Running head: Counseling Perspective
My Counseling Perspective
The Faculty of the Department of Rehabilitation Studies
East Carolina University
In Partial fulfillment
of the Requirements for the Degree of the Substance Abuse and Clinical Counseling program
Eric K. Mason
My Counseling Perspective
In the following paper, I discuss my beliefs regarding people and counseling. In doing so, I will describe my views on human nature, normal development, and problem development. Furthermore, I will explain how I believe mental health professionals can help others lead a more satisfying life.
When one attempts to try to understand human nature, so many variables come into to play that it becomes difficult to gain a clear picture. Furthermore, there are always exceptions when it comes to human nature. When one has finally settled on a view of human nature, somebody will inevitably come along and prove it wrong.
For example, in many cases when person A experiences X as a child than person A will grow up to show behavior Y. Because this is so often the case, one may begin to feel that this particular aspect of human nature is pretty sound. Nevertheless, person B may experience X as a small child as well, but grow up to show behavior Z. What was it about these two different people that made them react differently to the same type of experience? Could it be genetics, environment, or just random chance? Herein lies the difficulty of trying to develop a comprehensive view of human nature. Although I realize that my theory of human nature is by no means irrefutable, I shall try to convey my beliefs on human nature as best as I can.
In my opinion, early life experience has a profound effect on people. For example, abused children often have a very difficult time coping later in life. Wonderlich and colleagues noted in a study that abused children are more likely to develop mood and anxiety disorders. (2007) Although abuse is a very traumatic experience, more subtle, early-life experiences have also proven to have a more long-lasing effect on people. For example, children who have critical parents are more likely to develop self-critical perfectionist tendencies. According to Dunkley self-critical perfectionist tendencies have been associated with higher rates of depression. (2007)
In regards to early-life experiences, I have somewhat of a behavioral perspective. In many ways, I subscribe to the deterministic view that we are shaped by our environment. (Corey, 2005) For example, an individual born into a broken, impoverished family will likely grow up to see the world quite differently than one born into a stable, wealthy family. Likewise, the latter individual will probably be afforded more opportunities in life, such as a better education, health care, and less stressful environment. One could argue that the fates of both of these individuals were sealed at birth.
As I stated above, there are always exceptions. There are many cases in which an impoverished individual grew up to be quite happy and successful. Likewise, many people are afforded every opportunity in life, but fail to take advantage of it. Nevertheless, from my perspective these are, in fact, exceptions and not the general tendency.
In regards to determinism, I do not discount Freud’s views either. Although Freud’s views have been overly simple, I feel his belief that people are motivated by sex in largely accurate. I do believe that the instinctual desire to reproduce is a strong force in human behavior. As in all animal species, the drive to reproduce evolved into us to ensure the survival of the species. One could argue that it is, therefore, the single most important human behavior.
It is my contention that all most everything people do ultimately leads back to their desire to reproduce. For example, many people say that they go to college so that they can get a good job (i.e., make a lot of money). However, if one were to delve a little deeper one may find that this person’s real motivation for getting a good job is to be able to attract a good mate and to support the ensuing family.
The example above may be more applicable to men in American culture, but women’s behavior is motivated by their desire to reproduce, as well. For example, women in the U.S. are somewhat preoccupied by their appearance. This preoccupation drives them to look appealing to a potential mate. Although they may not be constantly conscious of it, women’s desire to snag a mate inevitably leads back to the instinct to reproduce.
However, I believe that there are many people who have enough insight and motivation to take control of their lives in order to overcome any obstacle or delay an instinctual desire. After all, we are not programmed machines or wide apes. I, therefore, find Alderian theory to be relevant regarding my view on human nature. For example, I agree with Adler that people are more motivated by conscious factors than their unconsciousness (Note: I see sex as conscious factor). Likewise, I agree with Adler that people are motivated to achieve success and overcome inferiority. Although it seems likely to me that our fates may be predetermined if we simply react passively to the environment around us, I see Adler’s theory as a way to help people rise above their own obstacles in order to move beyond a fatalistic view on life.
Normal Development and Problem Development
What constitutes normal development may differ depending on how one defines the term normal. For my purposes, I equate normal development with healthy development. Furthermore, I will only discuss development as the process of maturing in relation to mental and emotional health.
