Integrating Theories into Counseling Sessions
Counseling is a process that involves human interaction where the affected person expresses his/her thoughts, emotions, and behavior, while the counselor offers a systematic approach to resolve the problem. Counselors usually exercise various theories depending on specific aspects of their clients’ conditions and functioning. Counseling theories are utilized to express the relationship between counselors and their clients with an aim of conceptualizing the nature of the problems that clients may be having, and to explain the resulting counseling goals. In a case of transgender, where clients feel abandoned and inferior, counselors can make use of theories such as behavioral theory, existential-humanistic tradition, and Adlerian theory, among other theories to assist clients to cope with their disturbing problem. The eventual outcome of integrating theories in counseling sessions is to ensure efficiency, value, and applicability of counseling theories in psychotherapy.
Theories are tools that counselors use to organize their competence into meaningful framework, which enables them to tackle particular situations, in addition to recognizing probable problems and remedies. Counseling theories serve as a map that guides human activities towards positive outcomes. Behavioral theory is one of the theories utilized by counselors to guide individuals on behavior change. Behaviorists perceive personality in terms of how external stimuli affect individual’s behavior through observable acts. This theory is molded from the mutual interaction in individual’s environment. According to B.F. Skinner, the behaviorists who invented this model, environment is greatest determinant of behavior, and people develop consistent behavior patterns due to having specific response tendencies. When children perform unacceptable acts, they do so because such behavior attracted reinforcement in the past.
Another theory that counselors can utilize in resolving their problems is existential-humanistic model, which focus on responsibility, choice, freedom, meaning, and other real actions that individual experience in a given time. The goal of this model is to allow clients to be free from their self-imposed constraints and come to understand their authentic life goals. This theory allows individuals to discover their uniqueness, exercise their freedom and responsibility, as well as accepting uncertainty of life. However, people fear freedom due to possibilities of numerous choices, and some of the choices are unethical. Individuals should accept that every fundamental in their lives happens in the present, as past mistakes usually haunt them in the present.
Adlerian theory is also essential in counseling, as it perceives humans as socially motivated with the capacity to direct their behavior toward a given goal. Although biological and environmental factors offer limitations to life goals, they are not deterministic. According to Alfred Adler, individuals’ lifestyles are developed during their young age, but are influenced by later events. Illusory conceptualizations are the first ends that shape individual lifestyle. People behave in certain manners not because of their own experiences, but rather due to their interpretation of experience. Hence, individuals have the capacity to recognize and reframe their negative perceptions to heal from their predicaments.
Janet used to attend a local elementary school in our county, but later joined the middle school where I was also a senior student. Her mother had permitted her to buy her own clothes, and choose any haircut style that would suit her. However, Janet had a preference to boys’ clothes. In addition, she preferred to cut her hair short, just like boys. Janet came to realize that she wanted to become a boy, and her wish was possible. The opportunity came when she was joining her high school; she opted to change her name to James. As a male student, he was quite happy for a change, and to his surprise, his mother supported his transformation. James was optimistic that male students would accept him due to his boyish appearance.
Things did not go well for James after the third day in high school. When he got into the boy’s restroom, some boys shouted that he was a girl, and wondered what he was doing in boys’ restroom. James decided to try the girl’s bathroom, but received the same treatment from girls, who claimed he was a boy. Some female students and I decided to report to the administration that a boy has been found in the girls’ bathroom. The explanation that the girls gave fit Janet’s. The administration called Janet’s mother, who admitted that Janet was a lesbian, and she saw no harm in being so. It did not occur to Janet’s mother that her daughter was not a lesbian, but transgender. Janet was already confused, as she did not attend the next class. I happened to spot her in the playing field alone, approached her, and convinced her to see the student counselor. The following analysis is what I believed the counselor should have done to resolve Janet’s case.
Integrating Theories into Transgender Case
The journey of self-discovery has never been easy for transgender individuals, who desire to transform from their recognized gender to the opposite gender. Transgender and gender-related issues are quite common among individuals who seek services of counselors. Many transgender individuals experience stigmatization, discrimination, and loss of self-esteem due to living in a world that does not accept them. Counselors have a responsibility to ensure that students have developed awareness of their individual strengths, worldviews, as well as attaining professional goals. For effective resolutions on gender-related issues, counselors have exercised numerous theories that emphasize on embracing social interactions and cooperation.
- Behavioral Theory
Janet was in need of behavior change, but her mother gave her the freedom to exercise her pleasures while young, which encouraged her to reinforce individual beliefs. According to behavioral theory, Janet was able to develop her own emotional disturbance by believing that she could become a boy. However, high school environment turned out to be discriminative, as neither boys nor girls accepted her in their bathrooms. Assisting Janet to identify irrational belief was essential to enable her find meaning in her life. The counselor’s aim was not to redevelop her personality, but to assist Janet tackle certain behavior in a manner that is easy and manageable. This can be achieved through strengthening positive desirable behavior and eradicating maladaptive ones. Janet should be made to understand that it is almost impossible to change her physical body, thus, it is upon her to make a choice on going back to her original gender. By utilizing operant conditioning, the counselor can reinforce behaviors that could bring desirable outcomes for Janet, as enviable behaviors are likely to emerge in the future. According to Skinner, “behaviors are influenced by environmental events and consequences” (Sapp 97). Hence, the counselor should encourage Janet to change her behavior due to the environmental change, as well as response from other students.
