Purpose and Aims of Counselling
Counselling is an interactive learning process contracted between the counsellor and the client. The overall aim is to provide the client with the opportunity to work in self-defined ways, towards living in more satisfying and resourceful ways as individuals and as members of the broader society.
Clients need to feel safe and secure for them to explore and develop an insight into their issues and concerns. For the clients to explore and resolve their issues with the counsellor a strong therapeutic alliance based on trust, empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard needs to be established. The counselling environment needs to be comfortable and well suited to a range of client types so that the client can feel safe. Making a therapeutic contract, setting goals and targets, discussing confidentiality issues can help the client feel safe. This essay will discuss the aims & purposes of counselling in some detail, followed by the importance and benefits of a safe counselling environment for the client in his or her exploration. Some limitations of the counsellor will be discussed and finally, referral issues will be considered.
The European Association for counselling defines counselling and its aims and purposes in the following way:
‘Counselling is an interactive learning process contracted between the counsellor and the client, be they individuals, families, groups or institutions, which approach in a holistic way, social, cultural economic and/or emotional issues. Counselling may be concerned with addressing and resolving specific problems, making decisions, coping with crisis, improving relationships, developmental issues, promoting and developing personal awareness, working with feelings, thoughts, perceptions and internal or external conflict. The overall aim is to provide clients with the opportunities to work in self-defined ways, towards living in more satisfying and resourceful ways as individuals and as members of the broader society’
Further detailed aims and purposes of counselling as defined by McLeod are:
Insight, relating to others, self-awareness, self-acceptance, self-actualization, enlightenment, problem-solving, psychological education, acquisition of social skills, cognitive and systematic change, empowerment, restitution, Generativity and social action.
Insight refers the acquisition of an understanding of the origins and development of emotional difficulties, leading to an increased capacity to take rational control over feelings and actions. Relating to others means becoming better able to form and maintain meaningful and satisfying relationships with other people: for example, within the family or workplace. Self-awareness allows a person to be more aware of thoughts and feelings that had been blocked off or denied, or developing a more accurate sense of how the self is perceived by others. Self-acceptance is important for the development of a positive attitude towards self, marked by an ability to acknowledge areas of experience that had been the subject of self-criticism and rejection. Self-actualization or individuation, a core impetus of the person-centred theory allows the client to move in the direction of fulfilling potential or achieving an integration of previously conflicting parts of self-Enlightenment is helpful in assisting the client to arrive at a higher state of spiritual awakening. Problem-solving implies finding a solution to a specific problem that the client had not been able to resolve alone. Psychological education will enable the client to acquire ideas and techniques with which to understand and control behaviour. Acquiring social skills is related to learning and mastering social and interpersonal skills such as maintenance of eye contact, turn-taking in conversations, assertiveness or anger control. Cognitive change is also one of the aims of counselling. Cognitive change refers to the modification or replacement of irrational beliefs or maladaptive thought patterns associated with self-destructive behaviour and Behaviour change which is the modification or replacement of maladaptive or self-destructive patterns of behaviour. Person-centred counselling focuses on the client. In person-centred counselling, the counsellor does not director in any way manipulate the counselling it is all about empowering the client to find and choose the best way forward.
Creating a warm and safe physical environment is an essential stepping-stone to building a strong therapeutic alliance. Paying attention to the meeting, greeting and seating are all helpful in helping the client to feel safe. For counselling to be effective, the counsellor needs to work at building a relationship. This is very important especially in the early stages when the client may be feeling vulnerable and insecure, and bearing in mind that it is usual for the client to meet the counsellor on unfamiliar territory, for example, the counsellor’s consulting room. Striving to keep the room neutral, in other words, free from personal belongings such as books, ornaments and family photographs, is a positive step that counsellors can take to reduce the equality gap. Sutton & Stewart writes that barriers such as desks should also be avoided, and chairs should be uniform and placed approximately three to four feet apart and slightly at an angle. Being in direct eye contact with the counsellor can leave some clients feeling very uncomfortable or embarrassed. Sutton & Stewart mentions other details of the room, for example, a small clock needs to be positioned where the counsellor can glance at it, and attention should be paid to the lighting, and room temperature. A box of tissues placed where the client can easily reach them is a must, and a vase of fresh flowers or a potted plant can add a touch of warmth and colour to the setting, and reflect something of your personality. With the client’s permission, the counsellor may tape the sessions and this should be set up ready to use. However, it should be pointed out that emotional barriers are far more potent than physical ones. Even if all the physical surroundings are perfect, the client still might not feel at ease if the counsellor and client are not in rapport.
