding and well-being an individual can lead a more satisfying and resourceful life, with the ability to create happiness in their own and others’ lives. According to Nelson-Jones (2000) there is a growing willingness in society to seek help from a qualified counsellor for problems associated with psychological pain, rather than to hide it behind ‘stiff upper lips and lace curtains’. Furthermore, there is also a growing recognition that counselling skills can be useful in business and industry for the development of office management and supervisory roles.
The skills used by a qualified counsellor to counsel must be performed in a competent manner consistent with the aims and values observed by the ethics of the particular profession, such as a social worker, doctor, qualified counsellor or psychotherapist. Each profession has an organised governing body which ensures their competence, for example within medicine this responsibility lies with the General Medical Council (GMC), for social workers it is the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and in the case of specialised counselling, the British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) which was founded in 1977. In 1997 all appropriately trained and qualified counselling professionals in the United Kingdom became registered (UKRC) which gives them proof of credibility to work in practices, independently, hospitals or schools for example (Saunders 1996).
In this essay I will research the role of a good counsellor by considering and discussing the issues of counselling theory and practice, the general codes of ethics and moral principles that underpin the ethical responsibilities within a counselling relationship. It will also discuss the importance of inter-personal skills and how they are best used as an effective tool in counselling.
According to Saunders (1996) before a prospective counsellor can truly develop the necessary skills required to become competent there is a need whilst in training to develop ‘self-awareness’, which unravels any attitudes or prejudices that may influence and hinder the communication between counsellor and client relationship, which can then resolved. Also that during their training the practice of ‘bearing their souls’ to others in a counselling setting gives a perspective on how vulnerable a client feels when in that position themselves. This promotes a sense of empathy and sensitivity.
A good counsellor will also be someone who is an excellent listener, has a good sense of morals, a kind and caring nature and will continually build on being self-aware. The British Association of Counsellors and Psychotherapists (BACP) stipulates that whilst counsellors must have or develop these personal attributes to ensure a good relationship with the client and provide a good standard of practice, there must also be a commitment to abide by the ethical guidelines, attend additional necessary training courses and have regular supervision to ensure this good practice is maintained (www.bacp). These ethical guidelines are to ensure that the best interests of the client are kept paramount at all times including respect for their human rights and dignity. This means that the counsellor must avoid any sexual, financial, emotional or other form of client exploitation (Mearns 1997).
Furthermore, the counsellor should also be sensitive to any cultural, racial and religious diversities (that are important to an individuals identity), to ensure anti discriminatory practice and that any personal beliefs or prejudices do not threaten the relationship or offend the client.
An example of a situation that may cause difficulties for the counsellor could be if the client requests counselling to decide upon a termination of pregnancy and the counsellor is personally opposed to abortions. In this scenario because the counsellor has a right to his own ethical opinions it would perhaps be advisable for the client to see another counsellor who is not of the same opinion. In addition to these principles the counsellor must at all times respect the clients right to confidentiality unless there is a genuine belief of harm to either the client or others (www.bacp). Likewise, the code of confidentiality could be broken is a client confesses to being a terrorist when there would be a responsibility for the counsellor to hand the client over to the authorities (Bond 1997).
There are also general principles within the counselling profession that a good counsellor should internalise, one of which is that, although the client asking for help with their problems they are by no means inferior as a human being and must be treated with equal respect. Additionally it is essential that the environment in which the counselling is conducted feels safe, unthreatening and the counsellor conveys a warmth and congruence in their manner, otherwise the client may not feel relaxed enough to reveal their true feelings and comfortable enough to accept being challenged in the knowledge that they are not being judged. Carl Rogers (1902-1987) insisted that the right environment was paramount before a natural, positive self-healing process can take place (Mearns 1997).
It is also important that from the outset the counsellor discusses with the client and agrees what is required from the relationship and what the counsellor is able to provide, within the boundaries of his/her professional codes of conduct (Saunders 1997). These boundaries provide a safe guard for the protection of the client and the counsellor. Examples of such boundaries are that the counsellor will not always be available as a friend and parent might or take up a personal non-professional relationship with the client.
According to Saunders (1996) many approaches used in professional counselling today are based on past theories produced by eminent psychologists who, the author suggests were
influenced by their respective cultures. Some ideas within these theories overlap but on the
whole they are quite distinct from each other. One being the oldest and once traditional form of counselling, the psychodynamic approach devised by Sigman Freud in the early 20th century. He was renowned for getting his clients to lay on a couch during his psychoanalysis therapy, with the idea that lying in the recumbent position helped the client to ‘freely associate’ (allow the free flow of feelings, thoughts or images). This would uncover conflicts and anxieties that have their origins in the past and which impact on present day thinking. Freud also believed that the sharing of facial expressions and emotions would interfere with the free association and the uncovering of unconscious mind therefore there would be no eye contact.
After bringing these conflicts into the consciousness the client is encouraged to work though them in the safety of the consulting room and in doing so release the power they hold over their thinking and behaviour (Cardwell et al 2002). Freud used different techniques to facilitate this process, which are referred to collectively as ‘catharsis’. One catharsis technique is word association, whereby the client is read a list of words one at a time and has to reply with whatever comes instantly to mind. Particular attention would be made to the words that evoked unusual responses, such as hesitation, then an assumption on what the problem stems from would be made (Cardwell 2002).
Freud developed his psychdynamic therapy for those suffering from psychological problems such as neuroses, which cause anxiety, eating disorders and depression. However Comer (1995) cited that its use with depression may be limited as depressed people are generally apathetic and fatigued. Also cited Comer (1995) with the treatment of obsessive compulsive behaviour, free association may well have a detrimental effect, as the client would have a tendency to ruminate and over-interpret. (Cardwell et at 2002).
