The Client-Counselor Relationship
Relationships of any variation are personal and private. This is especially true in a relationship between a client and a counselor. Clients encounter the therapeutic setting for a variety of reasons such as personal crisis, family disturbances, legal mandates, and substance abuse just to name a few. Clients generally perceive the counselor as a wise and intelligent tool that will aid in personal dilemmas and problem solving. Counselors have little, if any, expectations of their clientele. Therapy sessions are designed to meet the individual needs of the client. It should be noted that counselors are bound to uphold a very strict ethical standard where counseling is concerned. As a result, the quality of the client-counselor relationship has a great impact on the therapeutic outcome.
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There are a great many different types of therapy used by licensed counselors. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Desensitization Therapy, Emotive Therapy, and Responsive Therapy are the most recognized. When evaluating a true client-counselor relationship, Responsive Therapy is only one therapy that meets the needs of the client and provides respect and a level of equal to the client. Responsive therapy is a technique aided in its development through Sigmund Freud, the founder and father of talk therapy and dream analysis (Weiner & Freedheim, 2003). Through intricate questions proposed by the counselor, the client reveals through answers certain details, sometimes intimate, that provide understanding to the counselor. The talk sessions allow for the counselor to narrow the scope of the possible issues and problem areas psychologically ailing the client. While Freud’s approach was based on the client’s ability to respond, the Existential therapeutic approach focuses on philosophical beliefs of the client with regard to personal freedom (Gerber, 2003). The Existential approach provides for personal life reflection and self-
analysis from the client’s perspective. Victor Frankl, founder of the Existential Therapy, found that human beings are in constant search for answers (Gerber, 2003). The self-invoked search allowed for the client to develop responsibility, find meaning, and discover values.
Carl Rogers famed the psychological community with his introduction of Client-Centered Therapy (CCT) (Ritchie, 1986; Engel, 2008). In this form of therapy, the majority of the focus is centered on the client. The client narrates and dictates the direction in which the sessions occur. The counselor periodically interjects ideas or scenarios that essentially provoke the client into deep thinking. Through time, the client is able to make self-revelations with respect to their personal problems. Rogers believed that this humanistic belief with regard to therapy would prove that individuals are generally good persons who already possess the ability to solve their own problems (Corey, 2005).
Finally, the last therapy to be discussed is the Gestalt Therapy. This therapy was developed by Fritz and Laura Perls and is deeply rooted in the belief that a client only recovers if allowed to grow from personal experience and gained personal insight (Woolfe, Dryden, & Strawbridge, 2003). Through working with a competent counselor, a client begins to know and understand his or her role in the environment. The client then develops insight to their feelings which opens the door to personal change. The Gestalt Therapy affords each client with a safe and trusting environment facilitated by the counselor that encourages personal growth and discovery from within with regard to the client in treatment.
The client in treatment has various roles in order to obtain and embrace therapy to the fullest extent. A patient, or client, is responsible to show up and be on time for the designated therapy sessions. Clients are dually responsible to be completely honest and willing to do the work in order to produce a positive outcome. Expressing thoughts and feelings is essential to the therapy session because counselors are not psychics nor are they mind readers (Kottler & Shepard, 2007). It is very important for clients to realize that counselors are human beings, too. Clients should avoid putting unreasonable expectations on the counselor as they are unable to perform magic and make everything better. Clients must demonstrate to the counselor that he or she is earnest in finding understanding with regard to their problems through a therapeutic commitment (Greene & Goodrich-Dunn, 2004).
The role of the counselor, or therapist, is characterized by diagnosis, plan of treatment, and code of ethics by which the professional position of counselor is defined. A counselor should often refer to diagnostic manuals, treatment manuals, and scholarly journals in order to be updated on the most current theories and practices (Seigilman, 2004). Counselors are to give their clients their full attention and avoid passing or interjecting their personal beliefs or opinions. The counselor is responsible to maintain a professional ethical relationship at all times with the client including explaining and obtaining an informed consent from the client (American Counselors Association, 2005). If a conflicting situation arises, the counselor is responsible to provide the client with a referral so that the client can continue with psychological treatment.
