You do not need to know any of this before coming for counselling. But if you are curious and would like to know a little more about some of the various forms that counselling can take, you might find this additional information of interest.
Counselling can be undertaken in many different ways. Some counsellors specialise in one particular technique, others may work with a number of approaches. How a counsellor makes these work together should depend on the needs of the client.
Here is a very brief summary of just four of the more commonly met approaches. There are many, many more. Because these are only summaries the descriptions will not do full justice to the different styles. But hopefully they will help to give you an understanding of some of the terms you may have come across if you have been making some tentative enquiries of your own, or if you have previously heard references to these terms. Further information can be found on BACP’s web site.
At the core of person-centred counselling is the belief that we all have within us a fundamental drive towards positive growth – what Carl Rogers called ‘the actualising tendency’ – but that this can become blocked by psychological problems that develop, typically (but not exclusively) in early life. We unconsciously develop ways, or ‘strategies’ of coping with these problems. However, because the underlying difficulties remain unresolved we experience an inner conflict between our ‘strategies’ and our inherent drive towards positive growth. In person-centred counselling the emphasis is on developing a therapeutic relationship with the counsellor, which empowers the client and enables them to refocus how they experience themselves. In this way the client develops a healthier and more satisfying relationship with him/herself and others.
An underlying belief here is that we adopt particular ‘life positions’ (in terms of how we see ourselves in relation to others) and that we unconsciously plan a ‘life script’ for ourselves. This is largely formed as a result of messages we received from those who played a significant role in our early lives. Central to the philosophy behind transactional analysis is the concept of ‘ego states’ – parent, adult and child, and how we act these out in our everyday lives. Counselling will emphasise equality in the counsellor/client relationship, challenging the assumptions behind the client’s life script and a commitment to planning change.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT adopts a focused, problem-solving approach where the counsellor develops with the client a structure for taking practical positive steps. The emphasis is on understanding and changing behaviour and learning new skills for managing problems. This will involve setting goals and monitoring behaviour. The course of the counselling will be time-limited and there will be a clear educational element. This emphasis on fairly rapid and measurable/visible results has made the approach popular with the NHS where it may be possible to access a short course of counselling or CBT through your GP.
Psychodynamic theory, pioneered by Sigmund Freud, assumes that behaviour is driven by biology and instinct as well as by our early life environment. The emphasis is on understanding the client’s development during childhood in order to understand the adult personality; also on making the client aware of what has been motivating them at an unconscious level. Counselling may involve reliving significant past experiences. ‘Free association’ is a technique commonly associated with psychodynamic counselling. In its classic form the counsellor will adopt a detached role and act as a ‘blank screen’ on to which the client will be encouraged to project their assumptions and beliefs.