There has been much criticism levelled at the psychodynamic approach in recent years particularly in hospitals and institutions where during therapy people claim to have recovered childhood memories of sexual abuse, which have then turned out to be untrue. Cardwell et al (2000) terms this as ‘false memory syndrome’. This type of claim would pose an ethical dilemma for the therapist, for there is the potential for an innocent person to be accused falsely.
(Ethics as quoted by the Chambers dictionary (p554) are ‘are the sciences of morals, a branch of philosophy which is concerned with human character and conduct’). It also effects the credibility of genuine sexual abuse victims. Other critics have opposed psychoanalysis by suggesting that regressing a person back to a traumatic event, can be more emotionally devastating than their current problem (Saunders 1996).
According to Nelson-Jones (2000) there are different counselling techniques that a good counsellor can use to deal with a particular need and ultimate goal. One is referred to as ‘supportive listening’, an interviewing skill based on actively listening which provides the client with a sense of being understood and affirmed. It creates a pathway for issues and fears that trouble a client to be gradually exposed by using the ‘open and closed’ questioning technique which is good for collecting information. This technique allows the client to elaborate on their feelings more easily, rather than replying “yes” or “no”. An example of an open-ended question would be “how do you feel about your mother” rather than a closed version which could be “is your relationship good or bad”. This technique is also good for building a rapport.
The counsellor needs to be skilled at acknowledging perspectives and sensitively showing the client that they have been heard accurately which then leads to a feeling of self worth and raises self awareness (being aware of one’s thoughts and feelings). The client may feel comforted by disclosing personal information which can in turn ease suffering, heal psychological wounds and act as a sounding board for moving on. However, the overall aim is for the client to develop their own enduring capability to realise a resolution that in turn leads to a feeling of empowerment (Mearns 1999).
There are many counselling theories that a counsellor can refer to according to individual preference of the counsellor and the client but the humanistic approach to counselling (a view of human beings that sees every person as unique and possessing an innate potential for positive growth Cardwell et al (2002)), seems to be widely used. This approach to was developed by an eminent group of psychologists in the 1950’s. The most prolific was Carl Rogers who referred to his theory as the ‘person centred approach’. According to Cardwell et al (2002), Roger’s person centred approach concentrates on a process of therapy based on the
belief that people have a innate tendency towards growth and development, termed as an ‘actualising tendency’. Mearns (1997) describes this as a conflict between the ‘self’ wanting to return to the safety of the known but the ‘actualising tendency’ (motivation and growth) pushing the person on to further self-improvement.
Rogers was opposed the psychoanalytic approach as he believed that it created client dependency towards the counsellor which would in turn diminish the clients self esteem and self actualisation. Rogers’s also proposed that if a person is able to solve their own problems in their own way, it provides a sense of autonomy and a feeling of being worthy and valued. This is termed as positive self-regard (self-respect) which Rogers believed was vital (Mearns 1998).
Like psychodynamic therapy, person centred therapy does involve delving into the deeper emotions but it focuses on the present problem rather than what happened in the past. Although Rogers agreed that the past does play a part in our emotions, it is how a person deals with their present day emotions that determine positive self regard. Rogers proposed that there are three paramount conditions that should be exhibited and communicated by a good counsellor; warmth, congruence and empathy and only when these are experienced by the client will this lead to an ability to recognise and discover their resources (Cardwell et al 2002).
The ‘managing a problem situation’ (which is also used by social workers and termed as task centred), is when a problem specific to the client is helped by completing tasks. If the problem is part of a larger problem it can be broken down by setting small goals for the client to achieve, one after another until the problem is solved. An example of this technique could be a student suffering from isolation due to being too shy to make friends. In this situation the counsellor may, instead of focusing on the broader shyness problem, suggest initially that the student focuses on a particular situation, such as starting a conversation with a classmate. When this goal is achieved, another harder one can be set and so on (Saunders 1996).
Many counselling services run regular special training events where counsellors get together to learn about new or developing aspects of the profession and discuss new initiatives for counselling which can help with their personal development (Saunders 1997).
The theories which have been researched in this study have been formulated by white, middle class males whose ideas may have been influenced by their respective up-bringings and therefore may be biased. However these theories are only guidelines for the counsellor to refer to if they wish, for ultimately a trained and skilled practitioner will be able to ‘feel’ which approach is most appropriate for an individual.
There should be a realisation that counselling cannot always be the ‘cure all’ treatment for everybody and even the most skilled practitioner may be useless in helping a client if the problem is an organic mental health dysfunction. In such a case the counsellor has a duty to advise the client to seek medical help through their doctor. Also counselling may not be effective if there are wider social issues involved such as unemployment, poor housing or disruptive neighbours and these issues will need the help of the appropriate authorities.
It may be a sad fact of our society today that so many people feel the need to seek counselling, perhaps this is due to the heavy burdens placed on us by striving to better ourselves as Carl Rogers predicts in his self actualising theory. Or maybe because we have lost the family, friends and community support structure that once helped those who suffered poverty or loss in the past, particularly after to two world wars. Spiritual support is also on the decline with fewer people attending church now a days. Some people are even opposed to counselling and argue that it can exasperate a problem and make a person more depressed.
However from this research it seems that there can be a great deal of good gained by counselling which basically aims towards helping a person develop a capability for themselves towards living a more satisfying, resourceful and contented life. It is by no means a way of telling a person what to do but rather enabling them to realise the solutions for themselves.