Step Two - Common Counseling Theories

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Learning common counseling theories (link to Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice: Skills, Strategies, and Techniques by John and Rita Sommers-Flanaganis) is the second leg of our journey. There are a variety of counseling theories and this website does not to pretend to list them all or to provide expert information.

The theories to be reviewed include Client Centered (Carl Rogers), Holistic Health (Biopsychosocial), Strengths Based (Positive Thinking / Learned Optimism), Cognitive Behavioral (ABC Model), Solution Focused (Where do I really want to be?!) and Existential (Why am I here?!)

In addition I will provide a section on Becoming Unnecessary / Learning to Let Go (Closure.)

The small pictures in this Section include a picture of the Founders of various theories, along with people in helping relationships. The end pics featuring children are a reminder that:

Our children are our only hope for the future, but we are their only hope for their present and their future. - Zig Ziglar

Introduction to Counseling Theories

In Client Centered (Rogerian) counseling, the counselor provides the growth-promoting climate and the client is then free and able to discover and grow as she / he wants and needs to. Prevailing characteristics of the session are active listening, empathy, acceptance (unconditional positive regard) and genuineness.

Holistic Health (Biopsychosocial) asserts that we have physical, intellectual, social, emotional, vocational and spiritual needs -- the neglect of which reduces the ability of one to withstand the effects of stress. And we live in socio-economic conditions that can enhance or demean our long-term well-being.

Strengths Based counseling focuses on what is going right in a person’s life. The counselor and client work together to find past and present successes and use these to address current and future challenges. Its first cousin, Positive Thinking or Learned Optimism, is about learning a positive perspective – focusing on what can go right.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (ABC Method) could be described as “as I think, so I feel (and do)!” In any given situation you have:

A. Activating Event – the actual event and the client’s immediate interpretations of the event

B. Beliefs about the event – this evaluation can be rational or irrational

C. Consequences – how you feel and what you do or other thoughts

Solution Focused Therapy (Where do I want to be?!) focuses on what clients want to achieve through therapy rather than on the problem(s) that made them seek help. The approach does not focus on the past, but instead, focuses on the present and future. The client is asked to envision how the future will be different when the problem is no longer present.

The Existential approach (Why Am I Here?!) is also known as “Meaning Therapy.” As Viktor Frankyl put it, “He who knows the ‘why’ for his existence, will be able to bear almost any ‘how.’” Therapy is concerned with creating one’s identity and establishing meaningful relationships with others.

Learning to Let Go / Becoming Unnecessary

It can be difficult for counselors to “let go” of their clients, to “become unnecessary.” Certain clients are a pleasure for counselors to work with – but while we are friendly with each other, we are never friends. Most professional associations do not endorse counselor-client relationships outside of the counseling setting, or any behavior – in or out of the workplace - which may violate professional boundaries.

Counselors can take comfort in knowing that they have cared for a client during a very significant time in her / his life, and can remind themselves of this quotation by Thomas Carruthers:

A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.

Sample Sessions as Illustrations

If at any time you are having difficulty imagining what any of these counseling theories would look like in a counseling session, you can click on the corresponding Sample Session button on the LHS of this page.

They appear in the following order:

One - Client Centered (Carl Rogers)

Two and Three - A "No Show" and a Cancellation (It happens!)

Four - Strength Based (Positive Thinking / Learned Optimism)

Five - Cognitive Behavioral (ABC Method)

Six - Holistic Health (Biopsychosocial Model)

Seven - Solution Focused (Where do I really want to be?!) Eight - Existential Counseling Theory (Why am I here?!)

Nine - Learning to Let Go / Becoming Unnecessary (Closure)

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