Counselors work in various settings—from government to private sectors, to civil society to school setting. Drawing on a wide range of processes, methods, and tools, counselors are trained to use what is appropriate for the setting and relative to their specialty. There are classical approaches informed by theories to counseling that scaffold their process and selection of methods and tools.
The late 1950s saw three schools of thought in psychology that became very dominant: psychoanalysis, behaviorism, and the humanistic perspective.
Represented by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), psychoanalysis draw attention to the darker forces of the unconscious and the influence that this has on how we feel about ourselves. The field of psychoanalysis encompasses a vast number of therapeutic models that utilize dreams, fantasies, associations, and the expression of thoughts both verbally and physically. The assumption is that there are inner battles that are waged in a client that are directly responsible for the appearance of symptoms and behavioral problems, causing the person to seek treatment. Psychoanalytic therapy tends to be highly focused on unearthing the underlying issues to undress the symptoms, which will lead to minimize or eliminate the symptoms.
Represented by B.F. Skinner (1904-1990), behaviorism focused on the effects of reinforcement on observable behavior. All psychological disorders are a result of maladaptive learning that all behavior is learnt from our environment and symptoms are acquired through classical conditioning and operant conditioning. Classical conditioning involves learning by association. Operant conditioning involves learning by reinforcement (e.g., rewards) and punishment. The therapeutic techniques used in this type of treatment are action-based and rooted in the theories of classical conditioning and operant conditioning and utilize the same learning strategies that led to the formation of unwanted behaviors. Behavioral therapy tends to be highly focused on teaching clients new behaviors to minimize or eliminate the issue.
Represented by Carl Rogers (1902-1987), Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), and George Kelly (1905-1966), the humanistic perspective attempted to understand the conscious mind, free will, human dignity, and the capacity for self-reflection and growth. These humanists argued that the person is not hostage to the contingence and historical circumstances of his / her past. The human potential for change requires only exercise of the distinctively human capacities for choice, creativity, and drive toward self-actualization. Humanistic therapeutic models are rooted in insight and focus on self-development, growth, and responsibilities. They seek to help individuals gain self-empowerment by recognizing their strengths, creativity, and choice in their given circumstances.
The Basic Counseling Approaches
The following are among the basic counseling approaches commonly used today that provide processes, methods, and tools for counselors to draw from: Psychoanalytic Therapy, Adlerian Therapy, Existential Therapy, Person-centered Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, Transactional Analysis, Behavior Therapy, Rational-emotive Therapy, and Reality Therapy.
Psychoanalytic Therapy is an approach developed by Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis is based on Freud’s explanation that human beings are basically determined by psychic energy and early experiences. These unconscious energy and experiences drive people’s behavior in the form of unconscious motives and conflicts. The goal of a therapist is to help a client become conscious of this energy and early experiences and thereby become empowered and harness both positively.
Adlerian Therapy is an approach similar to the Freudian. It was developed by Alfred Adler (1870-1937) who believed that the first six years of life influence an individual. But ensuing behavior depended on how one interprets his/her past and its continuing influence on him/her. For Adler, humans are motivated primarily by social urges.
Existential Therapy has no single founder, but Viktor Frankl (1905-1997), Abraham Maslow (1908-1970), and Rollo May (1909-1994) are considered key figures. Existential therapy focuses on the human capacity to define and shape his /her own life, give meaning to a personal circumstance through reflection, decision-making, and self-awareness. It draws heavily on existentialist philosophy that emphasizes human freedom to define oneself, and that our lives are not predetermined; we have a responsibility to live and to see in life what we chose to. The only things we cannot control is being born and the fact of dying.
Person-centered Therapy originated from Carl Rogers (1902-1987). For Rogers, people get, share, or surrender power and control over themselves and others, and so empowerment depended on the self and such required non-directive process. Non-directive counselors focus on the client’s self-discovery rather than their input. The mainstay in this non-directive counseling is counselor-client reflecting and clarifying the verbal and non-verbal communications of clients. The process includes the counselor’s use of active listening, reflection of feelings, clarification, and just “being there” for the counselee in a non-interventionist way.
Gestalt Therapy was developed and introduced by Frederick S. Perls (1893-1970). It is an existential approach, stressing that people must find their own way in life and accept personal responsibility for maturity. They must develop an awareness of their unfinished business from the past, traumatic experiences in life, and what they are doing in order for them to bring about change in their lives. Gestalt therapy techniques include confrontation, dialog with parties, role-playing, reliving, and re-experiencing unfinished business in the form of resentment and guilt. Counselors push for doing and experiencing rather than just talk about one’s feelings as a client. It involves recognizing and letting go, accompanied by actions like breaking a glass or hitting something hard.
Transactional Analysis was developed by Eric Berne (1910-1970). Its main uniqueness is its emphasis on decisions and contracts that must be made by the client. Like other existentialist philosophies, which are based on the understanding of human nature, this approach believes that the client has the potential for choice and so, the contract made by the client clearly states the directions and goals of the therapeutic process.
Behavior Therapy, also referred to as behavior modification, is associated with many theorists and among them are Arnold Lazarus, Albert Bandura, B.F. Skinner, M.J. Mahoney, David L. Watson, and A.E. Kazdin. Behavior therapy uses many action-oriented methods to help people take steps to change what they are doing and thinking. This approach focuses on overt behavior, precision in specifying the goals of treatment, and the development of specific treatment plans. In this approach, the counselor is active and directive, and functions as a teacher or trainer in helping clients to work on improving behavior.
Rational-emotive Therapy was developed by Albert Ellis (1913-2007). It is a form of cognitively-oriented behavioral therapy and is based on the assumption that human beings are born with a potential for both rational or straight thinking and irrational or crooked thinking. Because people are fallible, this approach focuses on helping clients accept themselves as people who would continue to make mistakes, yet at the same time learn to live with themselves and be at peace with themselves. Ellis stressed that through thinking, judging, deciding, and doing, people can change their cognitive, emotive, and behavioral processes and react differently from their usual patterns. They can train to master themselves and control themselves like choosing not to be upset.
Reality Therapy was founded and promoted by William Glasser (1925-2013). This therapy is a short-term approach that focuses on the present and highlights a client’s strength. It stresses that a client can learn more realistic behavior and achieve success. For Glasser, people choose their behavior and are therefore responsible for what they do and how they think and feel. What a client needs from a counselor is an encouragement to assess the current style of living then leave them to employ a process of honest self-examination, leading and resulting in the improvement of one’s quality of life.