The counselor can modify Janet’s behavior through classical conditioning, where behaviors that appealed to Janet are made to appear inferior and undesirable. Janet grew up as a girl, hence, by repeatedly explaining that cutting her hair short and wearing boy’s clothes make Janet unattractive, such talk would elicit a negative image in Janet’s mind and loose the classically conditioned response that she used to have. The counselor can encourage Janet to wear girl’s clothes and allow her hair to grow tall so that she can realize how beautiful she would look. Systematic desensitization can also work on Janet’s case, where she is allowed to mention all those fears that she may be harboring and then the counselor can help her to relax as she concentrate on those fears.
The counselor was in need of the quickest way to resolve Janet’s issue without affecting her personality and behavioral theory came in handy to offers quick results. In addition, the counselor wanted to maintain ethics in handling transgender issue in the school. The model did not divert away from individuals’ customs because it offers an appropriate way to maintain morals and behaviors that society perceives as ethical.
- Existential-Humanistic Theory
Humans are growth-oriented and essentially good, but when they depart from their natural being, they are apt to commit vicious acts. Janet had tried to depart from her recognized gender, an act that appeared to be unethical and counterproductive. She wanted to exercise what was essential to her in the present, but she forgot that past events could haunt her in the present time. Her actions led to stigmatization and eventually to withdrawal. According to Maslow, people may experience stress that may be categorized as psychological disorders when they fail to satisfy complex human needs, such as love and belonging, safety, and esteem needs. This is what happened to Janet when she opted to veer from what the society perceives as natural. She had a strong conviction that individuals can choose what they want to become, and since they are born alone, they would die alone.
The counselor should have made Janet understand that her situation was quite normal, and was capable of making a change in the present, particularly when the environment seemed not to accept her behavior. Accepting Janet’s immediate condition was essential for the counselor, as Janet could have refused to attend a counseling session if she had doubts with the counselor. Cultivating relationship that is characterized by acceptance, trust, admiration, and care, could have helped Janet find her emotional, as well as spiritual equilibrium. One of the benefits of existential-humanistic theory is that it enables clients to collaborate with their subjects and come up with unique methods of working together. Thus, the counselor should offer encouragement to Janet so that she can collaborate with students to reach to other students who may be having the same problem. In a client-centered session, the counselor should have focused on the urgent issue of relationship with other students with an aim of creating a connection between Janet and other students.
The most essential consideration for counselors should be to understand how transgender individuals such as Janet perceive their families. Since individual usually base their behavior from family customs and values, counselors should involve family members in the counseling. Family members may be too authoritative to the transgender individuals, thus, making it difficult to change. In addition, existential therapy works well with culturally diverse individuals due to “its focus on universality, or the common ground that we all share” (Corey 161). Since the counselor is not interested to know Janet’s culture, he could have integrated his felt experience into what is universally known about transgender. Counselor’s ability to demonstrate care was vital in assuring Janet that a true healing was possible.
- Adlerian Theory
When individuals are discouraged, they tend to withdraw from their social circles as a way of expressing their dissatisfaction. When Janet joined high school, she had high expectations that boys would accept her as a boy. What she believed as normal was met with opposition from her fellow students. When boys refused to allow her use their restroom, she turned to girls, who also elicited similar response. She opted to withdraw herself from the presence of other students as a sign of defeat and discouragement. Her mother did not offer the required support because she never cared to know why Janet was behaving in a masculine manner.
Janet could have evaded feelings of insufficiency and inferiority in relation to others by accepting the reality and looking forward for social integration. The services of a counselor were vital to motivate her to return to her normalcy. Interaction with other people in school and community creates a feeling of connection and awareness of human community. By advising Janet to shun negative and inferior thoughts, the counselor could have assisted Janet to reframe her mind and increase the sense of belonging. When individual are encouraged, they are capable of acting in ethical and cooperative ways.
By looking at Janet’s life experience and examining the patterns of behaviors that kept on repeating themselves in her life, the counselor can succeed in changing Janet’s behavior. According to Adlerian theory, the counselor can offer psychological therapy to Janet by following the four stages:
- Engagement: the counselor should build a trusting relationship between him and Janet as they agree to proceed in the psychotherapy together in order to tackle the problem of inferiority effectively.
- Assessment: The counselor should dig Janet’s personal history, family views, beliefs, motives, and early reminiscence through allowing her to talk voluntarily. This would enable him to understand Janet’s lifestyle pattern, as well as gaining insight of presumed irrelevant factors that could assist in therapy.
- Insight: In this stage, the counselor can advice Janet how to develop new tactics of thinking depending on her situation. Increasing self-awareness and challenging harmful perception can assist Janet to engage in social interactions.
- Reorientation: The counselor can encourage Janet to engage in satisfying and effective practices that strengthen the new insight, or facilitate further insight.
The ultimate outcome of integrating theories in counseling sessions is to ensure efficiency, value, and applicability of counseling theories in psychotherapy. Psychotherapy integration occurs when a single theory fails to offer an effective solution to a life-threatening situation. Counselor can utilize numerous theories to assist people with life–threatening problems, such as transgender problems, to rediscover their usefulness. Behavior theory is meant to reinforce actions and to direct specific goals. According to existential-humanistic theory, individuals are free to do what pleases them, but sometimes they end up misusing their freedom by acting unethically. Adlerian theory asserts that humans are motivated to attain cetin goals in life, but when they experience discouragement, they tend to withdraw from social circles. Thus, counselors should approach individuals with care to avoid worsening their already sensitive situations. It is through searching for ways to express human thoughts, accepting personal encouragement, cultivating self-respect, as well as social interest, that individuals can restructure their belief systems.
Corey, Gerald. Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2013. Print.
Sapp, Marty. Psychodynamic, Affective, and Behavioral Theories to Psychotherapy. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas Publisher, Ltd, 2010. Web.