Of course, most importantly, our physical needs must be met for normal development to occur. Physical needs include food, water, shelter, and safety. After our physical needs are met, one is free to develop psychologically and emotionally.
In my opinion, one’s early childhood sets the tone for how he or she will develop throughout life. That is, if one develops healthily early in life, he or she will have a strong foundation that will him or her to continue healthy development as he or she ages. Although poor psychological and emotional development early in life may retard one’s development later in life, I do not believe that it is impossible to overcome an unfortunate beginning.
It is my belief that children will development normally (psychologically and emotionally) as long as they are raised in a supportive and loving environment. Caregivers should allow children to be children, while giving them direction without being overly critical. As long as children know that they are safe and that they have people in their lives who give unconditional love, I believe they are allowed a sense of freedom that enables them to develop normally into their adolescence.
As one enters into adolescence, entirely new situation is encountered by young for the first time. This transition from child to adult can be quite stressful for many individuals. As the adolescent relies less on his or her family and more on him- or herself, roadblocks to normal development may arise. For example, a young person, who has to support himself financially, may become overly stressed as the result of a low-paying job that does not allow him to pay his bills. If this individual has not learned good coping skills, the stress could lead to stress-induced mental illness or substance abuse.
According to Erickson’s stages of development, young adults are faced with the challenge of developing intimate relationships or risk becoming isolated. A mental illness or a drug problem may keep an adolescent from passing through this developmental stage. Furthermore, failure to pass through such a developmental stage could lead to additional psychological or emotional issues, such as increased anxiety.
From a cognitive-behavioral perspective, I believe problems in development may occur when one internalizes a misinterpretation of an event. For example, a teenager who makes a bad grade on a test may begin to think that he or she is stupid. If this teenager is teased by his peers for making low grades or if he is held back in school by his teachers, the teenager’s belief that he is stupid may be confirmed in his or her mind.
However, the reality of the situation could be completely different. The teenager may actually have above average intelligence, and his or her poor performance in school could be due to other factors that the teenager is not fully aware. For example, the teenager’s home life may be very disruptive, which keeps him or her from focusing in school.
Nevertheless, if the teenager internalizes the belief that he or she is stupid, the teenager may make no attempt in school, resulting in a self-fulfilling prophecy in which he or she ultimately becomes “uneducated.” The misinterpretation of an event, which results in an irrational belief, could result in consequences that detrimentally impact an individual throughout his or her life time (thus, resulting in problems in development).
How People Improvement
In my opinion, there is not just one way to help a person with mental health issues improve. I believe that the therapist should tailor his treatment plan according to the individual seeking treatment. In short, what works for one person might not work for the other. That being said, I shall discuss how I believe therapists can help people improve.
As I stated above, I feel that one’s child has a great impact on the individual later in life. Therapist should help clients see how their early life experiences may be contributing to their current problems. For example, a client with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression could benefit from seeing how his overly critical parents may have played a role in shaping his views, thoughts, and feeling about life. Using the empty-chair technique may be helpful for such a client. The client could be encouraged to confront his parent for being overly critical.
However, this should only be done to provide the client with insight. It should not serve as an excuse that absolves them of responsibility from their problems. Therapist should empower clients to take control of their lives, regardless of what may have happened to them in the past.
Although the past may provide the client with some insight, he or she should be encouraged not to dwell on the past. In so doing, the client should be taught to take responsibility for how his or her current thoughts and behaviors are perpetuating their problems. My views on emphasizing the here and now and encouraging them to take responsibility for themselves are derived from Perl’s Gestalt therapy.
In taking responsibility for their own problems, clients would benefit from learning how their own thoughts contribute to their problems. For example, depressed clients should learn how to dispute irrational beliefs and to change their self-talk. A depressed client who is a perfectionist and views anything he or she does that is less than perfect as a catastrophe would improve by learning how his or her perfectionist beliefs are irrational.
