Counselling provides a safe and confidential environment in which a person can talk about and explore difficult feelings and the events or situations that may underpin them. It can be a relief in itself to get things off your chest and often by gaining a better understanding of their feelings and thought processes people can identify their own solutions to problems.
Although the concept of counselling as a distinct activity with specialist professionals is a relatively recent development the idea that people can get a sense of relief and achieve a more peaceful state of mind through sharing their stories with others has been present throughout the ages.
Sigmund Freud, who trained as a medical doctor (neurologist) is perhaps the most renowned historical figure in the field of psychology.
Born in 1881 he conducted ground breaking research through the first half of the twentieth century and many of the concepts he formulated have become part of everyday discourse. For example, a ‘slip of the tongue’ being referred to as a Freudian slip or someone who is overly fastidious being described as anal.
It was Freud who proposed that the mind be conceptually divided into three entities, the ego, superego and id. The ego representing the rational self, the superego the internalised parent and the id the impulsive child. Freud also proposed that children pass through an oral, anal and phallic stage and may become ‘stuck’ in one of these phases leading to maladjusted behaviours and possible distress.
Freud referred to the talking therapy that emerged from his theoretical work as psychoanalysis and several of his early collaborators went on to develop their own ‘schools’ of this still dynamic area of theory/therapy. These therapies developed further through the 20th century and still form the core of what is often referred to as (exploratory) psychotherapy.
Person Centred Approach to Counselling
Counselling, which is seen by many as distinctly different from psychotherapy, emerged as a separate discipline in the 1940s and 1950s and the US psychologist Carl Rogers developed the person centred approach which is still at the core of much of current practice.
Rogers maintained that the most important factor for successful therapy (counselling) is the collaborative respectful climate created in the therapeutic relationship between the therapist and client.
He articulated the following three interrelated core conditions necessary for successful progress within counselling/therapy:
1) Congruence – the willingness to authentically relate to clients without hiding behind a professional front.
2) Unconditional positive regard – the therapist must make clear through his/her actions their acceptance and positive regard for the client.
3) Empathy – the therapist must communicate a desire/willingness to see issues from the client’s perspective
Rogers believed that when a therapist embodies these critical behaviours an atmosphere will develop in which the client is able to more confidently express their true feelings without concerns about being judged. Within this context the client will develop, through his or her own resources, the solutions to their problems. The non-directive nature of person centred counselling is for many a key defining element of person centred counselling.