Effective client-counselor relationships are dependent on many different qualities that ultimately impact the client-counselor relationship as a whole. The counselor is responsible for showing a level of true understanding by which the client in turn develops a sense of trust towards the counselor. A psychoeducational environment should be structured at the commencement of therapy whereby the dynamics of the relationship can be defined (Wanberg & Milkman, 2008). Clients should be educated as to their diagnosis or condition and the options for treating the dysfunction showing a positive outcome. Both the counselor and the client should incorporate the important provision of setting boundaries.
A good counselor will show their clients empathy and support during times of stress and fear experienced by the client (Coon, 2005). While exercising an objective detachment, the counselor can provide the client with motivation and encouragement within the confines of the multi-dimensional relationship. The client’s mood or attitude may be different at different sessions; therefore, it is crucial that the counselor exercise positive regard as a means for helping the client develop an understanding of the consequence and the best possible way for resolving the issue at hand (Norcross, 2002 Kottler & Carlson, 2005).
Through understanding the mentioned qualities, the therapeutic sessions will have a more positive impact on the client. Through warmth, understanding, and acceptance shown on behalf of the counselor, the client will become more receptive to change (Corey, 2005). Strategies can be developed and implemented by the client-counselor team to increase self-esteem. An equal level of trust and respect becomes evident as time passes in and out of therapy sessions. The client and the counselor essentially develop an alliance, and begin to work together and take-on
problem solving as a team. Psychoeducation continues throughout therapy as the client continues to learn from the counselor and the counselor can learn from the client (Kottler & Carlson, 2005). As an effective relationship is formed between the client and the counselor, the client becomes more responsive in therapy and begins to show signs of progress.
Despite the fact that some counselors demonstrate and afford their clientele with the best therapeutic resources, some clients continue to fail. Some clients have not chosen to voluntarily participate in therapy due to ultimatums from a spouse or significant other or because of a legal dilemma which mandates their participation. It is common in these instances for counselors to be met with clients who are resistant and reluctant to participate in their own recovery process. Clients who are reluctant are often forced to be in the therapeutic situation (Gerber, 2003). Some clients are simply resistant to change. Many resistant clients do not know what is expected of them, are fearful, unmotivated, feel too guilty to participate, or are resistant due to other undiagnosed behavioral or learning disabilities (Ritchie, 1986).
There are codes of ethics for every professional position. Counselors must adhere to these ethical standards in order to provide the help and understanding needing by the seeking clients (Corey, Corey, & Callanan, 2007). Some clients may make requests of the counselor that present ethical dilemmas. In these instances, it is often best to refer the client to another psychology professional if the decline to the request is met with anger, resentment, or a client that cannot understand. Counselors are to take an active role in supporting the human rights of
their patients through respecting a client’s confidentiality, HIPPA laws, and via obtaining a signed contract containing an informed consent (Ritchie, 1986). Counselors should always put the needs of the clients first. There should never be shown an issue of bias or inequality towards the client by the counselor (Pope & Vasquez, 2007). Without these essential guidelines set forth by a supervising organization, a client’s privacy and personal integrity could be at stake. The main ethical standards to be followed by a counselor include: client welfare, informed consent, the retrieval of past clinical records, avoiding harm, imposing values, and defining roles (American Counselors Association, 2005). Without ethics, there would not be the existence of a positive client-counselor relationship.
In today’s society, it is very common to know of or to hear of someone who is currently involved in therapy. Therapy is sought out by many individuals for a variety of reasons. Some people are mandated to participate in therapy as a provision of a legal matter, divorce, or custody issues. In any instance, there exists the possibility of a good and productive relationship between the client and the counselor. Clients and counselors can work avidly together in order to find a level of understanding for a presenting problem or dilemma. Clients are more responsive to counselors who appear to be more natural, empathetic, understanding, and supportive. The absence of these qualities can have a devastating and negative impact on the outcome of the client’s therapeutic experience. Counselors who are undoubtedly dedicated to their profession can somehow always find a way to make every situation produce a positive outcome. Counselors are vital to the recovery of a client. The client-counselor relationship is a very personal but essential part of some individual’s lives.
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