What are the scientific approaches used in counselling?

Counsellors are trained in various counselling psychology approaches. The basic premises of some of the more prominent ones are explained below briefly, as described in Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy by Gerald Corey. The counsellors in the TalkItOver team are familiar with these different approaches.

The Person Centred Approach

The Person Centred Approach is based on concepts from humanistic psychology, the basic premise of which, is that people have a vast potential for understanding themselves and resolving their own problems, if provided with a growth-promoting climate. The counsellor creates this climate by his or her genuineness, unconditional positive regard (acceptance and caring) and accurate empathic understanding, which helps people become all that they are capable of becoming. People are encouraged to live fully and authentically. The goal is to assist people in the growth process.

The Cognitive Behavioural Approaches

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy

The basic hypothesis of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy is that emotions come mainly from beliefs, evaluations, interpretations and reactions to life situations. In counselling, people  learn to identify their beliefs which lead to emotional and behavioural difficulties. So it is not the situation people find themselves in, but their beliefs about it or themselves which cause their feelings and behaviours. The focus is on thinking and acting. In counselling, through various techniques, people learn the process of choosing effective beliefs for healthy feelings and behaviours.

Cognitive Therapy

Cognitive Therapy, like Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy, is an insight focused therapy where people learn to recognize and change their negative thoughts and beliefs. Automatic thoughts that get triggered are used to identify the core belief. People test their beliefs by engaging in a Socratic dialogue with the counsellor, by carrying out homework assignments, by gathering data on assumptions they make, by forming alternative interpretations among other ways. People play an active role in this counselling approach.

The Behavioural Approach

During the 1970s, behaviour therapy emerged as a major force in psychology and behaviour techniques were applied to business, industry and child rearing.

This action oriented approach deals with current problems faced by people and does not analyze reasons from the past for this. The focus is on factors that can be used to modify performance. People are required to do something to bring about change. In the session, they may learn and practice certain skills – the counsellor may provide instructions, modeling and performance feedback. They receive homework assignments to carry out tasks or homework assignments in their daily lives, in order to transfer their learning acquired within the session to situations outside.

The Gestalt Approach

The Gestalt approach was developed in the 1940s. It is an experiential approach that emphasizes gaining greater awareness and with it, greater choice. The initial goal is for people to gain awareness of what they are experiencing and how. Through this awareness, change automatically occurs. The assumption is that people have the capacity for self regulation if they are fully aware of what is happening in and around them.

It emphasizes direct experiencing of feelings in the here and now as opposed to talking about feelings. Often feelings such as pain, resentment, anxiety, grief and abandonment are unexpressed. Since these are not fully experienced in awareness, they are carried into the present, which interferes with effective contact with oneself and others.  These could show up as blockages within the body as the assumption is unexpressed feelings tend to result in physical symptoms.

When people feel stuck, the counsellor helps them experience their frustrations and accept whatever is. This is based on the notion that people strive towards growth and accepting all aspects of themselves, without judging, helps them begin to think, feel and act differently.

In the Gestalt approach, people are active participants who make their own interpretations and meanings.

The Existential Approach

The Existential approach is a philosophical approach which arose in different parts of Europe in the 1940s and 50s and is grounded on the assumption that people are the authors or architects of their own lives. A major aim of this approach is to encourage people to reflect on life, to recognize their range of alternatives and to decide among them. Once people begin the process of recognizing the ways in which they have passively accepted circumstances and surrendered control,  they can start on a path of consciously shaping their own lives. The first step in accepting responsibility is realizing that they and only they have the power to change their own life situation. It is a process of searching for value and meaning in life.

Some of the propositions of this approach are the capacity for self awareness, the freedom and responsibility to make choices, striving for identity and relationship to others, the search for meaning, anxiety as a condition for living, an awareness of death and therefore the possibility of living fully.

The Solution Focused Brief Approach

This approach is based on the assumption that people have the ability to construct solutions that can enhance their lives. People are viewed as experts in their own lives. It focuses on what people are doing that is working and helps them in applying this knowledge to take action to solve their problems. Some basic assumptions of this approach are:

  • Reorienting in the direction of strengths by using solution talk  has a good chance for counselling to be brief.
  • There are exceptions to every problem.
  • Small changes pave the way for larger changes.
  • There are no right solutions since each individual is unique and so too, is each solution.

The Feminist Perspective

This approach is built on the premise that it is essential to consider the social and cultural context that contributes to peoples’ problems in order to understand them. It offers a unique approach to understanding the roles that men and women have been socialized to accept. A central concept in Feminist therapy is the psychological oppression of women and the constraints imposed on them by the status given to them.

In this approach, counsellors help people:

  • Become aware of their own gender-role socialization process.
  • Identify their internalized messages and replace them with more self-enhancing beliefs.
  • Understand how sexist and oppressive societal beliefs and practices influence them in negative ways.
  • Acquire skills to bring about a change in the environment.
  • Develop a sense of personal and social power.

The Family Systems Approach

According this approach, individuals are best understood through assessing the interactions among family members. An individual’s behaviour is seen as an outcome of how the family system functions and therefore the focus in on interpersonal relationships. Change is best facilitated by working with and considering the family system as a whole.

There are a number of models or schools of family therapy. One of the key contributions of most systemic approaches is that neither the individual nor the family is blamed for any problem. Families are helped to recognize systemic factors that contribute to a particular problem. They can then participate in finding solutions.

The Integrative approach

The field of counselling and psychotherapy is characterized by a diverse range of specialized models. Since the early 1980s, there has been a rapidly developing movement toward integration. One reason for this trend is the recognition that no single theory or model is comprehensive enough to account for complexities of human behaviour. This approach is characterized by openness to various ways of integrating the diverse theories and techniques of counselling psychology. There are three common pathways to this goal:

Technical eclecticism

This approach chooses from many different approaches and is a collection of techniques.

Theoretical integration

This approach synthesizes the best of two or more theoretical approaches under the assumption that the outcome will be richer than either theory alone.

Common factors approach

This approach searches for common elements across different theoretical systems.

To be effective, counsellors need to be flexible and versatile and draw on diverse theories and techniques to best meet the needs of people they partner with.

TalkItOver offers psychological counselling services by trained and qualified counsellors who use the above counselling approaches while helping people. Contact us to know more.