A Short Existential Case Example from Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories . . .


Each chapter in Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice includes at least two case vignettes. These vignettes are brief, but designed to articulate how clinicians can use specific theories to formulate cases and engage in therapeutic interactions. The following case is excerpted from the Existential Theory and Therapy chapter.

This post is part of a series of free posts available to professors and students in counseling and psychology who are teaching and learning about theories of counseling and psychotherapy. It, as well as the recommended video clip at the end, can be used for discussion purposes and/or to supplement course content.

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Vignette II: Using Confrontation and Visualization to Increase Personal Responsibility and Explore Deeper Feelings

In this case, a Native American counselor-in-training is working with an 18-year-old Latina female. The client has agreed to attend counseling to work on her anger and disruptive behaviors within a residential vocational training setting. Her behaviors are progressively costing her freedom at the residential setting and contributing to the possibility of her being sent home. The client says she would like to stay in the program and complete her training, but her behaviors seem to say otherwise.

Client: Yeah, I got in trouble again yesterday. I was just walking on the grass and some “ho” told me to get on the sidewalk so I flipped her off and staff saw. So I got a ticket. That’s so bogus.

Counselor: You sound like you’re not happy about getting in trouble, but you also think the ticket was stupid.

Client: It was stupid. I was just being who I am. All the women in my family are like this. We just don’t take shit.

Counselor: We’ve talked about this before. You just don’t take shit.

Client: Right.

Counselor: Can I be straight with you right now? Can I give you a little shit?

Client: Yeah, I guess. In here it’s different.

Counselor: On the one hand you tell me and everybody that you want to stay here and graduate. On the other hand, you’re not even willing to follow the rules and walk on the sidewalk instead of the grass. What do you make of that?

Client: Like I’ve been saying, I do my own thing and don’t follow anyone’s orders.

Counselor: But you want to finish your vocational training. What is it for you to walk on the sidewalk? That’s not taking any shit. All you’re doing is giving yourself trouble.

Client: I know I get myself trouble. That’s why I need help. I do want to stay here.

Counselor: What would it be like for you then . . . to just walk on the sidewalk and follow the rules?

Client: That’s weak brown-nosing bullshit.

Counselor: Then will you explore that with me? Are you strong enough to look very hard right now with me at what this being weak shit is all about?

Client: Yeah. I’m strong enough. What do you want me to do?

Counselor: Okay then. Let’s really get serious about this. Relax in your chair and imagine yourself walking on the grass and someone asks you to get on the sidewalk and then you just see yourself smiling and saying, “Oh yeah, sure.” And then you see yourself apologize. You say, “Sorry about that. My bad. You’re right. Thanks.” What does that bring up for you.

Client: Goddamn it! It just makes me feel like shit. Like I’m f-ing weak. I hate that.

In this counseling scenario the client is conceptualized as using expansive and angry behaviors to compensate for inner feelings of weakness and vulnerability. The counselor uses the client’s language to gently confront the discrepancy between what the client wants and her behaviors. As you can see from the preceding dialogue, this confrontation (and the counselor’s use of an interpersonal challenge) gets the client to look seriously at what her discrepant behavior is all about. This cooperation wouldn’t be possible without the earlier development of a therapy alliance . . . an alliance that seemed deepened by the fact that the client saw the counselor as another Brown Woman. After the confrontation and cooperation, the counselor shifts into a visualization activity designed to focus and vivify the client’s feelings. This process enabled the young Latina woman to begin understanding in greater depth why cooperating with rules triggered intense feelings of weakness. In addition, the client was able to begin articulating the meaning of feeling “weak” and how that meaning permeated and impacted her life.

To check out a 4+ minute existential counseling video clip go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiirtIKcIeM

This clip is taken from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories 2 DVD set. The 2 DVD set is available through Psychotherapy.net: http://www.psychotherapy.net/video/counseling-psychotherapy-theories and Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Psychotherapy-Theories-Context-Practice/dp/1118402537/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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2 thoughts on “A Short Existential Case Example from Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories . . .”

  1. Beautiful example of “process” work, staying with the client’s existential experience. Yes, it works.

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