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Three schools of counselling psychology

Counselling involves a therapist who offers certain conditions, activities and methods and aims to help clients live more effective lives. Meltzoff and Kornreich (1970) defined counselling as “informed and planful application of techniques derived from established psychological principles” With regards to one to one talk therapies, there are eight mainstream approaches. Allport (1962) recognised that these counselling approaches fall into three main groups or schools. The first is behaviourism, where the client is a reactive being. The second is the psychodynamic school, where the client is a reactive being in depth. The third is the humanistic school, where the client is ‘in process of becoming’.

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One of these major approaches is psychoanalysis, which belongs to the psychodynamic school. This theory stresses the importance of unconscious factors causing faulty development. Other therapies belonging to the psychodynamic school include analytical therapy and self psychology. Freud suggested a person’s behaviour can be understood by the interaction among the three unconscious systems.

The Id is the first to develop and looks for immediate gratification in whichever way possible. The Ego develops from the Id and is under the influence from the reality principle. The Superego is the incorporation of parental and social standards (introjection) and acts like a moral restriction. The Ego acts as a mediator between the two systems, and may create defence mechanisms such as repression which puts painful experiences into the unconscious. Therapy aims to use free association to gain insight into unconscious wishes and fixations and to use transference to free the client of them.

Personality (or psychosexual) development is marked by five distinct stages. The first is the Oral stage (0-18 months) and is characterised by the infants need to reduce feelings of tension e.g. hunger. If the infants’ needs are not met, this can cause the adult personality to be pessimistic (Abraham, 1924). The second stage is the Anal stage (18 months-3 years). The main source of pleasure comes from retaining and passing faeces. Freud (1917) suggested that if the child doesn’t learn the acceptable behaviour, it may cause loss of self esteem in adulthood. The third stage is the Phallic phase (3 years-adolescence).

This is characterised by becoming familiar with the genital organs of both sexes and the Oedipus complex. The child will unconsciously long for the parent of the opposite sex and become hostile towards the parent of the same sex for having that person. The fourth stage is the Latency stage (adolescence) where they resolve their childhood conflicts through masturbation and have romantic relationships, go to school and learn adult responsibility.

Most criticisms aimed at psychoanalysis are because it lacks empirical evidence and is not seen as falsifiable (Popper, 1986). It also criticised on the grounds that is phallocentric. It is also argued that the theory is not generalisable because Freud’s ideas were based on a demographically restricted sample of individuals The humanistic school offers therapies such as the person centred approach (Rogers, 1902) and reality therapy amongst others.

He believed that humans have an actualising tendency to achieve their full potential. It emphasises the role of over socialisation in preventing people to perceive themselves and their environment properly, and consequently not being able to self actualise. Through experience with clients, he found that each person’s reality is different, depending on their perceptions and experiences. He called this perception a person’s ‘internal frame of reference’. When perceptions become maladaptive, therapy aims to focus on each individuals’ world to help them live more fully, using the core conditions of congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy.

Rogers believed that experiences are valued as positive or negative according to whether they maintain their actualising tendency. Through interaction with others, a self concept develops. This self concept/regard needs to be positively regarded from others. This leads to selective perception of experiences so that they fall in accord with the individuals’ conditions of worth. Experiences which don’t agree are distorted and aren’t put into the self structure. This causes incongruence and psychological maladjustment. For congruence to occur, all experiences must be assimilated with other concepts of the self. Counselling aims to recognise incongruous experiences, whilst showing empathy and unconditional positive regard.

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