Counselling – a Range of Approached – 900 words


There are a variety of different psychological approaches which form the basis of counselling methods and skills. The major three approaches are the psychoanalytical, the humanistic and the behavioural. Each approach is based on the work of prominent psychologists and subsequently developed to form the well respected and effective  treatments used in modern day counselling sessions. It is important to fully appreciate the psychological theories in order to understand how different techniques of treatment have evolved. In this assignment I therefore intend to consider the key features of each approach with reference to the relevant psychologists and give an outline of their particular theories and the subsequent skills and techniques developed.



The psychoanalytical approach is based on the psychodynamic theory of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) which focused on an analysis of the unconscious mind and how that influences an individual’s consequent behaviour. Through the method of using case studies and dream analysis he proposed that he could gain an understanding of the clients’ internal thinking and wellbeing. His theory stressed the importance of successfully passing through five psychosexual stages – oral, anal, phallic, latent and genital. It was only be successfully doing so that an individual would be well balanced later in life. It would be possible in many cases for a person to become fixated in any of the stages whereby subsequent behaviour would be affected by unresolved conflict. Freud stated that it was important to address these issues thereby allowing for better physical wellbeing. He did stress that our personality is also defined by both our conscious and unconsious self – only one third of our personality is conscious and the other two thirds lies within our unconscious (the iceberg theory).

Obviously, Freud found it was crucial to access the unconsious part of the mind in order to treat his patients and he did this by means of hypnosis and word association. This he felt would unlock inner feeling, anxieties and fears. A great part of Freud’s psychodynamic theory was based on sexual issues. There have been subsequent followers of Freud who have criticised this emphasis – Adler.


Humanistic (Rogers), (Maslow) approach in very different from the psychoanalytical one in that it is person-centred whereby the client is much more involved with his behaviour or perception of it. Carl Rogers (1902-1987) is credited with the person-centred approach to counselling. He sees an individual as being master of his own destiny so the person is very much in control of his behaviour – it is just a case of allowing the person to realise this. His theory is not a stage theory such as Freud’s theory. Rather he saw behaviour being shaped by the individual and events and people around. From an early age, children look for approval from parents, carers and siblings. It is this approval or lack of it which shapes the individual’s self worth and self concept. Rogers described the ‘actualising tendency’ which is responsible for how a person grows and develops as an indivual. Unconditional positive regard is needed throughout life including during counselling sessions. Empathy between the client and counsellor is crucial. Maslow (1908-1980) also saw people in charge of their own destiny – a positive approach like that of Rogers. He proposed an hiearchy of self actualisation whereby an individual will be striving to reach their full potential at any time of their lives. The hierarchy travels from basis needs such as food and heat through relationship successes to reach full self actualisation. People will move up and down the hierarchy throughout their lives depending on life events at particular times.


The behavioural approach  evolved from the initial work of Ivan Pavlov  (1849-1936) who developed the theory that behaviour is developed by a process of classical conditioning – an unconditioned stimulus will illicit and unconditioned response later followed by a conditioned stimulus producing a conditioned response. Pavlov’s work involved non-human animals whereas the work of J.B.Watson (1878-1958), E.L. Thorndike (1874-1949) – the Law of Effect, B.F. Skinner ((1904-1990) -instrumental learning/operant conditioning could all be applied to humans and therefore used in a positive counselling role. Also within this approach there are the social learning theorists who propose that behaviour is developed through a series of rewards and punishments, as described before. However, they take the theory a step further and stress the importance of observation and imitation. Albert Bandura(1977) stated that a persons complex behaviour can be as a result this process in a social setting.


After careful consideration of each of the above approaches it can be seen that all have an important role to play in counselling. The psychodynamic approach is very much concerned with trying to get the client to be introspective and think about internal feelings and thoughts. The humanistic is concerned with the cognitive attitude of the client and his perception of his behaviour. The behavioural approach on the other hand focuses on unwanted behaviour and strives to get the client to relearn what is considered to be more appropriate behaviour in different situations. In each case it is essential that there is a good rapport between individuals in order to achieve the desired outcome. Each approach also has its own distinctive therapy – psychoanalytical encourages inner thoughts to be brought into conscious memory, humanistic focuses on the individual clearly thinking about their behaviour and recognising rational and irrational thinking, behavioural will encourage a variety of methods such as relaxation techniques, systematic desensitisation and modelling. All of the approaches possess strengths and weaknesses.  In many cases the counsellor may choose an electic approach and make use of the wealth of knowledge and experience gaining by professionals over the last one hundred years.



HOUGH, M (1998) Counselling Skills and Theory (2nd edition), Hodder Education, London