01 December 2014

Personal Theory of Counseling

As an educator, I always believed that we best learn what we can connect to something previously learned—the "hook" onto which new information or a new skill may be hung. It may be said that I began my education as a counselor when first a psychotherapy client, at the age of 25. There must have been fewer therapy theories and practices around back then. My therapist, a woman not many years older than I, led me towards an understanding of transference—of needs, of expectations—from family of origin to present relationships. These lessons proved of great value, biasing me towards therapeutic practices that account for the influence of childhood on our present lives. 

Five years later I was introduced to Re-evaluation Counseling, through classes, workshops and support groups. RC prioritized "discharging" the effects of early hurts, in a format where "counselor" and "client" exchange roles. Here I learned that distresses will persist to plague those who do not fully discharge them, and also picked up valuable information on the nature of oppression. The tools and insights of RC will likely continue to form the basis of my therapeutic practice—the sculptor's stone that seeks chiseled refinement. 

Next came exploration of new age modalities, and faith-based practices, that deepened my spirituality and my experience of meditation (having first learned meditation during my undergraduate years through Kundalini Yoga classes). This background puts me at home with mindfulness-based therapy and with leading guided meditation and yoga.

Another important component in my personal theory of counseling came through involvement in the Twelve-step program. The "keeping attention off distress,” done in RC, aligned neatly with certain principles of recovery in Al-Anon. An essential component of both Twelve-step and RC programs is the experience offered in being a counselor as well as a client. In twelve-step this manifests in becoming a sponsor, sharing in meetings, and doing service work. It has been shown that addicts/codependents are frequently unable to maintain their chemical/emotional sobriety without taking responsibility for another’s recovery. In RC, one takes the counselor role for half of each session, and may also develop into a leader of support groups, classes or workshops. While I understand it is not appropriate in the counseling profession for clients to switch roles with their therapist, as a therapist I will direct my clients towards activities that put them in a counselor’s position—empowering and humbling them in ways that only focusing on others can.

In the Human Services program at TCC I benefitted from training in Motivational Interviewing, gaining a new understanding how a counselor cannot take a client any deeper than the latter is willing to go. As this approach is frequently referenced, even mandated, in the addiction counseling field, I have endeavored to assimilate it—challenging RC habits that could be too invasive in some situations.

Thus, I came into the MAC program with many preconceptions on how to counsel others. Here at St. Martin's University, I have been exposed to additional approaches calling out to be integrated into both my current practice with addicts as well as a potential Marriage/Family practice in the future. All of the chapters studied offer useful insights. Most astounding to this reader are the many contributions to the field from Alfred Adler—who comes across as being ahead of his time not simply for his flexibility and ingenuity but for his pervading common sense. A therapist would do as well to periodically review Adler’s discoveries as a composer would to review Stravinsky’s equally ground-breaking Rite of Spring.

Two procedures I wish to learn enough about to incorporate into my practice would be administration of “instruments” intended to measure client progress, from first to last interview, and dream interpretation. Yalom’s facility with the latter is inspiring. I also have benefited from viewing clients through the Stages of Change framework—such as is commonly done in chemical dependency treatment—allowing the therapist to temper his or her expectations to what may be appropriate for a client at that given stage. 

Several of the theories we have studied convince me what I had begun to suspect, that establishing rapport at beginning stages will prove more effective than requiring a client to speak about feelings who is not predisposed to do so. I have long endeavored to be able to speak to anyone about anything. Sometimes a client may only be able to discuss framing houses, for example; so the counselor engages him at that level until a break in the armor may be discerned. This is, in practice, a cultural issue. Awareness and articulation of a feeling may be yet to permeate the male or working class culture of this client—or perhaps it has, but in a way that a female or middle class therapist might not readily recognize. The therapist certainly does not want to be confused with—or be projected onto—previous well-meaning helpers who the client has learned to push away.

I still have not determined how my background as a musician and music educator will figure into my counseling practice. Certainly teaching experience has provided me skills working effectively with groups. But as music is what I do for self-care and to satisfy my muse, it may be best to reserve it for my non-therapist life—particularly considering the perfectionism that comes into play when I make music.

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