Thinking of Becoming a Counsellor?

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If you are thinking of becoming a counsellor, you may be wondering if you could put to good use your own life experience by offering support and understanding to those trying to cope with difficulties that you may have encountered and worked through yourself.The ancient Greek aphorism "know thyself" is immensely important in this regard. For unless counsellors are in harmony with themselves they cannot truly relate to the needs of those they seek to help. It is not enough for the counsellor to play the role of the therapist. He or she has to be the therapist - a very different concept.This book explores the journeys of self-discovery that prompted the pioneering practitioners to direct their skills in particular ways and the influence exerted by their backgrounds, ambitions, and personal histories. The overall objective is to help intending therapists to arrive at an understanding of the inner resources they will need to embark on a counselling career, and to help them determine which approach might best accord with their temperament and lifetime's experience. The strategies these practitioners devised are investigated, and case studies used to demonstrate how the different modalities are applied, and how clients may benefit from them.

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CHAPTER ONE: Beginnings

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It seems only right that we start with Sigmund Freud (1856–1939), the Big Bang from which all psychotherapy emerged. He’ll almost certainly be the first authority you’ll be introduced to if you go on a counselling course. But although a huge influence on the development of psychotherapy, he didn’t emerge from a vacuum, or practice in isolation. Before Freud, superstition and magic were often believed to be the prime controllers of mental functions. A contemporary of Freud, William Walter Atkinson (1862–1932), in his book Mind and Body or Mental States and Physical Conditions, published in 1910, observed: “Mental Healing operates under a thousand names, forms and theories in every race, nation and clime in all ages past and present”.1 This remains true to this day. Proof of this can be found in an incident as recently as 2007 in which the actress Phyllida Law had two gargoyles stolen from her garden. She erected a notice warning that she had put a hex on the culprit. Some time later, the statues were returned, with a note from the thief pleading her to lift the curse as he had been very ill since he stole the gargoyles. Law duly put up another notice: “Thank you for returning the statues. All curses lifted.”2

 

CHAPTER TWO: The age of psychoanalysis

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When Freud and Jung first met, a huge rapport immediately developed. The story goes that they talked virtually without a break for thirteen hours! Jung saw Freud as a father figure, his own father having died when he was young. Freud regarded Jung, twenty years his junior, as his heir-apparent. But a friendship that started so promisingly and blossomed for some seven years, nevertheless ended in acrimony, accusations, counter-accusations, and mutual dislike. Was the breakdown inevitable? Although it may not provide all the answers, one of the essential elements of counselling is recognizing the impact of significant events in childhood, our own every bit as much as those of our clients. Social background, relationships with parents, siblings, and other family members, and the established criteria for what constituted good or bad behaviour, success or failure, all play their part. As Aristotle said: “If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development.”

From the outset, Freud’s and Jung’s backgrounds were very different. Freud was the eldest of five children from his father’s second marriage, and his mother’s favourite. She encouraged him to be ambitious and always believed he would be a success. Freud was proudly Jewish in an anti-Semitic culture and determined to prove himself. Money was tight, but his parents scraped together enough to send him to medical school. Freud thus started his adult life imbued with confidence and the determination to merit his parents’ investment in him and, through success, to avoid the strictures of poverty.

 

CHAPTER THREE: The impact of childhood

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Childhood events can have a major influence on our lives. In some measure, all of us have unconscious drives and phobias, often originating in our earliest years and which constitute our inner world.

In many ways, Melanie Klein’s background provided her with valuable insight into the stresses of childhood. Born in 1882 in Vienna and living until 1960, she was the youngest of four children and felt unwanted from the outset. Her mother had breastfed her brother and two older sisters but handed Melanie over to a wet nurse. Her father, a surgeon, preferred her sister Emilie. Melanie recalled with some bitterness the time when she tried to climb onto his knee and he pushed her off, leaving her a victim of jealousy, helplessness, and envy. She set out to study medicine and psychiatry, initially in the hope of pleasing her father. But then he died, and she married a man introduced to her by her brother, whose intellect she had always respected. She realized she had made a mistake almost from the outset, but persevered. She had three children before the marriage broke up.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: The road to self-discovery

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Oak Park, Chicago was the birthplace of Carl Rogers (1902–1987), still one of the most influential figures in psychotherapy today. Rogers pioneered a move away from traditional methodologies. In contrast to Freud’s rather gloomy view of human nature as a cauldron of sexuality and aggressive tendencies, manifested in the id and the ego, which the super-ego struggled to keep under control, Rogers took a very different view of humanity. Perhaps because for a time he studied to be a priest, he saw people as fundamentally healthy and believed that we all have the ability to develop our potential to the fullest extent, provided that conditions are in place for us to do so.

A plant trying to grow in a dim and musty cellar will send out tendrils towards the light it needs if it is to survive. But, significantly, if the plant is moved and placed in an environment conducive to healthy growth it will automatically thrive. This is the essence of Rogers’ therapeutic approach. He was intrigued by the way that even if conditions are harsh, this tendency will endow the organism with the capacity to make the very best of what is available to sustain itself. Thus, mushrooms can push up paving stones, birds migrate for thousands of miles, and humans can create works of art, utilize atomic energy, and invent the cuckoo clock.

