Personal Counseling Philosophy Essay

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¶ … Therapy and Personhood

It is impossible to develop a theory of therapy without first developing a theory of personhood. For therapy is a practice designed (so I believe) to help clients come as close as possible to a fully realized life. But this can become simply tautological if we see therapy as the return to full functionality and full functionality as the position or state to which a therapist hopes to return a client. For therapy to be effective, the therapist has to begin with an independent and established sense of what mental health is, and this in turn depends on the therapist's having a well-developed (but not finalized and static) sense of human nature. In this paper I will examine my concepts of both therapy and human nature and discuss how the two of these are related. I believe that therapists are drawn to certain models of therapy and certain clinical techniques because they mesh with the therapist's understanding of the human condition. This is certainly true for myself.

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To some extent I am adopting an eclectic approach in this paper (and in the journey that I am beginning to become a clinician) because I believe that all of the major therapeutic traditions have important ideas to add to the tool kit that a skilled clinician needs to have at hand. Thus in this paper and with clients I weave a number of traditions and perspectives into my view of human nature and how the therapist can best serve a client. Another way of parsing this is to say that I use as many perspectives as possible to the question of what it means to be a person, what I means to be a therapist, and what it means to be healed. However, I am focusing on three theoretical models of treatment, each of which has implications for the therapist-client relationship. These are cognitive behavioral therapy, Gestalt theory, and person-centered psychology.

Gestalt Therapy

Essay on Personal Counseling Philosophy Assignment

I begin with a description of my understanding of these three modalities before I describe the way in which I integrate the three in my own work as a clinician and my overall understanding of what it means to be a therapist.

Gestalt therapy can be viewed as an existential therapy in that it is a perspective that guides a client into focussing on the moment, on being present-oriented. One of its greatest strengths is that while some forms of present-centered approaches or perspectives can lead to solipsism, Gestalt therapy provides constant reminders of the complex and over-lapping social contexts in which all human thought and behavior takes place. Gestalt therapy thus avoids what is often seen as a significant limitation of classical psychoanalysis, a form of looking too long and too deeply into a mirror that blinds one to the interactions of the moment that the social self (should be) engages in.

In a session guided by a therapist informed by Gestalt therapy principles, the client is encouraged to engage in stock-taking about her relationship with every aspect of the current moment, including the relationship between the client and the therapist. In Gestalt therapy (which arose during World War II and the years following it and so may reflect the historical verities that none of us is able to escape historical verities), the therapist helps the client become more aware of the way in which she, or he, constantly makes adjustments to her or his own behavior because of the constant feedback that each individual receives from the totality of the world around her. No one in Gestalt therapy, in other words, is an island, however much one might want to be.

Gestalt therapy can be seen as one type of field theory in that within Gestalt therapy practice the self only exists as a partner to the other. Without an "other," there can be no "self." It should be clear from this stepping-off point that such a concept of self cannot be static, for each person's concept of the other changes as her environment changes. (Beisser, 1970, pp. 67-8). (To extend the metaphor begun above, Gestalt therapy might be seen as a kind of hand mirror held up not to the client's face but a panoramic lens that takes in the entire circle of activity around the client. Gestalt therapy insists that if one's concept of self hinges on an assessment and incorporation of the world around one, then one's sense of self is never complete. "Self" for the Gestalt therapist (and client, of course) is not something intrinsic or inherent within the client; it is not properly located within the individual psyche at all in fact but exists in what might be viewed as a sort of existential space that lies between the individual and each external aspect of her life. As we learn to negotiate the relationships between ourselves and a world of "others," we (according to Gestalt therapy) create a continuity of self that allows us both to constantly regulate our relationship with the ever-mutating world and maintain a sense of continuity.

The Self at the Center

For the Gestalt therapist, a self that is dysfunctional may be too weak (or too discontinuous) to allow an individual to engage in meaningful relationships either with others or with oneself. Alternately, a dysfunctional self may be overly connected to established relationships to allow the individual to engage in anything spontaneous. A healthy self lies between these two, with authentic but flexible commitments to other people, to work and other meaningful commitments, and to society as a whole.

The primary role (and goal) of the Gestalt therapist is not that of someone who in any way fixes (or even truly directs) the healing that the client engages in. Rather, the therapist-client dyad is a partnership, albeit one in which the client takes the leading edge as the therapist and client work together to (co)-create an authentic, flexible, connected self. The present that matters most in the course of Gestalt therapy is the present-ness of the therapeutic hour.

The focus on the dynamics of the therapeutic moment does not mean that either therapist or client believe that there is an automatic (or easy) transfer of these dynamics into other arenas of the client's life. (This is, of course, true of other therapeutic modalities as well.) However, the Gestalt therapist works from the position that any problems that the client may have in establishing a strong-but-flexible self vis-a-vis the therapist will be mirrored or re-enacted in other relationships and so progress that the client makes in establishing a healthy relationship with the therapist will provide what might be seen as practice for other relationships.

One of the most important functions of the Gestalt therapist is that she can derive very important information about the client's experiences with other people (in situations outside of the consulting room) through her own experience of the client. By examining how she perceives and experiences the client, the therapist can gain an accurate sense of how the client is perceived by other people. This insight on the part of the therapist can then be used to help provide the client with an understanding of how the client is viewed by others. With this information the client can re-think and re-make her connections with other people.

It should be clear by this point that it is essential that the Gestalt therapist have no specific idea about how the client "should" change throughout the course of therapy since this mode of therapy does not presuppose any specific sense of self. It might even be argued that a major goal of Gestalt therapy is to help the client create a more unpredictable sense of self (but one that is paradoxically stronger than the a more rigid version). Gestalt therapists are deeply concerned with change but -- in another paradox within this modality -- see change as arising from a complete acceptance of what one is in the present.

For the Gestalt therapist, it is only when the client (or the therapist, for that matter) accepts who she is that she is able to begin to shift things within herself and begin to make fundamental changes. This aspect of Gestalt therapy has a certain zen koan element to it: Change is only truly possible when one is no longer actively seeking to change. Put another way, change must be based on stability.

The Therapist as the Authentic "Other"

Gestalt therapy has some important connections to the Socratic method in that it is based on the practice of dialogue. Much of what the Gestalt therapist does is attempt to create as many opportunities as possible for authentic dialogue to occur. Dialogue requires both participants to be present, to be fully engaged in the moment and to be fully engaged in a relationship with an "other." In service of creating moments in which authentic dialogue can occur, the therapist is careful to be authentic herself, presenting herself to the client as she feels herself to… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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