Likewise, the same client may call him- or herself stupid, inept, or useless when he or she is not perfect. The client should learn to change this self-talk. For example, the client could learn to dispute his or her irrational beliefs by telling him- or herself the following: “I wish I had done it better, but it is ok that I did not. It does not make me bad or any less of a person to not always be perfect. I did my best, which is worthy in itself.” Teaching this client shame-attacking exercises may be appropriate, as well. Such exercises would encourage self-acceptance, even when others may not approve of him/her, by teaching him/her to stubbornly reject feelings of shame about him-/herself.
I credit Ellis’s Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) with influencing my view that one’s thoughts affect how one feels and ultimately one’s behavior. In a sense, one is what one thinks. It follows then that if a client can learn to think differently, then he or she will be different. In a world that often seems chaotic and out of control, most of us have control over at least one thing—our thoughts. Such insight may give clients a sense of empowerment that could have a positive impact in multiple areas of clients’ lives.
In combination with REBT, I feel clients would benefit from certain aspects of Glasser’s reality therapy, as well. Often times, people come to therapy with relationship problems. Clients may feel that if other people would change, then their problems would be solved. However, clients should realize that they cannot control anyone, but themselves. Furthermore, clients choose how they control themselves. Clients may gain from the insight that they actually have a choice in how they react to their problems. Likewise, having clients understand that they cannot control others is probably therapeutic in itself, as it relieves them of the stress associated with trying to control others.
In establishing a clinical relationship with a client, I feel that the therapist should take a person-centered approach in which the therapist strives to convey acceptance and unconditional positive regard in a nonjudgmental environment. Furthermore, therapist should view the client’s problems from a phenomenological perspective. That being said, I do not believe that it is appropriate for the therapist to coddle or “baby” the client. Therapist should simply accept the client with all or his or faults.
When appropriate, therapist should confront clients, rather than letting them perpetuate their ineffective or self-destructive behaviors. However, I feel confrontation should be done in a Motivation Interviewing context (MI). That is, clients should be confronted, but in a manner that they are actually encouraged to confront themselves, rather than by the therapist. I believe that such a confrontation reduces defensiveness on the part of the client, as well as encourages the client to take responsibility for his or her own actions.
The single most important aspect of therapy is the relationship between the therapist and client. If the therapist cannot establish trust and rapport with the client, very little therapeutic progress will be made. If a therapist does nothing else than express empathy, unconditional positive regard, and acceptance in a nonjudgmental environment, the therapist will--at the very least--do no harm to the client. Ideally, therapists are able to incorporate these aforementioned things into an appropriate therapeutic technique in order to do more than just “not harm” a client.
The goal of therapy is to create an adjusted individual. I believe adjusted people are those who are reasonably happy, can function in society, know themselves, and most importantly, accept themselves. Furthermore, adjusted individuals can think independently and do not need others to validate them. In other words, they are aware of their own self-worth, regardless of how others may treat them. Although they are reasonably happy, adjusted people are aware that they may have bad days and that there may be times when they are unhappy. However, adjusted people will not view every setback as a tragedy, but rather as a learning experience. That is, they know that it time their bad day will come to pass. Viewing a setback as an opportunity for growth allows them to make something positive out something that was seemingly negative. In short, they accept the bad with the good.
As I stated above, adjusted individuals are able to function in society. I do not feel, however, that is the therapist’s goal to persuade the therapist to “fit in” or conform to society simply for the sake of fitting in. What I mean by functioning in society is that adjusted people are able to hold down jobs or attend school and maintain at least one or two friendships. In addition, they are able to derive some sense of importance from their daily activities which enables them to find some meaning in life.
In studying counseling, I do not see a huge difference between the various counseling theories. Although many of their creators seem to taut their theory as the latest, new-and-improved theory, I personally feel that they have more similarities than differences. After all, all the theories are designed in hopes of helping those who need it.
My perspective on counseling has surely been influenced by my life experiences. Indeed, my counseling perspective probably reveals more about me than I realize. To be sure, with more life experiences my counseling perspective will most certainly evolve.
I do not think counseling perspective is necessarily “right,” but it does fit my world view. Furthermore, it is not stone and I hope to remain open to others’ perspectives on counseling. As I enter into the mental health field, I plan to tailor my treatment approach and counseling perspective to the individual client by integrating the various theories into my clinical practice. In so doing, I hope to ensure that my clients get the proper help they need.