Counseling: Goals, Process, Procedures

Different individuals have different perceptions of what can be expected of counseling. Individuals preparing to become counselors, and those who seek counseling, as well as parents, teachers, school administrators and governmental agencies, all differ in their expectations of the counseling experience. The final designation of these goals is to be determined by the counselor and the client as a team.

Counseling theorists do not always agree on appropriate counseling goals because they are often general, vague and saturated with implications. However, these are the five most commonly named goals of counseling:

  1. Facilitating behaviour change.
  2. Improving the client’s ability to establish and maintain relationships.
  3. Enhancing the client’s effectiveness and ability to cope.
  4. Promoting the decision-making process and facilitating client potential.

These goals are not mutually exclusive and will naturally be emphasized by some theorists and not others.

Enhancing Coping Skills

We will inevitably run into difficulties in the process of growing up. Most of us do not completely achieve all of our developmental tasks within a lifetime. All of the unique expectations and requirements imposed on us by others will eventually lead to problems. Any inconsistencies in development can result in children learning behaviour patterns that are both inefficient and ineffective. Learned coping patterns, however, may not always work. New interpersonal or occupational role demands may create an overload and produce excessive anxiety and difficulty for the individual.

Children who grow up in excessively strict homes frequently adjust to such training measures through learned behavioural inhibition. When social or occupational responsibilities require individuals to be assertive, they may experience anxiety and be unable to handle responsibilities effectively. In addition to psychological symptoms, physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, stuttering in front of people in authority or the inability to sleep are common. This maladjustment to daily living makes coping skills an important goal of counseling.

Improving Relationships

Many clients tend to have major problems relating to others due to poor self-image. Likewise, inadequate social skills cause individuals to act defensively in relationships. Typical social difficulties can be observed in family, marital and peer group interaction (e.g., the troubled elementary school child). The counselor would then strive to help the client improve the quality of their lives by developing more effective interpersonal relationships.

Promoting Decision-Making

The goal of counseling is to enable the individual to make critical decisions regarding alternative courses of action without outside influence. Counseling will help individuals obtain information, and to clarify emotional concerns that may interfere with or be related to the decisions involved. These individuals will acquire an understanding of their abilities and interests. They will also come to identify emotions and attitudes that could influence their choices and decisions.

The activity of stimulating the individual to evaluate, accept and act upon a choice, will assist them in learning the entirety of the decision-making process. The individual will develop autonomy and avoid dependence on a counselor.

Facilitating Client Potential

Counseling seeks to maximize an individual’s freedom by giving him or her control over their environment while analyzing responsiveness and reaction to the environment. Counselors will work to help people learn how to overcome, for example, excessive substance use and to better take care of their bodies.

Counselors will also assist in overcoming sexual dysfunction, drug addiction, compulsive gambling and obesity, as well as anxiety, shyness and depression.

Facilitating Behaviour Change

Most theorists indicate that the goal of counseling is to bring about change in behaviour that will enable the client to be more productive as they define their life within society’s limitations. According to Rodgers (1961), behaviour change is a necessary result of the counseling process, although specific behaviours receive little or no emphasis during the process.

Alternatively, Dustin and George (1977) suggested that the counselor must establish specific counseling goals. A necessary shift from general goals to specific goals should take place to enable both the client and counselor to understand what change is desired. Specific behaviour goals have additional value as the client is better able to see any change that occurs.

PROCESS And Procedure

There is a natural progression that takes place within the context of the helping relationship. This process enables you and the person you are working with to build a relationship, assess the situation, set goals and come up with a plan to bring about your desired results. This progression is known as the counseling process. There are four stages of the counseling process. They are: developing a relationship, making an informed assessment, establishing mutually agreed upon goals and objectives and developing an implementation plan.

Phase 1. Developing A Relationship

In order to develop positive helping relationships with youth, you’ve got to be able to connect with them. This can only happen when youth are made to feel like you genuinely care about their well-being and that you understand where they are coming from. It’s about behaving in a way that demonstrates the core conditions of genuineness, respect and empathy.