Sutton & Stewart argue that addressing clients by their first name can go a long way towards helping them feel comfortable and accepted. Introducing yourself by your first name can help to break down the barriers of inequality. However, do not assume that because you feel comfortable being on first name terms that all people are. Ask the client how they want you to address them. The counsellor’s opening sentence should be empathic and your posture should demonstrate to the client that you are ready to listen: Some clients who seek to counsel have been badly let down, hurt or abused by other people, and trust may, therefore, be a major issue. Trust is something that has to be earned by the counsellor and it can be hard work. However, developing the skills of active listening; accurate, sensitive responding; reflecting feelings; empathy; genuineness; and demonstrating that you are fully present for the client can help to establish a solid foundation of trust. Indeed, the more the counsellor invests in the relationship, the stronger the trust and bond grow between client and counsellor. Trusting the counsellor will help the client feel safe and will aid him or her in self-exploration and insight.
Establishing clear boundaries [the ground rules for counselling] is another important stepping stone to building the therapeutic alliance and helping the client feel safe. Boundaries may include agreement over such things such as the duration of counselling, length of counselling sessions, limits of confidentiality, appropriate touching, number and duration of phone calls, sending and responding to emails, or strategies for managing episodes of self-harm or suicidal thoughts. The terms on which counselling is being offered should be made clear to clients before counselling commences; These may be agreed verbally, or they may be set out in a formal written contract between counsellor and client, and signed by both parties. Subsequent revision of these terms should be agreed in advance of any change. Clear contracting enhances, and shows respect for, the client’s autonomy. A contract helps to ensure the professional nature of the relationship and may, in addition to the ground rules already mentioned, include:
Venue, fees, frequency of sessions, how counselling will be evaluated, process of referral, if and when necessary, broad details of the counselling relationship, duties and responsibilities of each party, details of the counsellor’s supervision, goals of counselling, means by which the goals will be achieved, the provision and completion of ‘homework’, the setting of boundaries and expectations, the terms of the therapeutic relationship, provision for renegotiation of contract.
It is important to end sessions on time. This helps the client feel safe. When a session is nearing an end, it can be helpful to say something like:
‘We have about 10 minutes left in this session. Perhaps it would be helpful to summarise what we have talked about today.’ It can often prove beneficial to let your client summarise what has been discussed during the session. Something like, ‘What will you take away with you from today?’ helps the client to summarise. Your closing sentences need to be clear and should indicate that it’s time to end the session.
Just as a safe environment is important for the client to explore and share his or her issues, a strong therapeutic relationship based on trust, empathy and unconditional positive regard are as important. The counsellor must unconditionally accept the clients for whom they are in order for a trusting relationship to establish. Empathy and understanding are shown through careful listening. Egan explains the importance of empathic listening and says that ‘a helper cannot communicate an understanding of a client’s world without getting in touch with that world through empathetic listening. Therefore empathy centres on the kind of attending, observing and listening’. Rogers defines empathic listening in the following way:
It means entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it. It involves being sensitive, moment by moment, to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person, to the fear or rage or tenderness or confusion or whatever he or she is experiencing. It means temporarily living in the other’s life moving about in it delicately without making judgments
The aims of educational counselling are specific. They may depend on the situation and the environment, and on training. The basic aims of education counselling include the following:
- To help students gain an insight into the origins and development of emotional difficulties, leading to an increased capacity to take rational control over feelings and actions.
- To alter maladjusted behaviour.
- To assist students to move in the direction of fulfilling their potential, or achieve an integration of conflicting elements within themselves.
- To provide students with the skills, awareness and knowledge, which will enable them to confront social inadequacy.
In a school, boys and girls face many difficulties and problems which may be expressed in the following ways: withdrawal, unhappiness, annoyance, anger, inability to meet needs, lack of knowledge, partial or total failure, inability to realize aspirations, anxiety and hyperactivity.
Young boys and girls are a large segment of the population. It, therefore, makes strategic sense to target them through guidance and counselling.
Counselling is important at this stage because this is when boys and girls develop positive sexual attitudes and practices. It is when students begin to understand who they are, and how they can contribute to healthy relationships. They start to develop attitudes of respect toward members of the opposite sex and see how each community member can contribute to development.