A PERSONAL APPROACH TO COUNSELING USING A SHORT STORY A Personal Approach to Counseling Using a Short Story Being a counselor and working with people, things are not always as easy as they seem to be. People are not as simple as they seem. In one minute they are happy, then sad the next moment. This complexity of the human person made me realize that one form of solution will never be enough in achieving goals and self-actualization. And so, as a therapist, I created my personal style in counseling based on my personal theoretical orientation.
Over the weekend, while working on the second half of this paper, I had a close childhood friend of mine commit suicide. Growing up, she dealt with many personal issues that, I believe ultimately lead to her lifelong depression. I write this paper as a tribute to her and although I won’t explore all of her personal issues or use her real name, it will be loosely based on her story. In first person, as a school counselor, I will work with a middle school aged child, in a fictional short story, exploring my personal counseling technique.
It was a bright afternoon and I was drinking coffee while reviewing student’s files at the guidance office. Suddenly, one of the teachers of the school came in and asked permission about conducting counseling on a student found smoking marijuana near the janitor’s quarters. After a few minutes, a girl stepped in. She was a short person with dark make-up and many piercings on her face. As I looked at her, I saw emptiness inside of her. I knew I had to find out the cause of her behavior. I asked her to sit down. She seemed cooperative and calm as she sat. She asked me if she was going to be expelled from school.
I said that she would be. However, I also told her that such would not happen if she would cooperate with me and share what is going on with her life. With a calm voice, I assured her that everything she would say would be strictly confidential. A counselor should not be seen as a person of authority. Rather, a counselor should be perceived as a friend whom clients can trust with their emotions. Being such a counselor, I sat in front of her and asked her name. Her name was Jenny. In return, I also said my name and told her that from that point on, I would be her friend.
As a counselor, I believe that clients do not need people who will boss them around and tell them that what they did wrong or right. My perception of counseling is based on the concept of Carl Rogers called ‘client-centered’ counseling. I asked her if she was doing well and she told me that she was okay. I found out that she was a very intelligent young lady; I would venture to say that had she applied herself, she would have been in the schools “gifted” programs. So, I asked her some questions about her life and the big things that happened to her recently. Just the usual stuff. Nothing really interesting… my mom recently resurfaced after five (5) years, so we have been hanging out a little. ” She said. I replied, “That must have been good to revisit with her. ” “Yah, it’s ok, maybe she will stay clean this time! ” she said in a frail voice. The client-centered approach or personal approach is important in counseling in order to establish a working relationship between the therapist and the client. During that time, I considered myself as Jenny’s friend. I wanted her to feel that she is in an environment where she is not judged.
Through this approach, I was able to let her feel that she was given an unconditional positive regard. I then, began to explore the issue of her mother by asking her what it made her feel. She shared to me how angry she was with what happened. Knowing the seriousness of her situation, it was important for me to show as much genuineness as I could in order for her to feel that she is accepted and emphatically understood. I started the session by directly addressing the behaviors that were observable in Jenny. She was reported to have been smoking marijuana and engaging in alcohol drinking.
She often skipped class and showed no interest in studying. She was often given detention, and suspension, which seemed to make her behavior worse. My idea was to let Jenny decide for herself if the behavior she displayed were good or bad. In the cognitive approach to counseling, this involved the rational emotive behavior therapy. “So, Jenny, tell me something about smoking marijuana. One of the teachers said you were caught doing it? How did that make you feel? ” I asked. “I was just chillin’. It made me angry. I was just minding my own business. Why can’t they just mind their own? ” she angrily stated.
Then, I asked her if she had an idea why teachers called her up. With a soft voice, she said “Smoking is bad. ” I combined the person-centered and the cognitive approach in this session. This was done for the reason that Jenny needed to realize her wrong behavior first. I believe that if a person is treated with empathy and with unconditional positive regard, communication would be easy and applying reason such as with REBT would be easy. Jenny slowly realized that what she did was wrong. Upon knowing that, I told her that this was enough for the day, and that I would see her the week after.
After a week passed, I started another counseling session with Jenny. She seemed to be fine. I asked her if she was still drinking and smoking. I encouraged her to be honest and she told me that she still was. I asked her why and she told me that every time she gets the chance to think about her mom and the possibility that she would just disappear again, she would indulge. At that point, I figured that Jenny’s wrong behavior was due to her depression and anxiety. This was an example of an ABC model of behavior where a negative event causes a rational belief, leading to a negative action.