 

CHAPTER FIVE: How we construct our world

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In physical medicine the diagnosis of a set of symptoms will usually point to a particular disorder. Unfortunately, psychotherapy offers no such straightforward process. In an attempt to create some set of ground rules, many of the pioneers drew up charts of how we could be expected to think and act at different periods of our lives. Bowlby and Winnicott explored mainly evolution in the early years. Jung developed the idea of four stages of development and consciousness from childhood through youth, middle life, and old age. The Danish psychoanalyst, Eric Erikson (1902–1994), later created his psychosocial theory, The Eight Stages of Man—our psychological development from birth to the end of our lives. Daniel Levinson (1920–), an American psychiatrist, came up with a hypothesis in which he predicted that the pattern of an individual’s progress at any given point in time will be the product of their social and physical environment. In this, he distinguished between men and women in two books, The Seasons of a Man’s Life (1978) and The Seasons of a Woman’s Life (1996).

 

CHAPTER SIX: Inter-relationships

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On the face of it, Eric Berne (1910–1970) might not have been expected to bring about a significant new approach to psychotherapy. He had wanted to practice psychoanalysis, and trained at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute. But when he completed his course in 1956, he was loftily advised that he was not yet ready for membership of the academy and should do further study before reapplying. This was far from the disaster that it might have been, as Eric Berne was spurred into pursuing his long-held ambition to develop a completely new approach to psychotherapy.

He was in accord with Freud that human nature is comprised of interlinked components which affect our behaviour and attitudes. Freud, you will recall, identified three such elements: the id, ego, and super-ego. The id he saw as the basic animal in us; the ego, a part of us that devises strategies to achieve the demands of the id; and the super-ego, which represents our conscience and moral code.

But Berne wanted to move away from abstract analogies and metaphors. For him if a theory was to have true validity, it must be observable; that is, you had to be able to see it in action. Perhaps even more importantly, Berne wanted to make psychotherapy more accessible by using concepts and colloquial language that could be understood by everyone, professionals and clients alike. After years of development, he came up with a new approach to psychotherapy, which he called Transactional Analysis, or TA.

 

CHAPTER SEVEN: The power of conditioning

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Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.

—Francis Xavier, co-founder of the Jesuit Order

(attributed)

The quotation above reflects the potential influence of conditioning. It suggests that if children are brought up from the earliest years to respond in a particular way to certain stimuli in the form of events or situations, these responses will be locked into their minds and cannot be changed. This brings us to the question: How well might we recognize the influence of childhood conditioning? And, importantly, if this conditioning is proving unproductive for us or our clients, how might it be changed or modified?

The most straightforward example of stimulus/ response behaviour is that which, if not completely out of our control, is largely automatic. A tickle in the throat produces the reflex action of a cough. We yawn when we are tired (or bored!), and instinctively change position if we are uncomfortable. We’re hardly aware of the processes and coughs or sneezes are quite difficult to suppress unless we catch them very early. These are defined as innate responses.

 

CHAPTER EIGHT: Automatic thoughts and irrational beliefs

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It’s not what happens to you; but how you react to it that matters.

—Epictetus, philosopher, AD 55–136

When you think about it, this declaration by the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, is extraordinarily powerful. It implies that no one but ourselves has authority over how we should think or feel. And with that authority comes the empowerment to decide how we will respond to any given situation, positive or negative. It is this capacity within us that was recognized by the initiators of a new approach to counselling—the cognitive therapies.

As already discussed, George Kelly held that we build constructs from our earliest childhood. These constructs influence our thoughts, beliefs, and behaviour. Kelly also recognized that this is an active process, in that we continually adjust our thinking according to experience, so as to enable us to anticipate events and respond to them productively. He saw us as scientists, using practical data to arrive at a consensus of how best to lead our lives. We have to make judgements and act on them, for, if we didn’t, we would never learn. But whether our learning is always productive is another matter.

 

CHAPTER NINE: The counselling environment today

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When Freud practised, all his patients were women, all were hysterics, and all were subjected to psychoanalysis or free association. Throughout the history of psychotherapy, individual approaches have often been modified or combined to enhance results or to reflect the pressures of modern living.

For example, Person-Based Cognitive Therapy or PBCT combines CBT with Rogerian perspectives together with the concept of “mindfulness”, which lays particular emphasis on immediate experience. In this respect, it shares a platform with Gestalt in which, you will recall, clients are encouraged to concentrate on their feelings, thoughts, and emotions as they experience them in session. Cognitive Analytical Therapy (CAT) is another collaborative approach which combines psychodynamic practice with Kelly’s personal construct theory and cognitive-behavioural techniques. Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP) draws on the work of John Bowlby to help families whose children have detachment problems, whilst Parent—Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) integrates behavioural and play modalities to improve parent—child relationships.

 

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