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The Middle Stages: Working Within The Counseling Relationship

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  1. 0:07 Middle Stage
  2. 1:01 Explore
  3. 2:19 Time
  4. 3:04 Development & Confrontation
  5. 5:08 Pitfalls
  6. 7:01 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Devin Kowalczyk

Devin has taught Psychology and has a master's degree in Clinical Forensic Psychology, and will earn a PhD in 2015.

This lesson explores the process and issues concerned with the middle stages of counseling, which occurs between a counselor and the client. Ways to handle issues are also discussed.

Middle Stage

When eating (because I do love to eat), I have the choice between an appetizer of shrimp cocktail, little mushrooms, or hot wings. Then, I move on to the main course consisting of either pizza or fried chicken. And finally, I end with a heaping handful of candy. If you haven't guessed it, I do love to eat terrible foods.

Also, if you hadn't guessed it, the stages of therapy can be explained by this gluttonous meal that I just described. The initial stage is the little shrimp cocktail, where everything is started. The middle stage is the main course, where you really dig into the heavy stuff. And lastly is the lighter, hopefully sweet, end with the dessert. The middle stage is where a counselor begins to dig in. Let's break it down into component parts even though the actual process is much more fluid.

Explore

In the initial stage, the original concern is put forth. Let's say the client is 25 years old and is unsure of what he wants to do with his life. In the middle stage, the counselor begins to explore and discover the underlying issues. This can be accomplished by interviews, which are questions posed to an individual to obtain information about the individual in a structured, semi-structured, or unstructured format.

The manner in which a counselor interviews a client is very subjective. Some prefer the structured format of having every question laid out. Others prefer to work based on what the client wants to discuss. Many counselors balance between the two, having prepared questions but also following the client's flow.

The counselor will ask a bunch of questions in order to understand the issue fully. If the counselor doesn't do this, then they are working under their own assumptions and that means the counseling will not be very helpful. So, the problem is defined. This 25-year-old is unsure of what he wants to do with his life. He has not attended any school or training since high school. He is currently working as a burger flipper but wants more from life. With the problem defined, we can begin to get into the actual counseling.

Time

So, we have the concerns of the individual in counseling. Collecting the information can take several sessions or can be extremely quick, depending on the simplicity of the issue, how well the individual understands it, and how well the counselor is able to grasp it. If our 25-year-old came in and was just unhappy, it could take several meetings to finally reach the conclusion that it was career issues that were bothering the 25-year-old.

Clients may be resistant to discussing what is actually bothering them. Our 25-year-old may have problems with a coworker sexually harassing him, and this may not be something he would want to discuss. This can ultimately lengthen the time it takes to understand the issues.

Development and Confrontation

After the counselor and the client know what the issue is that they will be focusing on (the example here is career counseling), the counselor and the client can begin to develop a deeper relationship. A relationship would have been started when the client and the counselor began to talk, and a level of trust and rapport is developed so the client will trust the counselor.

It is likely that during this development stage concerns will shift from the external to the internal. While the burger flipper will complain about his job and his life, the counselor will slowly guide the individual to look deeper to see what internal and emotional conflicts and issues are being triggered by this. The whole issue of not liking his job is really tied to wanting to do something more, to be something greater than he is. This is an extremely emotional issue and is tied to self-concept, self-esteem, and other aspects of who he is.

What may happen is a confrontation. A client will hit a point where they will resist making the next step. For example, our 25-year-old has decided that he wants to get a new job because he hates burgers. So he sets his sights on working as a pancake flipper. The client is showing resistance to change and what they had initially set out to do. People get comfortable with where they are at and resist the changes that they know, deep down, they need.

Being a counselor, of course, doesn't make you infallible, and it could be that the client is truly satisfied with where they're at. That is their choice and their life to live. You are there to provide support and guidance and to counsel them on their decisions, not to alter or live their lives for them.

How a counselor handles confrontation is unique to the client's personality, the issue with the client, and the counselor's own style. Some value directness and bluntness while others let the client work their way to the resolution themselves. There is really no right or wrong way, as long as the client is not hurt in the process.

Pitfalls

In the process of the relationship, both the client and the counselor can bring in thoughts, feelings, and ideas that don't actually apply. How can something not apply?

Transference is the act of transferring thoughts, feelings, or emotions from one person onto the therapist. Our 25-year-old burger flipper may suddenly become very angry with the counselor because how dare the counselor tell him how to live his life. 'What do you know, dad?' he may say. And then there will be a moment of confusion and embarrassment.

The same can happen to the counselor. Countertransference is the act of transferring thoughts, feelings, or emotions from one person onto the client. If a counselor finds themself overly emotional or thinking of the client like a child, then they are falling victim to countertransference.

The best way to avoid these pitfalls is to recognize them. Sometimes a counselor won't even notice that there is some kind of transference until they are already in the pit. Once in the pit of transference, the counselor needs to recognize, with the client during a session, what is occurring.

This is a delicate procedure where the counselor explores what this person (the projected individual, like the father) means to the client and why this transference is occurring. Sometimes the discussion and recognition of what is happening will change for the client, and they may understand a new aspect of themselves. Sometimes the client will continue to act on the transference, and nothing will be resolved.

It is not appropriate for a counselor to have countertransference. A counselor will need to recognize their own issues and work through them. If a counselor is constantly treating their client as their own son, then the counselor loses the objectiveness that makes them a counselor.

Lesson Summary

The middle is where the bulk of the counseling is conducted. It involves collecting and exploring the issue with interviews, which are questions posed to an individual to obtain information about the individual in a structured, semi-structured, or unstructured format. A counseling relationship needs to be strong and established to allow you, the counselor, to confront the client about issues. The process can take a large or small amount of time, depending on the style of the counselor and the readiness of the client.

When working with a client, the counselor must be wary of transference, defined as the act of transferring thoughts, feelings, or emotions from one person onto the therapist, and countertransference, the act of transferring thoughts, feelings, or emotions from one person onto the client.

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