Tag Archives: Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy

Emergence of Personal Theory

I think I might be uncertain about my theoretical orientation

For many counseling students, September brings with it the question, “What’s my theoretical orientation?” This is a big question . . . and its bigness is probably the reason why many of our old “theoretical orientation” blog posts suddenly get hot this time of year.

Below, I’ve excerpted a section from the end of chapter 1 of our Counseling Theories textbook. If you’re exploring your theoretical orientation, reading this section might be useful.

Here’s the excerpt

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If you want to be an excellent mental health professional, then it makes sense to closely study the thinking of some of the greatest minds and models in the field. This text covers 12 of the most comprehensive and practical theories in existence. We hope you absorb each theory as thoroughly as possible and try experiencing them from the inside out. As you proceed through each chapter, suspend doubt, and try thinking like a practitioner from each theoretical orientation.

It’s also important for you to discover which theory or theories are the best fit for you. You’ll have opportunities reflect on the content of this text and hopefully that will help you develop your own ideas about human functioning and change. Although we’re not recommending that you develop a 13th theory, we are recommending that you explore how to integrate your genuine self into these different theoretical perspectives.

Some of you reading this book may already have considerable knowledge and experience about counseling and psychotherapy theories. However, even if you have very little knowledge and experience, you undoubtedly have some preexisting ideas about what helps people change. Therefore, before reading chapters 2 through 14, we encourage you to look at your own implicit ideas about people, and how they change.

Your First Client and Your First Theory

Pretend this is the first day of your career as a mental health professional. You have all the amenities: a tastefully decorated office, two comfortable chairs, a graduate degree, and a client.

You also have everything that any scarecrow, tin man, or lion might yearn for: a brain full of knowledge about how to provide therapy, a heart with compassion for a diverse range of clients, and courage to face the challenge of providing therapy services. But do you have what it takes to help a fellow human being climb from a pit of despair? Do you have the judgment to apply your knowledge in an effective way?

You walk to the waiting room. She’s there. She’s your first client ever. You greet her. The two of you walk back to the office.

In the first 20 minutes, you learn quite a lot about your client: She’s a 21-year-old college student experiencing apathy, insomnia, no romantic interests, carbohydrate cravings, an absence of hobbies, and extremely poor grades. She’s not using drugs or alcohol. Based on this information, you tentatively diagnose her as having some variant of clinical depression and proceed with counseling. But how do you proceed? Do you focus on her automatic thoughts and the core beliefs about herself that might be contributing to her depressive symptoms? Do you help her get a tutor, thinking that improved grades might lift her depressive symptoms? Do you recommend she begin an exercise routine? Do you explore her childhood, wondering if she has a trauma experience that needs to be understood and worked through? Do you teach her mindfulness skills and have her practice meditation? Do you have her role play and rehearse solutions to her problems? Do you focus on listening, assuming that if you provide her a positive therapy environment, she’ll gain insight into herself and move toward greater psychological health? Do you help her recast herself and her life into a story with a positive ending more adaptive identity? Do you ask her to sit in different chairs—speaking from different perspectives to explore her here and now feelings of success and failure? Any or all of these strategies might help. Which ones seem best to you?

You have many choices for how to proceed, depending upon your theoretical orientation. Here’s our advice: Don’t get stuck too soon with a single theoretical orientation. It’s unlikely that all humans will respond to a single approach. As suggested in Putting it in Practice 1.3, experiment and reflect before choosing your preferred theory. (Complete the ratings in Table 1.2 and then look through Table 1.3 to see which major theoretical perspectives might fit best for you).

Note: the info from Tables 1.2 and 1.3 are linked in this previous blog post: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2019/07/27/whats-your-theoretical-orientation/

Counseling Theories — Week One — Hypnosis for Warts

Theories III Photo

Being holed up in our passive solar Absarokee house made an interesting venue for blasting off this semester’s University of Montana Counseling Theories class. I’m mentioning passive solar not to brag (although Rita did design an awesome set-up for keeping us warm in the winter and cool in the summer using south-facing windows and thermal mass), but to give you a glimpse of our temperature-related passivity: we have no working parts (as in air conditioning). And I’m mentioning holed up because we’re in a stage 1 air pollution alert from California smoke and consequently weren’t able to use our usual manual air conditioning system (opening up the windows in the night to cool off the house). Our need to keep the windows shut created a warmer than typical room temperature and, based on my post-lecture assessment of the armpits of my bright yellow shirt, yesterday just might have been my sweatiest class since 1988, when I was teaching at the University of Portland, and started sweating so much during an Intro Psych class that my glasses fogged up. In case you didn’t already know this about me, I’m an excellent sweater. You haven’t seen sweat until you’ve seen my sweat. Top-notch. The sort of sweating most people only dream about. I’d rate myself a sweating 10.

Aside from my sweating—which I’m guessing you’ve had enough of at this point—the students were pretty darn fantastic. Attendance was virtually perfect, which, given that everything was virtual, exceeded my expectations.

Speaking of expectations, because I’m teaching online via Zoom, one thing I’m adding to the course are a few pre-recorded videos. Yesterday’s pre-recorded video featured me telling my famous “Hypnosis for Warts” story. My goal with the pre-recorded video—aside from letting my students see me and my yellow shirt in a less sweaty condition—was to break up the powerpoints. I could have told the story live, but instead, I clicked out of the powerpoints, told my students we were going to watch a video, and then showed a video of myself . . . telling a story I could have been telling live. I thought I was hilarious. However, mostly, the sea of 55 Hollywood Squares faces just stared into the sea of virtual reality, and so I couldn’t see whether the students appreciated my pre-recorded video of myself teaching strategy. I know I’ve got too many “seas” in that preceding sentence, but redundancy happens. Really, it does. I’m totally serious about redundancy.

Back to expectations . . .

One of Michael Lambert’s four common factors in counseling and psychotherapy is expectancy. He estimated that, in general, expectation accounts for about 15% of the variation in treatment outcomes. But, of course, treatment outcomes are always contextual and always variable and always unique, and so, as in the case of “Hypnosis for Warts,” sometimes the outcome may be a product of a different combination or proportion of therapeutic ingredients. If you watch the video, consider these questions:

  • What do you think “happened” in the counseling office with the 11-year-old boy to cause his eight warts to disappear?
  • Do you think the therapeutic ingredients that helped the boy get rid of his warts were limited to Lambert’s extratherapeutic factors, relationship factors, technical factors, and expectancy factors (his four big common factors) . . . or might something else completely different have been operating?
  • What proportion of factors do you suppose contributed to the positive outcome? For example, might there have been 50% expectancy, instead of 15%?

Here’s the video link to the Wart story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FR4PyTcsKw

That’s about all I’ve got to share for today. However, if you happen to know of some nice 1-5 minute theories-related video clips that I can share with my students, please pass them on. I’d be especially interested if you happen to have video clips of me, but relevant videos of other people would be nice too. Haha. Just joking. Please DON’T send video clips of me. My students and I—we already have far too much of the JSF video scene.

Be well,

John SF