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Why are theories important?

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Dr. Barbara LoFrisco, a professor at the University of South Florida, once said, “If you understand why something is important, not only will you be more motivated to understand it, but you will also be able to put your new knowledge into proper context” (LoFrisco, 2013). Think of theories as a set of frameworks for integrating competent and effective counseling. They give counselors a way of hypothesizing and increasing the understanding of a problem. Educating oneself on different theories delivers inexperienced counselors with a guide or direction to help clients. Without them, counselors would not have any objectives to test. By applying theory, we can draw upon the experiences of others that have gone before us (Whitehead, 1916).

I plan to give a brief overview of two of my most favored theorist: Carl Rogers and Albert Ellis. First, I wish educated the reader on each of the two theorists through research on their: biography, influences, beliefs, conceptual understanding of people’s issues, descriptions of counselor and client roles, how they build therapeutic goals, and some considerations of multiculturalism. Next, I will point out some major points of each of the two theories, discuss similarities and differences comparing the two. Lastly, I will express my personal reaction to the two theories and all the research applied. As both of these two amazing theorist influenced counseling over the years, I hope to persuade the reader to have greater understanding and appreciation for theories.

Carl Rogers Biography and Influences

Carl Rogers (1902-1987) is one of the most respected and influential psychologists and counselors of all time. He was born in Oak Park, Illinois into a family of five boys and one girl. His parents maintained a religious home for their kids and kept them from being influenced by society. Rogers was sensitive as a child, and feeling were not greatly expressed in his home, therefore Rogers expressed his feelings and imagination through school papers and childhood games. Rogers developed a passion for nature and a significant understanding of scientific method as a teenager at their farm in Glen Ellen, Illinois. Because of his love for the farm, and his family heritage, he became a farmer. Then after starting his college career, he had a religious encounter and switched majors to prepare him for ministry. After another religious encounter he felt motivated to pursue a degree in New York City at the liberal Union Theological Seminary. Following graduation, he married Helen Elliott, his childhood companion (All biographical details throughout this section is derived from Kirschenbaum, 1979, Kirschenbaum, 2004 and Rogers, 1967).

While studying there, he was also taking psychology courses at Teachers College of Columbia University. He quickly became more influenced by his captivation of psychology. He began working on a doctorate in clinical psychology and gave up on the Seminary. He and Helen had two kids and as he was working on his dissertation he had to pursue work to support the family. He moved to Rochester, New York and became director of the department of child study, later directing Rochester Guidance Center. He was greatly influenced by many students that he worked with in counseling. Before leaving his twelve years stay in Rochester, Rogers published his first book, The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child (1939).

The next move for Rogers was to Ohio State University as a full-time professor. His students then influenced him in writing his second book on his own views of counseling and psychotherapy; Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice (1942). Through the popularity of this book, Rogers gave a new meaning to the work client. Instead of a client being considered sickly, he allowed people to see clients as responsible beings. Also, he presented the “nondirective approached”, relying on active listening. Rogers was the first psychotherapist to publish sessions. After four years, he made his next move: Chicago.

From 1945 to 1957, Rogers managed a counseling clinic and also taught psychology at the University of Chicago. Through these years, he began calling his research the “client-centered approach”. During his time in Chicago, he was faced with a challenge that all counselors fear. He lost sight of his own self-awareness through the relationship of a schizophrenic client. He received counseling himself for about a year. In 1951, Rogers wrote book number three: Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. After a huge technological advancement in audiovisual recording and scientific research into the therapeutic approach, Rogers was awarded the “Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award” from the American Psychological Association in 1956.

With the children being grown and out of the house, Rogers’s next move landed him at the University of Wisconsin. He and Helen traveled and visited with children and grandchildren in his free time. In 1961, Rogers’s most well-known book was published: On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. He worked with E.T. Gendlin, D.J. Kiesler, and C.B. Truax in a huge, expensive research project on schizophrenia in clients that was extremely frustrating due to conflict in authorship, it was finally published 1967. Because of Rogers’s annoyance with the project, and other influences, Roger moved to La Jolla, California in 1963.

Rogers spent the next twenty-five years at Western Behavioral Sciences Institute. Ten years after he moved to California, Rogers and colleagues designed the Center for Studies organization in which he spend the next fifteen years of life. During this time, he also wrote his books, some of the most popular include but not limited to: Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become (1969), Becoming Partners: Marriage and Its Alternatives (1972), Man and the Science of Man (Rogers & Coulson, 1968), and Carl Rogers on Encounter Groups (1970). During the 1970s and 1980s, he continued to work on his person-centered approach and even going international. He and his colleagues traveled around the world, leading workshops. He was acknowledged by Present Jimmy Carter, and he was nominated for Nobel Prize for Peace in his later years. His wife Helen died in 1979, so for the remainder of Roger’s life he traveled, wrote, and began the Car Rogers Peace Project. In 1987, Roger passed away in his home in La Jolla, California, due to issues with a hip injury.

Through his lifetime he wrote fifteen books, and over 200 articles. He has influenced millions of people around the world with his methods and theories. There are some critics of Rogers that believe his methods are unmindful or unrealistic. However, it is unquestionable that Rogers has impacted our world of counseling through his philosophy.

Beliefs about Human Nature

As a humanistic psychologist, Carl Rogers built upon Abraham Maslow’s theory with the idea that, in order for a person to grow internally, they would need an atmosphere that allowed them to feel genuineness, acceptance, and empathy. A tree will not be able to grow unless it has water and sunlight, the same goes for the growth of an individual. Without having surrounding needs, healthy relationships and personalities will not have the opportunity to develop properly. Roger strongly believed that any individual was capable of achieving their desires and goals throughout life. When a person desired a particular goal, it created self-actualization. “The organism has one basic tendency and striving to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism” (Rogers, 1951, p.487). One of the most significant thoughts that Rogers contributed to psychology is the understanding that people must meet many factors before gaining their highest level of satisfaction.

