Personal Theory: A Person-Centered Framework in the School Setting
Research suggests that counseling efficacy increases when counselors have a theoretical framework from which they work (Poznanski & McLennan, 1995). Furthermore, it is not a stringent adherence to a model that produces positive outcomes for the client. Rather, it is that the counselor understands the core principles of an evidence-based theory and the consistency of implementation that affects outcomes (Poznanski & McLennan). Thus, as part of the counseling training process, development of one’s own theory is essential. This process includes self-reflection and an awareness of one’s own core values personally, professionally, and as they pertain to the counseling relationship (Halbur & Halbur, 1995). Below I will discuss my personal philosophy as it currently exists and explore the various elements that make up my theoretical orientation.
Theoretical orientation can be defined as “a conceptual framework used by a counselor to understand a client’s therapeutic needs” (Poznanski & McLennan, p. 412). Based on this definition I would describe my orientation as humanistic, aligning with that of Carl Rogers’ Person-Centered theory. I say this for two reasons. First and foremost, I firmly believe my current values align with Rogers. Secondly, I draw a sharp distinction between my professional and personal life, and person-centered allows me to make that distinction in practice. While I profess an affinity for the person-centered philosophy, it would be naïve to suggest that this theory is the most conducive to the school environment. There are natural limitations that exist within the school setting when working from this theoretical orientation, primarily the school schedule and time. Thus, I must include my use of techniques that are outside of my framework which will be described later.
Returning to the person centered framework, the student can be conceptualized as a social individual who is rational, realistic, and intrinsically motivated to improve. In addition, the child is viewed as good, and as capable of changing on his own. The counselee experiences difficulties when he is in a state of incongruence and the counselor is there simply to help the client benefit from what already exists within him (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). Incongruence means the person is not self-aware or able to perceive how he is viewed by others. The state of incongruence can create feelings of anxiousness or vulnerability, and thus the individual can utilize counselor support to help him move toward congruence (Thompson & Henderson, 2011). I agree with this philosophy , and feel that supporting the child and making him feel valued and accepted is crucial to the counseling process. In addition, Rogers contends that an individual in a state of incongruence is motivated to change. In my personal philosophy, I would add to this, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to help someone who does not recognize that he is in a state of incongruence.
To continue this discussion, it can be mentioned that it has been debated whether all individuals possess the ability or intrinsic desire to reach congruence. Williams and Lair (1991) address this topic directly in reference to using person-centered counseling with individuals who have disabilities. The authors suggest that people with disabilities demonstrate the desire to overcome barriers and master higher level functions routinely; thus, there is no reason to speculate that those with disabilities do not have an internal desire to change (Williams & Lair). Providing students with disabilities a place in which they feel understood, accepted, and validated can provide a platform for self-actualization and movement toward congruence (Williams & Lair). I believe that what is being stated here applies to all individuals marginalized or not. Barriers to students receiving services are not acceptable based on misconceptions or biases. To this, I add that I recognize there may be limitations based on the developmental and cognitive nature of the individual. Acknowledging that there could be limitations is important, but we owe it to ourselves as professional school counselors and to our students to “ensure every student has equitable access to the school counseling program,” which would include providing individual counseling to all (American School Counselor Association, 2005, p. 2).
Working with a diverse population is part of our training and our job, as is recognizing when the work we are doing is helping students change for the positive. In my personal philosophy a key component to helping a child is to listen. A role of the school counselor is to be an engaged and caring adult who can be consistent and depended upon. This is paramount to the student feeling that he is being heard and understood. These ideas align precisely with Rogers’ idea of when a child is changing. Rogers believes that a child changes when he is actively listened to. The child teaches the counselor about himself and in doing so learns about the person he is. This allows the student to feel heard which is crucial to the humanistic therapeutic technique (Henderson & Thompson, 2011; Myers, 2000).
My ultimate goal as a counselor is for the student to no longer need me. I want the child to be able to support himself and feel equipped to do so. This is where the other techniques I utilize in counseling play a role. I use both Solution Focused Brief Counseling (SFBC) and Gestalt interventions which may seem counterintuitive to the Person-Centered approach. These approaches provide students with additional tools that they can utilize after individual counseling has ended. Goal setting, perspective taking, and solution talk are just a few strategies that students’ can learn in sessions and utilize on their own. Providing the diverse student population with a variety of skills to help them move on from needing the intense support of the counselor is essential. Also, as was mentioned before, time constraints work against the person-centered approach being fully maximized. SFBC and Gestalt are more counselor driven, action oriented, and focus on the problem (Henderson & Thompson, 2011) which allow the counseling process to move faster. Focusing on the problem is the biggest contradiction to my use of these techniques because in person-centered the focus is to be on the child, not the problem. While my personal philosophy believes in the person-centered process, my experience in the school setting has taught me that person-centered counseling does not optimize the time I have with students. Therefore, by solely using the person-centered approach it is difficult to provide students with the resources they need to be successful individuals.
This being said, I believe that these techniques can be integrated into a person-centered approach. If the counselor maintains the philosophical ideals of Rogers by recognizing that the student’s perception is his reality, and continues to utilize the person-centered interventions of being genuine, accepting, and understanding, the meshing of such opposing philosophies can be achieved. In child-centered counseling the goal is for the child to feel understood, and assist him with becoming a confident individual. According to the philosophy, as the child becomes more self-aware congruence is established (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). Adding the techniques from SFBC and Gestalt enriches the experience and provides additional tools for a variety of students to flourish in both the school environment and elsewhere.
In order to accomplish this task, as mentioned previously, the counselor must treat the client with congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy (Henderson & Thompson, 2011). Personally, I want the student to feel heard and understood. I believe the child should feel valued and meaningful. All of these statements return to Myers’ (2000) work and the concept of feeling heard. In her study she found that rather than technique being the catalyst to counseling success, it was the client engaging in an experience where she truly felt heard. This is a powerful message, and one that I subscribe to. A child feeling cared for by an adult consistently makes a difference and can be the promoter to congruence.
American School Counselor Association. (2005). ASCA national model: A framework for school counseling programs. Retrieved from
Myers, S. (2000). Empathic listening: Reports on the experience of being heard. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 40, 148-173.
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Henderson, D. A. & Thompson (2011). Counseling children. Belmont, CA: Thomson/Brooks/Cole.
Poznanski, J. J., & McLennan, J. (1995). Conceptualizing and measuring counselors’ theoretical orientation. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 42, 411–422.
Tursi, M. M., & Cochran, J. L. (2006). Cognitive-behavioral tasks accomplished in a person- centered relational framework. Journal of Counseling & Development, 84, 387-396.
Williams, W. C., & Lair, G. S. (1991). Using a person-centered approach with children who have a disability. Elementary School Guidance and Counseling, 25, 194-203.