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Counselling Skills Theories and Their Uses within Education

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There are many models in place within the counselling sector, each taking on a different structure and approach to providing self-help for a client or possible student in need of help. It is important as tutors that a basic knowledge of the counselling models are understood so that the behaviour patterns of students and problems they may have can be understood and analysed correctly. Richard Nelson-Jones wrote that the core conditions of relationship counselling are:

“empathic understanding, respect for clients’ potentials to lead their own lives and congruence or genuineness. Terms like ‘active listening’ and ‘rewarding listening’ are other ways of expressing the central skills of basic helping relationships.”

It is important that tutors understand what may be going on in the lives of their students, especially when dealing with young people at a foundation level of course who have performance difficulties from behaviour to possible the situations in their private lives. This stresses the importance for tutors to implement ‘active listening’ and ‘rewarding listening’ within the classroom and tutorials.

Understanding Counselling Models

Person-Centred Counselling

The origin of person-centred counselling was in the 1930s and 1940s by Dr Carl Rogers who was an American psychologist and therapist. Mearns and Thorne describe Rogers’s theories and ideas.

“It is the client who knows what is hurting and in the final analysis it is the client who knows how to move forwards…..the counsellor’s task is to enable the client to make contact with his own inner resources rather than to guide, advise or in some other way influence the direction the client should take……thus emphasising the central importance of the client’s phenomenological world.”

It is important in this type of counselling that the counsellor establishes a safe growth environment for the client. By building a trusting relationship they will be able to start to understand themselves and take control of their lives enabling them to understand and build confidence, thus become a self functioning person.

There are three main therapeutic elements that a counsellor using this method should develop and be able to convey to their client. These core conditions are ‘congruence’, ‘unconditional positive regard’ and ’empathy’.

Congruence The ability to be yourself and be real within the relationship without putting up a front. This means being aware of what is going on inside you, owning the feelings and communicating them appropriate.

Unconditional positive regard This occurs when the counsellor experiences acceptance and liking for the client. There becomes a climate of acceptance enabling the client to be able to feel safe to express negative feelings and start to face them without fearing judgement or rejection. Thus a client will be able to develop self-confidence and acceptance within the sessions.

Empathic Understanding This involves understanding what the client is experiencing in their lives without becoming overwhelmed by it. In this the counsellors own values and prejudices are suspended so as not to become judgmental. It also involves sensitive communication and understanding the clients’ problems, frequently checking accuracy and guidance is taken from the clients’ responses.

So at the heart of person-centred therapy is a belief that every one has the ability to move towards achieving their full potential. This can be achieved in counselling by developing trust. Therefore a counsellor’s task is to try to create a condition between themselves and the client to motivate them to ‘become what they are capable of becoming’.

In Rogers’ theoretical assumptions, he described this approach as phenomenological ie ‘concerned with the way things appear to be rather than objective reality. Each person will see the world in their own unique way depending what they believe or have been brought up to believe, this then determines their behaviour.

The ultimate goal of a person-centred counsellor is that a person can become fully functional by living the life they want in the way they want to live it, and having the right to a ‘good life’ by leading a more enriched exciting, rewarding, challenging and meaningful existence.

Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy

The founder of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT1) was Albert Ellis who was born in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania in 1913. He became discontented with the normal techniques he used within his counselling and remembered that he had helped himself by the reading of Roman and Greek Stoic philosophers who stressed that people’s minds are not disturbed by events but by their interpretation of them.

In the middle 1950’s he came up with his approach, which was called Rational Therapy, which then at a later date became know as Rational Emotive Therapy. Finally in 1993 Ellis recognised that behaviour was a strong element of his approach as well as emotions and cognitions and the name of this got changed once again to REBT1, this is how we know it today.

In the hand out on Counselling Skills for Professionals, Nelson-Jones (1995) stated that Ellis’s theoretical assumptions of REBT1 recognises that humans seek pleasure and what brings happiness varies from one to another. People tend to hardly ever act or feel without thinking first. REBT1 places emphasis on the role of cognition, rational and irrational tendencies are also apparent.

“In Ellis’ terms, rational means feeling, thinking and behaving in ways which help a person to achieve their goals (personal fulfilment) and irrational means feeling, thinking and behaving in ways which frustrate or prevent a person from achieving their goals.”

The handout goes on to summarise that rational beliefs are expressed as wants, desires or preferences based in reality. Feelings like this are healthy and ok as they do not get in the way of the pursuit of pleasure. Where as irrational beliefs are normally expressed as demands such as the words ‘must’ and ‘should’ etc. This belief is sometimes rigid, unrealistic and can be self-defeating. Feeling like this result in negative emotions such as depression, guilt or anger and could result in self-defeating behaviour and actions as well as stopping them from achieving and pursuing their goals.

As humans we have a inclination to personalise events that happen in our lives, as well as generalising our experience from a particular event. It is these tendencies, which causes ‘disturbance’ within our lives. In Ellis’s theories he believed that there was a potential to bring about change in irrational thinking and recognised that individuals can develop and practice their capacity for rational choice.

Rebt1 is a practical, acton-oriented approach in order to help cope with problems and enhance the client’s growth. The goal of this therapy is to help the client recognise the irrational thoughts that lead to unhealthy emotions and to learn and develop new more rational thought patterns that will lead to healthier emotions.

Transactional Analysis

Transactional Analysis (TA2) is claimed to be: –

“a theory of personality and a systematic psychotherapy for personal growth and personal change”

Stewart & Joines (1987) states that TA2 attempts to give a picture of how people are structured psychologically. This helps to understand how people function throughout their lives, and how they express their personality in terms of behaviour. Taking in to account the theory of communication and of child development. It explains how present life patterns have originated from childhood, and shows how we can re-play childhood strategies in our life.

“In the area of practical applications, TA does indeed offer us a system of psychopathology. It is used in the treatment of all types of psychological disorders, from everyday living problems to severe psychosis. It provides a method of therapy for use with individuals, groups, couples and families.”

The ego state This is a set of related behaviours, such as thoughts and feelings, which presents itself as part of our personality at a given time. There are three stages of the ego- state, which are Parent, Adult and Child. The ego model is alternatively known as P-A-C model. The process of analysing terms of ego-state is known as structural analysis.

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