Context and the Basic Concepts of Counseling

Counseling is affected by the context and the surrounding factors. They are explored here as part of the basic concepts of counseling that are very important to consider. The National Institute of Health presents a very comprehensive understanding of the context of counseling as follows. First of all, context, as defined by Urie Bronfenbrenner (1977, 1979, 1986, 1988), includes the peers, the culture, the neighborhoods, the counseling, the client, the counselor, and the contextual and the process factors. Much influence though is within the family as being the primary context in which the child learns and develops and likewise for socializing of children and adolescents.

Peers as Context.

Friends’ attitudes, norms, and behaviors have a strong influence on adolescents. Many personal issues are often introduced to the individual by their peers. Parents can have much influence over their adolescent children. Critical family issues involve family roles, both positively and negatively. In most cases, the impact of parent influence can help counter the negative influence that peers have on the adolescents’ issues.

Neighborhood as Context.

The interactions between the family and its neighborhood as immediate context are also important to consider. A family functions within a particular neighborhood. The behavioral problems in this particular neighborhood require that families work against crime and social isolation that may impact them. This is much easier in countryside communities where a community network of parents, teachers, grandparents, and civic leaders exist and where a sense of collaboration in raising the children of the community forms part of shared ethos. For this reason, neighborhood context is an important consideration in counseling. It can both introduce additional strengths or challenges to parenting and resources that should be considered when working with families.

Culture as Context.

Culture provided meaning and coherence of life to any orderly life such as community or organization. Various sectors of community families, peers, and neighborhoods are all bound together by a cultural context that influences them all as individual members. Therefore, the cultural context is a major consideration in counseling. Extensive research on culture and the family has demonstrated that so much influence on the individual child and family is exerted by the cultural contexts (Santisteban et al. 2003; Szapocznik & Kurtines 1993). Culture is the source of norms, values, symbols, and language which provide the basis for the normal functioning of an individual Understanding the cultural context of a client makes it easier for a counselor to appreciate the nature of their struggles as well as their cultural conditioning that informs certain personal characteristics such as degree of openness to share personal concerns, self-revealing, making choices, and personal determination for independence (Corey 1991). Therefore, effective counseling has to take into full consideration the culture of both the counselor and the client especially in multicultural situations. The cultures of the client and that of the counselor and other stakeholders can all affect the nature of counseling.

Counseling as Context.

The National Institute of Health recognizes counseling itself as a context. Regardless of a therapeutic approach in use, the counseling situation in itself is a context. There is a deliberate specific focus, a set of procedures, rules, expectations, experiences, and a way of monitoring progress and determining results in any therapeutic approach (Corey 1991). Counseling can therefore be affected by the counseling context.

From the counseling context, other success factors such as client factors, counselor factors, contextual factors, and process factors should be managed well so as to contribute toward the success of the engagement.

  1. Client Factors. The client factors are everything that a client brings to the counseling context. He or she is not a passive object receiving treatment in the manner of a traditional doctor-patient situation. The clients bring so much to the counseling context and therefore it remains imperative that they are considered as an active part of the process. Very often, the expectations and attitude of the client define the result of a counseling process and experience. The success or failure of the counseling process depends so much on the client. 
  2. Counselor Factors. The personality, skills, and personal qualities of a counselor can significantly impact the outcomes of the counseling relationship (Velleman 2001). The counselor’s personal style and qualities can make the interventions successful. The conditions for self-restoration or experience of self-empowerment in a client are some qualities that a counselor usually brings about. The experience of positive or negative conditions can be attributed to the counselor. This may be amplified or aggravated by the choice of counseling methods that the counselor uses in his or her practice; this makes counseling both a science and also an art. 
  3. Contextual Factors. The context in which counseling takes place can define the outcomes. Counselors are therefore concerned with the environment and atmosphere where to conduct the sessions. There are ideal contexts and not ideal ones. For example, physical noise and distance trigger the feeling of emotional safety of the client. A noisy place can be a distraction that prevents healing. A place where a client feels strongly fearful can provide a blockage from genuine engagement with counseling process and procedure. A client has to feel comfortable and positive. Ideally, counseling should take place in a quiet, warm, counsel and comfortable place away from any distraction. Unless the counselor effective and client talk in comfort and safety, there is no way steps of healing degree can commence and yield desirable outcomes.
  4. Process Factors. The process factors constitute the actual counseling in order undertaking. Vellemean (2001) presents the following six stages, which for him apply to all problem areas in the process of counseling.
    • Developing trust. This involves providing warmth, genuineness, and empathy.
    • Exploring problem areas. This involves providing a clear and deep analysis of what the problem is, where it comes from, its triggers, and why it may have developed.
    • Helping to set goals. This involves setting and managing goal-directed interventions.
    • Empowering into action. This means fostering action to achieve set goals.
    • Helping to maintain change. This means providing support and other techniques to enable the client to maintain changes.
    • Agreeing when to end the helping relationship. This implies that and assurances are there that guarantee the process is being directed by the client and toward independence.