Personal Choice of a Theoretical Perspective
(CSULA, Coun 450, November 20, 2003)
Choosing a single theoretical foundation that is a best fit with my personality and perspectives on life was a difficult assignment. I believe that each of the various theoretical perspectives and techniques we have studied, have value and merit in different situations and with different individual circumstances. Each of them contain parts of the whole puzzle that attempt to explain human consciousness, thought, and behavior. None of them are a perfect fit with my particular values and thoughts, but some have a closer orientation with my beliefs and personality than others (or vice versa). In particular, the existential therapy perspective is the closest overall to many of my core beliefs. Because this perspective is willing to use the techniques that seem the most likely to help a particular individual client, I feel relatively comfortable with its views.
A fundamental existential view is that we create the meaning and purpose in our lives and I believe this to be true. The existential therapy view that we "continually re-create ourselves through our projects" (Corey 145), fits with my understanding and beliefs in a lifespan development perspective. According to Corey (145), "the basic dimensions of the human condition" from this perspective, "include the (1) capacity for self-awareness; (2) freedom and responsibility; (3) creating one's identity and establishing meaningful relationships with others; (4) the search for meaning, purpose, values, and goals; (5) anxiety as a condition of living; and (6) awareness of death and non being." Corey calls these propositions.
I believe that a great number of the problems that people seek help with arise from difficulties in these areas, though this does not take into account those problems that are biological and/or genetic in origin. I have not decided how I feel about the fifth proposition Corey lists. I am not entirely comfortable with the statement that anxiety is a natural result of living in full awareness that life choices are entirely our own, but I recognize that the more fully a person understands this, the more potential anxiety exists. It may be that I don't understand the term anxiety in quite the same manner as Corey. I believe that it is a weighty responsibility to recognize that our thoughts and choices can be truly under our own control. And I believe that some people resist this, preferring to believe that it is from outside self that happiness, connectedness, purpose and meaning and their opposites are found or imposed. It seems to me that it is in our relationships with the external world that we find our meaning and purpose because we are social creatures, but our views of how this best works for us as individuals and how we perceive, act and behave are in the end- always our own choices, no matter if we recognize that fact or not.
The basic goals of existential therapy as Corey states (Student Manual 72) are "(1) to help people see that they are free and become aware of their possibilities, (2) to challenge clients to recognize that they are doing something that they formerly thought was happening to them, and (3) to recognize factors that block freedom." In addition the Corey text (153-154) states that "Existential therapy is best considered as an invitation to clients to recognize the ways in which they are not living fully authentic lives and to make choices that will lead to their becoming what they are capable of being." I believe that the process of understanding that life is about choice and that we are in control of those choices, is often a long term, lifetime process that may come in levels and layers of understanding that grow. So while I agree with the goals as a general framework or foundational philosophy, I am not sure it is always possible to help a client see this fully, especially in today's climate of managed care. Believing this, and that a client may want specific help with a specific single problem and not want to look or understand how this may apply to the rest of his/her life, I would use whatever approaches would fit with the specific concerns of the client. There are times that the long term view is not as important. And there are times that assisting or collaborating with the client to solve the specific problem they are concerned with, has lasting implications for their views on other problems they encounter.
The existential therapist's function and role is to understand the "subjective world of clients to help them come to new understandings and options. The focus is on the client's current life situations, not on helping clients recover a personal past" (Corey 154). Corey states that there is no fixed set of methods or techniques (154). This appeals to my belief that no single theoretical perspective contains an all purpose tool and none of them completely explain the range of human thought and behavior. Placing the therapeutic relationship as primary over technique is also a fit with my feelings about how to accomplish the goals of any therapy.
The descriptions of the client's experience in therapy, that they are "challenged to take responsibility for how they now choose to be in their world", and that they are "expected to go out into the world and decide how they will live differently" and that "they must be active in the therapeutic process" (Corey 155), has appeal to me on many levels. As described it appears that it can be gently confrontational, or slightly directive, but also does not require being aggressively confrontational. It involves some modeling and sharing with clients when it seems appropriate and though does not state directly, suggests that the person centered approach of creating a climate where the client feels secure is important. I interpret this perspective as primarily collaborative, with elements of gently confrontational and directive when it seems appropriate. It seems that it would be a fairly easy fit with Adlerian, cognitive, reality, gestalt and behavioral approaches as well.
