UNDERSTANDING OF COUNSELLING AS A PROCESS
Counselling is a process which needs a coherent framework or structure. This is necessary for both the counsellor and the client. It may not always be strictly adhered to as there needs to be a degree of flexibility in sessions but the framework is there to act as a model.
Egan (1994) provided a structural model of counselling which breaks down into three main components:
Stage one Review of the present situation
Stage two Development of a new or preferred scenario
Stage three Moving into action
Within each stage Egan described a variety of different skills commonly used.
Firstly, though, I would like to consider the processes involved in each of the three stages. During stage one the client is encouraged to explore their problems to achieve a better understanding of them. Stage two is concerned with getting the client to decide what he feels he needs in order to effectively deal with his problems. Stage three is where the client develops means of dealing in practical terms with the problems so that he can reach a successful resolution. Egan does divide each of these three stages into a series of subsections in his book The Skilled Helper (1994).
There are different models of counselling which consider there to be many more stages involved. Some involve ten or more in the process. I consider these to be closer to Egan’s subsections though. Everyone has different experiences which they go through and indeed take away from counselling, but in the long run there are certain stages of development common to all. Clients will all experience a beginning, middle and end phase.
Gerald Egan was greatly influenced by the humanistic approach to counselling and was a great follower of the beliefs of both Maslow and Rogers. He did, in fact, incorporate some of Roger’s theory into his work (The Skilled Helper, 1994). Rogers and Maslow considered human behaviour to be determined by the conscious as opposed to the unconscious which was favoured by the psychoanalytic (Freud) and the behaviourist (Skinner) perspectives. The behaviourists also considered that behaviour should be considered from an external point whereas the humanists held that the central focus is on subjective and individual experience.
There are a number of specific skills which are central to counselling practice. Some of these skills are common to all different approaches whereas some are specific to particular schools of thought.
Egan promoted the term active listening and said that it was necessary for complete listing to have observation of a client’s non-verbal behaviour as well as considering verbal content. It is often the case that more can be understood from a person’s non-verbal cues. Active listening involves a great deal of effort to exclude distracting factors such as obvious external factors e.g. Noise or physical discomfort. It is important to avoid response rehearsal, fact finding, being judgemental, problem solving or imposing a personal view. Listening can also be inhibited by the counsellor over-identifying with the client. The distinction should be observed between empathy and sympathy – this was stressed in Roger’s personal-centred approach to counselling whereby sympathy is not appropriate in therapeutic counselling. Listening is the most important skill in counselling. Many individuals who seek counselling have never really been listened to before.
Egan proposed a series of ‘microskills’ with the acronym SOLER:
“Sit facing the client squarely. This assures the client that s/he has your attention.
Be open in your posture. Do not close yourself off by rigidly crossing arms and legs.
Lean slightly toward the client in an attitude of interest.
Establish eye contact with the client but avoid staring.
Relax and don’t fidget. Try to adopt a natural posture in relation to the client.” (Hough, page 39).
Silence, gestures and touch are also important. Clients often need a period of silence to collect their thoughts. Counsellors need to restrict gestures where possible and touch is considered inappropriate – clients may have been physically abused or it may be culturally out of place. This would be true of all models of counselling.
Carl Rogers (1991) highlighted the skill of reflection whereby the counsellor will communicate back to the client that the words and feelings have been understood. “The concept of empathy is closely linked to reflection because effective reflective responses are those which stay within the client’s ‘internal frame of reference’ (Rogers, 1991)” (Hough, page 41).
Paraphrasing and summarising are also important skills. Egan refers to summarising as a ‘bridging response’ which can be used to provide links between counselling sessions and the stages of his three stage model.
In stage two Egan refers to the ‘preferred scenario’ whereby the client is encouraged to work out what he needs to do in order to change what is difficult in his life. The skills in this stage are challenging, immediacy, counsellor self-disclosure, giving information to clients and identifying patterns and themes.
In stage three of Egan’s model, clients are encouraged to act, aided by the new understanding and knowledge which they have acquired in the previous two stages. Skills learned in the first two stages will still be needed by new ones will include goal setting, choosing programmes creative thinking, giving encouragement and evaluating.
In conclusion, I have shown that Egan’s three stage model of counselling is used as a paradigm for structuring the counselling process. Many of Egan’s stages, substages and the microskills are used to lesser or greater extent in all approaches to counselling. Based on the humanistic approach Egan presents us with the framework to work irrespective of particular chosen theories. The Gestalt school of counselling will follow Egan’s model closely whereas other schools will use the basic premises and then include skills pertaining to their methods e.g. Psychoanalytic will also include hypnosis and dream analysis and the behaviourists will include behaviour shaping and reinforcement according to their ideals.
HOUGH, M (1998) Counselling Skills and Theory (2nd edition) Hodder Education, London
LINDEN, J & l (2000) Mastering Counselling Skills. MacMillan Press Ltd., Hampshire and London.
KENNEDY E & CHARLES S (1990) On Becoming A Counsellor, A Basic Guide for non-professional Counsellors. Newleaf, Dublin