As a counselor, I realized that Jenny has to relearn this behavior pattern from having unhealthy to healthy consequences. Her behavior such as alcohol use and smoking may have been her channels for her emotions. I believe these behaviors were reflections of her feelings. “Tell me about when your mother first left the family. ” I said. “I don’t want to talk about it. ” She said. “You could at least try. ” I replied. I asked her to share the details of her family, her relationship with her mother and the rest of her family, including her step mother and step brothers.
This is based on the reality approach in counseling. I believed that Jenny needed to address her feeling regarding her mother’s abandonment. Throughout the second session, she shared her feelings about what happened. She also said that she never told anyone about it until the session. I told her to rethink everything and learn to accept the facts. She cried after a few minutes. I expected this to happen since the process involved in this approach requires a lot of effort. The goal for the session was clear that I had to help Jenny think of ways to cope with the situation.
Then, I asked her, “Do you think drinking alcohol and smoking would make it all better? ” She answered me saying: “No. I don’t know what to do. ” I paused and asked her “Why are you here? What is happening to you now? ” I asked this so she could develop awareness about her situation and what she felt about it. This was based on the Gestalt model in counseling. She needed to realize the “here and now” in her life. As her counselor, I needed to make her identify what is stopping her from achieving her goal, which is to stop drinking and smoking.
After that she said, “I need to stop. ” “What do you want to stop? ” I asked. She told me, “I need to stop drinking and smoking”. From that point, I gave her an assignment to do at home. I told her that instead of drinking alcohol, she should drink something else like hot chocolate. I also told her that if she does this, she will be given extra grade by her teachers to make up for her missed assignments. She agreed to do it. The reason for this assignment was to let Jenny relearn behaviors that are much healthier for her situation, as based on cognitive behavior therapy.
I also strengthened the effect of the assignment by using operant conditioning through the use of reinforcements in order to encourage appropriate behaviors. After a number of sessions using cognitive behavior therapy and conditioning, I asked Jenny “Are you ready to rebuild the relationship with your mother and cope with her alcoholism “Yes. It was not easy to move on but I know that things will get better, I know I have no control over her behavior, but I need to engage in healthy behavior for my life” She replied. I could already sense some change in her behaviors and perceptions about her life and her environment.
Even though Jenny showed significant improvements, as a counselor, I personally believed that it is also important that a person not only reach his or her objectives but also find a higher meaning and purpose out of the significant event. My role in the therapeutic relationship was not just to change attitude and behaviors towards significant events. I believe that it is also my responsibility to facilitate the client’s own encounter with herself. I had to work alongside her in efforts of exploring her values, assumption, as well as her ideas, to create better understanding.
My personal style in counseling believes that people need to achieve a higher purpose and meaning to the things that have happened to them. This is based on the existential approach in counseling. This approach is all about exploring meaning and value and learning to live authentically. As her counselor, I believe that Jenny should be true to herself and be free to express her emotions and not trap her identity through unhealthy behaviors and attitudes. And so, for the final phase of the therapy with Jenny, I asked her what she has learned from her experiences.
She said that she learned that there are things that she cannot control. “I realized that there is no point in killing yourself with smoking and drinking going down the same destructive path as my mother. ” She added. It was important that Jenny took the event as a challenge and not as something that would bring her to destruction. As a counselor, I believe that a person is not a robot that can be reprogrammed with new behaviors and attitudes that would attribute certain events in their lives. My personal style in counseling emphasized the human side of a person, and that each one has a higher purpose to fulfill.
As Jenny walked towards the door of my office, I felt that something has changed in her. Through the sessions, I was able to apply different counseling approaches, which not only addressed her behavioral problems but also made an impact on her life and about living. When I think about my friend and how her life ended, I wish that she would have had somebody to reach out to her at an early stage in her life, to offset her destructive behaviors. I believe that a counseling approach that I displayed may have helped her to reach her full potential as an adult and to live a happier, healthier life.
However, as I mentioned, a person is a dynamic and complicated being, for whom one form of solution is not enough to address his/her needs. It is thus important that counselors give them unconditional positive regard and genuine empathy. Indeed, being a counselor is not always as easy as it seems. However, we can be certain that as long as there are people who listen and care, life will not be as difficult. References: Corey, G. (2009). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy (8th Edition). Wadsworth Publishing