I believe that people's thoughts, mental states and behaviors are a combination of biological-genetic predispositions (including reaction levels to various stimuli), environmental and learned factors. I also believe that with conscious effort and awareness of all the influences upon us, such as family and culture, most of us can choose to direct our lives and not simply respond in the manner that others have chosen or directed for us. I believe that this awareness can also evolve and change over time and that we continue to learn and grow throughout a lifetime. We can also get stuck in these different areas of life. The existential perspective seems to take these into account.
Many clients come to therapy seeking help with a specific problem as they understand it. I believe that the therapist's role is first to help the client with the problem for which they are seeking help. It is useful to guide them to an understanding of my view that overall they are in control, but it is more practical (to me) to assist them with their specific concerns using whatever techniques might be appropriate. If I can guide them to an understanding of their ability to control their lives, then they will have the tools to apply to other life problems, but I think that the therapist always needs to keep in mind the expressed needs of the client first and work on that specific area with the client. When the problem is ill defined or vague, then the therapist must help the client to clarify to themselves what areas of life they perceive as problems.
This perspective does assume a certain level of logical cognitive functioning which makes it less useful (and useless in some cases) for some people, conditions and problems, especially those that are biological and/or genetic in origin. It is a leap for many people who fall within the normal range of functioning to understand some of the influences on their life and thinking and to understand that they are in control of their choices. It is an impossible one for people whose awareness of the many differences between external and internal is diminished.
Other perspectives that appeal to me include the behavioral perspective. That perspective can provide relatively quick solutions to immediate problems with habits, addictions, lifestyles, phobias and other areas. A functional analysis of a particular problem can provide the necessary clues to creating a solution that the client can implement. Teaching a client to look for these solutions (and the ABC's of behavior) along with providing structured ways of dealing with a problem is very useful for many applications. And it falls in line with my beliefs that we are in control, but provides a useful practical approach that the client can readily see. As a perspective for dealing with more complex problems of meaning and feelings, it has little application (in my view) other than as an adjunct to other therapies.
Additional perspectives that will have an influence on my future style of therapy include Adlerian for its focus on the "client's discovering the purposes of behavior or symptoms and the basic mistakes associated with their coping" and "learning how to correct faulty assumptions and conclusions" (Corey 115). I believe that this is often a factor in people's problems with life. Person-centered therapy is also an influence for its belief in the human struggle for self actualization and that "we structure ourselves according to our perceptions of reality" (Corey 183) and its focus on the quality of the therapeutic relationship along with the qualities necessary for the therapist. Gestalt is another useful perspective for some of its techniques, its focus on the now and some of the resistance explanations. Reality therapy and its basis on choice theory, has many applications that fit with my views of life. The idea that we continue to make choices based on best attempt to satisfy our needs even when they might be opposite in results, seems to be one of the pieces of the puzzle I mentioned in my opening paragraph. The cognitive perspective also involves the view that the beliefs of the client can be the source of their problems with emotions and behaviors. That is also a fit with what I believe. But almost all of these are found to one degree or another within the existential perspective.
We are individuals who seek relationships with the external world, along with meaning and purpose. The influences on our thinking and behavior come from all sides including the biological/genetic. It is our perception of our reality, situation, lives and behavior that can be the key problem areas for many. We tend to do the things that are rewarding for us and we can become stuck in actions and habits that are no longer effective. We can accept that we are in control and seek to be authentic persons living to our full potential, making the choices that are truly best for us or we can ignore it and still function in life. I believe that when we ignore that we are in control and that we can change our perceptions and thinking that we often have the most problems coping when things do not go according to our views. Clues to various aspects of behavior and being are found in the sum of all of our experiences to date. I believe that life and awareness is a process in which we continue to grow and gain mastery.
My views about the roles and techniques for therapy for clients would lead me to use individualized, slightly analytical, but primarily collaborative and active therapies to help clients gain the outcome they are seeking. I am not averse to being in a teaching or slightly directive role if the individual situation warrants and in fact for many clients, more or less direction and guidance may be necessary. My awareness of my needs and beliefs within the therapist/client relationship versus the client's more important needs and beliefs will guide my choices. I can't keep my own perspectives out of a therapy relationship, but I can help guide the client in ways that help them find their best solutions to live their own life.
© AGT/Stormwind¹. November 20, 2003.
Corey, Gerald. 2001. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Brooks/Cole,
Thompson Learning, Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.
Corey, Gerald. 2001. Student Manual for Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Brooks/Cole, Thompson Learning, Wadsworth: Belmont, CA.
© AGT/Stormwind¹. November 20, 2003.