Effective counselling, in many ways is still in its infancy and growing at a rapid rate with new approaches coming up almost monthly it feels!
I remember as a trainee counsellor at Broadway Lodge in the UK a new male client said to me ” your not going to shout at me are you”?
When i spoke with the client about his comment I discovered that the clients experience of therapy seventeen years previously was very different and had had a lasting impact on him. The therapy groups were very big, twenty plus clients who sat in a circle smoking cigarettes and hurling abuse at one another!
I was able to reassure the client that much had changed over the years and that therapy groups were now no bigger than 12 clients, no smoking allowed and a minimum of two facilitators. I was able to further reassure the client by conveying modern day basics of group and individual therapy that were presently being practiced at Broadway Lodge, such as being non-judgmental, emphatic and supportive. Needless to say it took a little while for the client to adjust!
What Makes an Effective Counsellor?
Back in those early days of training I truly believed that simply wanting to be a counsellor meant I was a ‘good’ counsellor! Admittedly this fantasy, underpinned by my ego last for a couple of years and this started to change once I got into further studies in counselling and psychology. I went through extreme stages of feeling inferior and superior until I started to understand the reality of the responsibilities that comes with being an effective counsellor. This gradual awareness was very challenging as I began to question whether I could actually go forward and become qualified. On reflection, this trepidation was quite healthy as it helped me to realise that the world of counselling is NOT glamorous and is actually a ‘thankless’ profession!
Now that I have been a therapist for twenty years I have more clarity about ‘effective counselling’. I have been privileged enough to interview therapists of varying types and I often asked “what makes a good therapist”? I have heard some interesting quotes plagiarized from well known fore-fathers of therapy such as Freud or Jung which was not what I was looking for. Personally, I believe that the better therapist have engaged in a lot of personal therapy and healing in order to develop a better relationship with themselves. Lots of ‘letters’ after a therapists name on a business card does NOT mean that he or she is an effective therapist at all.
I have worked with therapists who have few qualifications but have worked hard on self-development and so have the ability to respond well to clients as not preoccupied with personal issues. Carl Rogers, one of the founders of Person-Centred Therapy compiled six sufficient conditions that are essential ingredients for being an effective counsellor. The three core conditions are a well recognised guide in assessing the counsellors understanding of themselves and the work that they do.
Rogers (1957; 1959) stated that there are six necessary and sufficient conditions required for therapeutic change:
1. Therapist–client psychological contact: a relationship between client and therapist must exist, and it must be a relationship in which each person’s perception of the other is important.
2. Client incongruence: that incongruence exists between the client’s experience and awareness.
3. Therapist congruence, or genuineness: the therapist is congruent within the therapeutic relationship. The therapist is deeply involved him or herself — they are not “acting” — and they can draw on their own experiences (self-disclosure) to facilitate the relationship.
4. Therapist unconditional positive regard (UPR): the therapist accepts the client unconditionally, without judgment, disapproval or approval. This facilitates increased self-regard in the client, as they can begin to become aware of experiences in which their view of self-worth was distorted by others.
5. Therapist empathic understanding: the therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference. Accurate empathy on the part of the therapist helps the client believe the therapist’s unconditional love for them.
6. Client perception: that the client perceives, to at least a minimal degree, the therapist’s UPR and empathic understanding.
Three of these conditions have become known as the ‘Core Conditions’ 3, 4 and 5 (above).
Rogers asserted that the most important factor in successful therapy is the relational climate created by the therapist’s attitude to their client. He specified three interrelated core conditions:
1. Congruence – the willingness to transparently relate to clients without hiding behind a professional or personal facade.
2. Unconditional positive regard – the therapist offers an acceptance and prizing for their client for who he or she is without conveying disapproving feelings, actions or characteristics and demonstrating a willingness to attentively listen without interruption, judgement or giving advice.
3. Empathy – the therapist communicates their desire to understand and appreciate their client’s perspective.
Effective Counselling and Psychotherapy
Both ‘psychotherapy’ and ‘counselling’ are terms that are used to describe the same process.
Effective counselling is a helping approach that highlights the emotional and intellectual experience of a client, how a client is feeling and what they think about the problem they have sought help for.
Psychotherapy, however, is based in the psychodynamic approach to counselling – it encourages the client to go back to their earlier experiences and explore how these experiences effect their current ‘problem’.
A psychotherapist, therefore, helps the client to become conscious of experiences which they were previously unaware of.
Counsellors, however, are less likely to be concerned with the past experiences of the client and are generally trained in a humanistic approach, using techniques from client-centred therapy as a base to their unique approach.