Counselling as a word suggests help and when there is a person giving help there is another person asking for help.
Counselling is a bilateral process focused unilaterally on the client; the process involves two sides, that is, the counsellor and the counsellee, who meet to arrive at an agreement, passing through developing stages regarding the evolution of their relationship.
A relationship implies communication as an essential condition of its existence: the counsellor has to transfer his message to the counsellee, and the counsellee has to transfer his message to the counsellor in order to build up the dialogue of Counselling which includes the two participants.
A message may have its origins both in man's mind and heart, as a vehicle to express his thoughts or feelings by using words, notes, colours and even gestures, or a particular posture.
Man's physical expression as a manifestation of his insight may be interpreted in a positive or negative way according to different situations: a nod may show approval or agreement when the person is looking at his interlocutor; on the contrary, a nod may show a desire for flight when the person keeps his head down without looking at his interlocutor.
Counselling is one person giving help, assistance and support to another one who has a problem or is in some way in need.
Counselling as a humanistic technique focuses on the client as a whole person including his affective realm, that is, emotions and feelings as well as his reports, deeds, verbal and non-verbal language.
Counselling process is based on communication and the Rogerian1, La Forge, suggests that communication is more than just a message being transmitted from a sender to a receiver and that the counsellor and the client are at the same time both subjects, as senders, and objects, as receivers, of their own messages because in a Counselling relationship communication is exchange and interaction (La Forge, P.G. 1983).
The counsellor's main behavioural skills are a deep knowledge of human behaviour and the power of communication which means not only to be able to transmit and receive a message, but also to elicit it from the context, that is, to infer it from the psychological signs showing the evidence of the client's inner moods.
The starting point of the connection which does exist between the counsellor and the client is represented by their first meeting, in which both of them turn from two strangers into the active subjects of a human relationship with the common purpose of solving the client's problems in order to improve his life, which is at a turning point, implying a choice.
The first meeting is very important because it is the foundation of the whole process which is not static but dynamic from the beginning to the end, where it is necessary to put together all that the two subjects of the process itself learn throughout the different stages of evolution.
Counsellor-client interaction changes in its very nature from dependent into independent. It is possible to imagine the Counselling Process like a story-telling involving lifelike characters who live different periods. The first period or introduction is when the characters start knowing each other; the second period or plot is when the characters start interacting; the third phase or climax is when the characters live happily ever after in their reaching an agreement, a contract concerning the client s welfare.
The contract is the last stage of the Counselling Process, whereas the negotiation between the two parts, to compromise for the best solution, is carried on during the previous stages.
In fact, the client's right choice often implies a compromise in which the client himself gains and loses something at the same time: the client has to lose or abandon his negative behaviour or habits, causing his crisis, to gain his better condition of life.
The counsellor and the client, as the two parts involved in the Counselling Process, are complementary between them in the sense that each part needs the other part and each part with its functions makes the other one complete; the two parts play two different roles as two different actors joined by a common goal in the movie of life.
The counsellor needs to nurture the client, whereas the client needs to be healed by the counsellor; the counsellor as a helper needs to give support whereas the client asks for it; the counsellor in his autonomy of life turns the client from a non-autonomous person into an autonomous person able to go ahead in life and make his own choice (Counselling Theory and Skills Courses 2001 -Counselling Services - University of Malta).
The client has to change his behaviour, beliefs and level of emotional distress to improve his life, in being able to think and act as a person who achieves what he is trying to achieve. The counsellor's first goal is to empower the client to feel the ability to do or act in the right way to gain the awareness of his own potentiality in his real context, the awareness of all that he is capable of achieving, to transform his desires into reality.
The counsellor's second goal is to reduce the client's emotional stress, anxiety and uncertainty, due to the decision itself to come to Counselling, by giving the client the basic understanding of the Counselling process, of how it works and of how it can be helpful to the client to be a participant in it. The counsellor starts helping the client to feel comfortable by showing his respect, high opinion and regard for him, by using the skill of active listening and disclosing a positive feeling in words and gestures as signs of acceptance.
The counsellor's third goal is to help the client to grow as a person to become mature and ready to use his mental faculties to organize and succeed in dealing with troubles.
Counselling implies a shared process with a shared responsibility but with a unique goal: leading to the client's change. Furthermore, Counselling, as essential conditions of its working, is characterized by particular features in both the counsellor's and the client's behaviour.
The counsellor should try to be impartial and committed without judgement, without showing assent or dissent, whereas the client should be flexible and easily adapting himself to new conditions or decisions. The counsellor should not influence the client by transferring his own way of thinking and acting, or in imposing his values on the client and in pointing out what the client must choose according to the counsellor's personal opinion.
Tbe counsellor should give different options and explain to the client advantages and disadvantages for each option; the counsellor should wait for the client's possible reactions to examine them; the counsellor should give the client the tools to explore his thoughts and feelings and understand them in order to act in the right way.
The positive result or failure of Counselling depends on empathy which is the collaboration, interaction, dialogue and psychological contact between the two sides;
the counsellor's empathy is the great skill and power of perceiving and sharing the client's feelings and moods, likes, dislikes and needs, and of being able to see from the client's point of view.
The counsellor, in helping the client to make decisions and take actions, helps him to pass from dependence to independence, as a movement towards the client's gradual detachment from the counsellor, a process which makes the client able to see and develop unused or underused skills or to "catch" the right chance around him.
The counsellor adjusts his intervention to the client's peculiar case and reaction by using different skills and hints according to different moments and situations and by evaluating the client's response.
The counsellor may clarify in restating a sentence in a simple way, or by asking the client for story - telling, clarification, further explanation or information; the counsellor may summarize, by putting together all the elements of the situation as a whole, to give the client a complete, objective view of the situation not influenced by personal emotions.
The counsellor and the counsellee work together because counselling work is the activity of an association which wants to make life better.
1 Rogerian: from Rogers (Rogers C.R., 1951).
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