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Importance of Personal Development in Counsellor Training

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 2666 words Published: 18th May 2020

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This essay intends to provide an understanding of what it means to be a counsellor; basically, the question focuses on the training required and what personal developments they need to be practically suited as a professional counsellor. It will briefly explain what counselling is, the role and what the key emphasized theories are. Counselling is a professional role, training requires a level of appreciation of the need to develop on a personal level, therefore an understanding of client’s boundaries, developing self-awareness skills are explicitly crucial in training. Self-awareness is not easy to acknowledge, but theories of Gestalt Therapy will provide an insight how trainees might discover self-awareness.

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There are often things that are unknown to self, The Johari window has theorised reasons these might be, and the essay will explain them in depth and how trainees might use this theory in a practical setting in terms of what boundaries and sensitive questions that are proposed. There are however requirements in training to provide evidence of personal development, explanations on this will provide why it is important with the anti-discriminatory practice (ADP) being an example of these requirements. It is nevertheless important to provide an overview of the essay, therefore directing the key aspects will be concluded.

When an individual is distraught with unwanted maladaptive thoughts, or their emotions and experiences become too much to bare that seeking advice from family and friends, priests or doctors are not enough or that they may feel too embarrassed and ashamed in discussing their concerns, is where a counsellor is ought to be useful. An individual in a counselling profession, he or she, do their best in listening to their clients and understanding these concerns and opt to try and resolve these issues. Counsellors are not to diagnose or label people and work within a strict ethical framework that have a sense of understanding of client’s problems (McLeod, 2013).

Counselling are talking therapies and they emphasise on several key theories such as psychodynamic, cognitive behavioural therapy or humanistic models, person-centred and Gestalt therapy. For a counsellor to be truly authentic in their work, personal development is argued to be an important factor in counselling training and is highlighted as the most significant aspect of its training, it is however least recognised and least characterised (Woolfe, Strawbridge, Douglas and Dryen, 2010). There is such confusion on what personal development is truly defined as despite its relationship with professional development that trainees are to gain in order to be authentically suited to be a practitioner where clients sense and feel it is a safe, trustful environment (Woolfe, Strawbridge, Douglas and Dryen, 2010). There are many aspects of personal development, but to understand and acknowledge personal development, it is strived from self-awareness which is important not only in counselling but for developmental growth in an individual’s lifetime.

The humanistic approach, Gestalt therapy has a strategy for developing self-awareness; to reach out in every direction that one accepts as present awareness. There are parts that people experience that they wish to not accept as their own and when challenged, resist and block out these thoughts of awareness. When this is recognised in one’s behaviour, the idea is to directly concentrate on them and attempt to re-channel that energy where blockages are dismissing the awareness (Perls, Hefferline and Goodman, 1951). To understand this in a clearer perspective: if one were to peel an onion, they would gradually peel away to reveal the onions core. Gestalt idea is that peeling directly inwards is a way one becomes closer to the internal self, to become aware of; to acknowledge the true inner self.

Further Gestalt concepts that can be applied to self is ‘The Edge of Awareness’. To explain this in greater detail; for example, if one were to reach beyond their own conscious competence (ability to do something successful) in search of their capabilities. Wosket’s (1999) described this focus as spending time to discover that sense of edge; by focusing on this becomes deeper and deeper to confront the unknowns. When a trainee discovers The Edge of Awareness, they can remove the scaffold provided from training and truly master the art of awareness and create new external structures. However, Casement (1985) points out training is too much focused-on theories and what is learned; it is easy to accept these and be unaware of the unexpected. Wosket’s (1999) also further suggests if therapists are to become too familiar with the signs (experiences), they can become blind to the differences and strangeness. This is where trainees need to become aware of themselves and have an empirical understanding towards their client – they need to understand the knowns and challenge the unknowns, because therapists will reflect that sense onto clients; having that empathetic attitude in responding to clients is a powerful and physical emotion, however therapists will not fully understand all experiences so they must remain congruent (Wosket’s, 1999). 

Other key central concepts of Gestalt Therapy of awareness are ‘figure’ and ‘ground’. To define this clearly: when the counsellor or client is in the present moment, they experience what they see is figural but also ground – for what they do not see and are not aware of. As previously explained, by allowing what is out of awareness become a new figural meaning, with time and attention, what is out of awareness now becomes attentional to oneself. As Gestalt therapy is a humanistic model, it is instinctively compared with person-centred therapy, the humanistic approach originated by Carl Rogers, as they both utilise the here and now methodology. Psychoanalytic theory originated by Sigmund Freud, share a common ground with Gestalt therapy, that is the notion of the unconscious; meaning, bringing the not aware, to the aware. However, to respectively understand the process differences of the unconscious between the two, as mentioned Gestalt therapy focus on the here and now, where psychoanalysis is to promote an insight of these unwanted thoughts and behaviours that originally caused by processes of early childhood memories and experiences (McLeod, 2013).