Humans are believed to have only one main motive: the tendency to self-actualize (Rogers, 1959). This means that an individual is always seeking to fulfill the highest level of ‘human-beingness’. People will develop in different ways based on personalities. All people seek to be creative and good, is what Rogers believed. Self-actualization happens when the “ideal self” is congruent with the “self-image” of a person. He believes that the main factor in becoming self-actualized is a person’s experience in childhood.

In order to becoming a fully functioning human-being, Rogers linked five characteristics to which a person needs: Open to experience, existential living, feelings of trust, creativity, and fulfilled life (McLeod, 2014). Along with working to become a fully functioning human being, Rogers also expressed the idea for self-concept. Rogers describes this as “the organized, consistent set of perceptions and beliefs about oneself” (Rogers, 1959). A person’s inner personality is influenced by their own experiences in life and the way they interpret those experiences, as well as the evaluation of others people.

Rogers believe that people think of themselves based on their own self-esteem, and the way a person thinks, behaves and feels affects the self-image that is portrayed. As children, two basic needs were viewed as most important by Rogers (1951): self-worth and positive regard provided by other beings. Someone who has a great amount of confidence within themselves and has faced many challenges with acceptance to failures and sadness along with being open to individuals is considered to have self-worth.

Congruence will occur in someone’s life if their ideal-self and self-image is consistent and when the ideal-self and self-image is not consistent is called incongruence. Rogers believed congruence must be in order before a person can attain self-actualization. Rogers strived to help clients conquer this goal through his practice of person-centered therapy, which will be discussed in more detail in the following sections.

Why People Have Problems

Rogers felt the main reason a person has problems is because of the communication the individual has with his inner feelings. Another way to describe it, the “unconscious, repressed, or denied desires have created distortions in a way they communicate to others. Thus, they suffer both within themselves and in their interpersonal relationships” (Rogers & Roethlisberger, 1991). The main hindrance within the communication of clients, is the individual’s “tendency to evaluate.”

Human-beings seek personal growth and development but are unaware of how to achieve it. Through Carl Rogers theory, he approaches the feelings of distress and increases self-esteem and openness to all experiences related to the distress.

Role of the Counselor

In Carl Rogers article, A Counseling Approach to Human Problems (1956), he expressed his strategy for helping a “troubled, confused person” by asking the question “How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” The first condition Rogers believed a counselor must obtain in session is genuine character. The more genuine and real the counselor is, the more helpful it will be for the client. In order for a counselor be completely genuine, they must be self-aware of their own feelings and express those feelings openly with clients. “It is only by my providing the genuine reality which is in me, that the other person can successfully seek the reality which is in him” (Rogers, 1956). Secondly, a counselor must provide true “acceptance and liking” for the client. This will create a more productive relationship with the client. Lastly, Rogers discovered that the more a counselor can understand a client’s feelings and relate to his thoughts, the deeper connection of empathy exist.

After the three conditions are established in session, Rogers’ hypothesis was that the client would be able to discover his own capacity to benefit from the relationship to create growth within himself. The most important element in this delivery of steps, is for the client to explore the feelings in which has been shut out of self-awareness. Allowing the client to transcend through his own self-awareness, will allow him to make the connections between the experiences and the emotions. Once this understanding is in place, the client should be able to create acceptance and growth from within. It should allow the client to change the way he thinks of himself. Lastly, the client is able to put into action the new attitudes and awareness he has discovered.

Rogers expressed his excitement for his research and findings through using a therapeutic relationship to create more meaningful connections in life. Not only did he believe this was true in a counseling session, but he believed it was possible in all relationships in life. If a person knew how to create a functioning therapeutic relationship, the relationship would strengthen and produce a healthy and happy connection.

Role of the Client

Carl Rogers (1961) stated the following:

It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried. It began to occur to me that unless I had a need to demonstrate my own cleverness and learning, I would do better to rely upon the client for the direction of movement in the process. (p. 11-12)

As the client is the one with the problems, Carl Rogers believed the client needed to be in charge of all goals, desires, and outcomes. The client should be challenged to become the master of his own thoughts. Clients should work on building trust within the body and obtaining skills to achieve an authentic life.

One of the most important skill for the client to establish is active listening. Once a person is capable of listening to others in a productive manner, then he should begin learning how to listen to his own personal thoughts and feelings and understand why those feelings have occurred and how to accept change and desires to achieve goals. The main technique used to achieve understanding and knowledge of one’s self, is through reflection. Reflection is an extremely important factor in achieving a successful outcome in counseling.

Therapeutic Goals

The most important therapeutic goal in person-centered therapy is for the client to achieve independence. Once this goal is achieved, the client should be able to cope with problems in the future, on his own. The therapy isn’t focused on particular problems the client is suffering with, instead all the focus is on the person. Successful person-centered therapy will allow the client to be open to experiences, discover how to trust himself, have the readiness to grow and develop an inner assessment of himself.

A counselor needs to facilitate the client’s ability to be himself and to feel trust in the relationship. Through this, the client should desire to be honest without feeling judged by the counselor. Counselors should encourage congruence in thoughts and feelings, empower change in the client, and seek growth in self-esteem for the client. If a counselor shows positive regard and acceptance, along with empathy, the therapeutic relationship should have no problems in strengthening.

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