To develop solid relationships with youth, you need to create a safe environment where young people will feel comfortable enough to open up to you and talk to you about anything that is on their minds. You also need to help youth see that despite their circumstances they have strengths. In short, you should start things off from a strengths-based perspective.

Questions to Consider When Trying to

Develop A Relationship

  • In what ways can you build better relationships with the youth in your program?
  • If there are youth who are not actively engaged, what can you do differently to engage them?
  • If a youth is resistant, what steps can you take to reduce resistance?
  • What worked in the past with resistant youth?
  • How do you know when you’ve built a solid relationship with a youth? Could you use these indicators to strengthen your relationships with other youth?

Phase 2. Making An Informed Assessment

An informed assessment happens when both you and the youth gather information in order to figure out what’s “really” going on so that you can assess what needs to happen next in order to change the situation for the better or build up the youth’s coping skills to better deal with a problematic situation. The first step in making an assessment is to find out if change is necessary, and if it is what needs to happen for change to take place. If you have determined that change is necessary, then the next step is to figure out what needs to change. Is it a behavior? An attitude? A situation?

A good assessment can provide an opportunity for a young person to see how his/her behavior or attitude might be contributing to an undesirable or unhealthy situation. Assessment is an ongoing process. You need to regularly check in with your youth to see how things are going. Reassessments enable you to ensure that you and the youth are on the right track.

How do you gather information in order to make an informed assessment? You can gather information in a number of ways: talking with youth, observing the youth’s behavior and interactions, discussions with other people who are involved in the young person’s life, and reading any documented information on the young person. Keep in mind that when utilizing someone else’s verbal or written report as a source of background information, you run the risk of subjecting yourself to their biases and assumptions.

Points to Keep In Mind When Making An Assessment

  • Be aware of your biases and how they impact on the assessments you make.
  • Involve youth in the assessment process.
  • Don’t rely on one single source to make an assessment, gather as much information as you can from a variety of sources.
  • Don’t automatically label a behavior as dysfunctional because you don’t understand it, or it is not germane to your culture.
  • Make sure to point out a young person’s strengths even when addressing problematic behavior.

Phase 3. Establishing Mutually Agreed Upon Goals and Objectives

Why is it important to establish “mutually agreed” upon goals and objectives? Because if a young person is in agreement with the goals then he/she is more likely to follow through on them. When a youth is actively involved in the goal setting process and is in agreement with the goals, then he/she is more inclined to take ownership of the goals. What are goals? Goals are broad statements that identify what you want to accomplish. Think of goals as the end result that you are trying to achieve. While goals are broad statements that identify what you want to accomplish overall, objectives are the measurable steps that you take to achieve your goals. For example if you have a goal that states, “youth will be better able to manage her anger.” One of your objectives might be, “youth will recognize emotional triggers that lead to angry outbursts and use positive, self-talk to calm herself down.” Your objectives should always be concrete and measurable. They should also be derived from the overall goal.

Questions to Consider When Developing

Goals and Objectives

  • What do you and the young person want to achieve?
  • How are you going to achieve it?
  • When do you want to achieve your stated goal?
  • What obstacles do you anticipate?
  • How will you address these obstacles?
  • How will you use to measure and monitor progress?
  • Are your goals realistic?

Phase 4. Implementation Plan

The implementation plan is a plan that you and the youth work on together. It is designed to prevent, intervene, or address unhealthy behaviors and practices. The implementation plan identifies who will perform the activities, where the activities will occur, how frequently they will occur, how they will be carried out and when they will be carried out. Implementation activities are designed to help individuals re-think risky behavior, work through problematic issues, address unhealthy lifestyles practices, learn new skills and build strengths. Implementation activities can include: counseling, crisis intervention, training and education, supportive services, concrete services and constructive use of free time.

As you can see, each stage of the counseling process builds upon the former. As you move through each stage, you will come to realize that it takes patience and practice to counsel youth effectively, but if you are committed to the goal you’ll do just fine. You may not feel completely confident in your ability as a counselor, but as you expand your knowledge base, gain more experience and strengthen your helping skills, you will become a more effective counselor.

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