The psychological counseling process follows a defined path of steps in a sequence. It is important to follow this process because of the power of human emotions and because of the real need to arrive at a desired outcome of the counseling.
Listening and Observation
The first step is one of active listening and observing the client. Is he or she relaxed or disturbed and agitated? Can eye contact be held or is the person’s attention darting and being deflected everywhere? Is the body language telling you something? Is the body posture generally open or closed and defensive? (Self protective.)
Facing Negative Emotions
Are there any clearly dominant negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, anger or guilt? These will need to be acknowledged and ‘fed back’ to the client as being observable, real events that need to be dealt with. Unless these negative feelings are actively confronted, no progress can be made with behavior modification and with goal setting. This task of providing feedback on negativity and bringing strong emotions into the light of day may take a considerable amount of time over several one hour sessions. Statements like, ‘I see you are really angry about something’ can be helpful. Also, ‘so you’ve been worrying a lot lately.’
Positive Suggestion and Options
Some suggestions like, ‘you can do something about this,’ may be timely and empowering. Build up the perception of skills and self esteem. ‘You have real ability and you can learn more skills to beat this thing. Deep inside, you can imagine now and think up some solutions.’
‘What are the options facing you?’ leads to a creative brainstorming with the client about how to start moving towards a lasting solution.
‘So what do you really want?’ becomes the start of finding goals that really follow the interests and desires of the client. The question, ‘what would you need to do first?’ leads to sub goals and tasks that must be fulfilled in order to achieve the primary goal. The counselor’s goal is to draw this information out of the person instead of imposing one’s values and beliefs.
Systematically rewarding all progress including any ‘baby steps’ taken in the right direction; i.e., towards the agreed upon goals. Reward in this context of counseling means giving the person your focused attention, acceptance, approval and praise. These social reinforcers are very potent in supporting changes in behavior.
As you are beginning to realize, counseling techniques are not particularly complicated, but they do need to follow a set order or sequence. In fact, psychological counseling may be summarized in two rather direct questions:
1. ‘How are you feeling?’
2. ‘What do you want?’
The psychology here looks at first glance to be oversimplified, but is it really? Results will follow when this sequence is used with the appropriate sensitivity and empathy. Take care with other people and always remember to consult a trained and registered health practitioner when confronting mental health problems of severity, when human life may be at risk. This article is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended for therapeutic application.
Geoff Dodd is a New Zealander with a background in psychology, now living in Western Australia. He has had extensive Internet experience since 1996 and is a webmaster operating 48 web sites.