As explained earlier by Wosket’s, (1999) in challenging the unknowns, Luft and Harrington Ingham developed a theory known as The Johari Window (1955), which explains there are four quadrants of self-awareness: [1] The Arena: these are personal attributes that are aware to both self and others. This can be applied in a counsellor setting to establish a common ground in the open-arena, building up a sense of trust and possibly generating new information from clients. [2] The Blind Spot: these attributes are what is not known to self, but it is aware by others. This is an opportunity for the counsellor to help clients self-reflect and suggesting options of change rather than providing solutions. [3] The Façade: these are attributes that the self is aware of but are unidentified to others. From a client’s perspective, only what is known to them, if brought to conversation it enlarges the open-arena. However, counsellors need to be sensitive when probing questions that they are not aware of, again, appreciating why self-awareness is crucial when it is applied in these circumstances, developing personal skills towards an empathetic attitude is needed. [4] The Unknown: is the unknown, unknowns that neither self nor others are aware of (Cassidy, 2014). Because neither are aware of the knowns, questions can be asked to enable clients to think of an aspect differently which may cause confusion but is part of a learning process of developing awareness (Halpern, 2009).

Nevertheless, counselling training no matter what professional model trainees are to pursue, they must be able to stimulate personal moral qualities – these moral qualities can be perceived and reflected onto clients if they truly do not possess them. It is in fact, a priority that organisations of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) must take extensive personal training requirements.

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The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy also requires evidence that therapist have learned self-development activities by demonstrating how their self-development contributes to clinical practice by conducting accredited training courses (Woolfe, Strawbridge, Douglas and Dryen, 2010). During counsellor training they must express that they understand the therapies from the perspective of the client; through therapy they have to understand experiences of their own life; and importantly, be able to be critical in their own self-reflection such as their humility, their integrity and diligence to deploy skills and knowledge to achieve the beneficially outcome of clients (Woolfe, Strawbridge, Douglas and Dryen, 2010).

The British Association for Counselling implements an ethical framework that counsellors are to develop self-diverse and accept, understand differences in what is known as sociocultural big 7 identities (gender, race, class, sexual orientation, disabilities, religion and age). They are to understand their own values and to be more flexible and dynamic, rather than diminishing them (Moodley and Murphy, 2010, cited in Campbell-Balcom and Martin-Berg, 2019). In terms of multicultural aspects, counsellors require knowledge and skills and understanding of the client’s cultures’ and appreciate them as unique or different individuals to remove the likelihood of prejudice and discrimination (Cooper, 2009, cited in Campbell-Balcom and Martin-Berg, 2019). Furthermore, knowledge of cultures is to be relevant, it is not to claim to say it would diminish a satisfactory counselling experience (Sue & Zane, 2009, cited in Campbell-Balcom and Martin-Berg, 2019). However, if the counsellor is unable to understand their own cultural values and beliefs, they may not have the essential skills in engaging around client’s culture differences and this may prevent a meaningful understanding between self and client (Vasquez, 2007, cited in Campbell-Balcom and Martin-Berg, 2019).

Stressing the importance of diversity in counsellor training, there is however criticism of counsellor educators in not creating diverse trainees and higher ranked counsellors. The Council for Accreditation of Counselling and Related Education programs (CACREP) reported 74% of full-time staff in 2016 were white and 61% of those were female (CACREP, 2017, cited in Cartwright, Avent-Harris, Munsey and Lloyd-Hazlett, 2018). The point to this information is that training provides awareness of diversity, although these higher percentages of white ethnicity are likely to have developed self-awareness for diversity in multicultures, it however begs to question that diversity within a counsellor profession has not succeeded in recruitments in creating a diverse multicultural profession. It cannot however contribute to a fact that they have failed in recruiting a diverse profession.

Nevertheless, it does contribute that trainees need an understanding of diversity awareness within a counselling profession as they are likely to therapize within a variety. In the development of self-awareness, the example of Gestalt theory regarding revealing the core to self, could be argued in the same sentence as The Edge of Awareness. There are similarities in the terms used in discovering the unknowns of self. It is clear that the Edge of Awareness is a platform for growth, to develop from the starting point of awareness strives for growth.  This growth is needed as The Johari Window theory provides an idea of four aspects of attributes and how this can be applied towards clients in knowing and asking the right questions without prejudice or discrimination. Counselling training is certainly not an easy profession, trainees need to develop the right attitude and awareness and evidentially provide demonstrations of diversity and engage in ethical frameworks from The British Association for Counselling.


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