Some Important Aims and Steps in the Counseling Process

Marriage counseling consists of three major divisions: (1) premarital counseling, in preparation for marriage; (2) marital counseling on problems and difficulties arising within the interpersonal relations of marriage; and (3) counseling with the unmarried, the divorced, and single persons who as yet are unmarried. Counseling of any one of these types may be carried out individually or in groups.

Given the necessary preparation on the part of the counselor which will enable him to differentiate between normal and abnormal behavior in terms of the client's cultural background, there emerges a set of procedures in the counseling process which serve as basic steps. Although these may be considered elementary by the experienced counselor, they are mentioned here for those readers who are not yet sophisticated in counseling, and who hope to prepare themselves to understand marriage counseling. In addition, for beginning professional workers and for those more experienced who wish to take stock of their work, the following aims and procedures may serve as helpful guides to marriage counseling. It should be emphasized, however, that although these steps are used with each partner in the marriage, in marriage counseling the focus of the counseling is on the interpersonal relationship between the marital partners.

Establishment of Rapport: Webster's New International Dictionary defines rapport as "harmony, conformity, accord or affinity, intimate or harmonious relations." Establishment of rapport means, therefore, the development of a close understanding; the development of confidence on the part of the counselee in the counselor. The need for rapport is, of course, obvious if the counselee is to be willing to confide in the counselor and share with him the thoughts, problems, and experiences which have arisen in the marriage relation -- the most intimate relationship known to men.

2. Reduction of Hostility: The counselee is frequently oppressed by the feeling of hostility to the person or persons or situation which he believes to be responsible for his problem. It is important for the counselor to provide the opportunity for and to encourage the fullest possible expression of this hostility because little constructive work can be done until the client frees himself from the weight of this load. This is sometimes referred to as ventilation of feeling or catharsis. This process can be begun by the counselor's making the client feel comfortable in verbally expressing his negative feelings toward his spouse or others involved, whether his feelings are based on fact or fantasy.

3. Development of Insight and Objectivity: The third aim in the counseling process is to develop insight and objectivity in the counselee. This is perhaps the most difficult goal to achieve because emotional disturbance, which is almost always present, hinders insight and objectivity. It certainly cannot be accomplished without good rapport between counselor and counselee. Hence it must follow after or at times be developed simultaneously with the establishment of rapport.

4. Reorientation: Once insight and objectivity are obtained, it is not difficult to lead the counselee to a reorientation toward his problem or problems and the situation. This may mean the development of a new or different relationship to the person or persons involved; or it may mean the avoidance or a more courageous facing or transcending of conflictual situations, as the case may require; or it may necessitate changing his role or behavior; or it may require reorganizing existing relationships. In a sense this means aiding the counselee in re-educating himself so that he may be equal to the new conditions of life which he will have to face, and the requirements they will make on his resources.

5. Development of New Objectives and Perspective: As a result of the reorientation, new goals will have to be envisaged in terms of the new relationship to be established. These must be related to the counselee's needs, his abilities, and his resources, both personal and environmental; to those of his spouse and to the marriage itself. Here it may be well to call attention again to the problem-solving capacity of the individual if properly stimulated by a good relationship with the counselor and a modified relationship to the marriage partner.

6. Implementation: The new objectives and relationship will require ways and means of achieving them. These, in turn, will necessitate carefully considered plans which will be based on all the foregoing considerations. It may be well to emphasize that the planning should be done by the client instead of the counselor. The client should experience the thrill of making and executing these first plans and discuss the results with the counselor as a means of gaining self-confidence in his newly acquired strengths and awareness of inner resources.

The foregoing six elements in the counseling process are not independent of each other. They are, in fact, interdependent in time and psychological development and they may be worked on, to a greater or lesser degree, depending upon the situation, almost from the first interview.

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