Different counselling models: one model doesn’t fit all

I was talking with a student counsellor the other day, who asked what counselling models or theories guided my work. It was, and is, a good question, and one which should be asked of any counsellor you may be thinking of working with; their theoretical model will guide how they will work with you. If they cannot explain their approach then, frankly, they should not be working in the field.

Although many courses highlight four or five major approaches, a professor I know at the University of Bristol, Sheila Trahar, suggested in 2001 that there were over 400 different approaches to counselling, I suspect that in the intervening years that figure has multiplied! However, realistically, there are five major approaches: Psychoanalytical (think Freud), BehaviouralClient-CentredGestalt, and Psychodynamic. Each approach has its set of values, beliefs, assumptions and principles—and lest we forget, each one thinks that they have the answer and provide the best approach for therapy!

It is easy, as a counsellor, to mechanically follow the guidelines laid down in a script, or to think that our beliefs align with those of a particular approach (think of how many people follow a political party, religion or football team because that was what their parents did, but never really question why). In this case, the risk is that the client will be forced into fitting the counsellors script. If the values and approach of the counsellor does not fit with your own values and beliefs, progress might be slow; that is not say you will not progress or that sometimes being challenged is not a go.

There is a sixth option which, is where my approach comes from, which is an integrated approach (sometimes called eclecticism) which draws upon different aspects of each of the five major groups. For me, this is where developing an integrated approach, such as grounded counselling, becomes interesting. The counsellor must develop an understanding of their own values and beliefs, their philosophical foundations, understand the nature of change, and human nature, while also understanding the impact of systems and structures on individuals.

Over the next few weeks, I will begin to explain different approaches to counselling including my own approach to grounded counselling, the foundations upon which it is built, and how it fits with developing an orientation in life towards that I described in my PhD thesis as ‘Being-Fun’.