What Are the Goals of Counseling?
Different individuals have different perceptions of what can be expected of counseling. Individuals preparing to become counselors, and those who seek counseling, as well as parents, teachers, school administrators and governmental agencies, all differ in their expectations of the counseling experience. The final designation of these goals is to be determined by the counselor and the client as a team.
Counseling theorists do not always agree on appropriate counseling goals because they are often general, vague and saturated with implications. However, these are the five most commonly named goals of counseling:
- Facilitating behaviour change.
- Improving the client’s ability to establish and maintain relationships.
- Enhancing the client’s effectiveness and ability to cope.
- Promoting the decision-making process and facilitating client potential.
These goals are not mutually exclusive and will naturally be emphasized by some theorists and not others.
Enhancing Coping Skills
We will inevitably run into difficulties in the process of growing up. Most of us do not completely achieve all of our developmental tasks within a lifetime. All of the unique expectations and requirements imposed on us by others will eventually lead to problems. Any inconsistencies in development can result in children learning behaviour patterns that are both inefficient and ineffective. Learned coping patterns, however, may not always work. New interpersonal or occupational role demands may create an overload and produce excessive anxiety and difficulty for the individual.
Children who grow up in excessively strict homes frequently adjust to such training measures through learned behavioural inhibition. When social or occupational responsibilities require individuals to be assertive, they may experience anxiety and be unable to handle responsibilities effectively. In addition to psychological symptoms, physical symptoms such as frequent headaches, stuttering in front of people in authority or the inability to sleep are common. This maladjustment to daily living makes coping skills an important goal of counseling.
Many clients tend to have major problems relating to others due to poor self-image. Likewise, inadequate social skills cause individuals to act defensively in relationships. Typical social difficulties can be observed in family, marital and peer group interaction (e.g., the troubled elementary school child). The counselor would then strive to help the client improve the quality of their lives by developing more effective interpersonal relationships.
The goal of counseling is to enable the individual to make critical decisions regarding alternative courses of action without outside influence. Counseling will help individuals obtain information, and to clarify emotional concerns that may interfere with or be related to the decisions involved. These individuals will acquire an understanding of their abilities and interests. They will also come to identify emotions and attitudes that could influence their choices and decisions.
The activity of stimulating the individual to evaluate, accept and act upon a choice, will assist them in learning the entirety of the decision-making process. The individual will develop autonomy and avoid dependence on a counselor.
How to Conduct the First Counseling Session
Facilitating Client Potential
Counseling seeks to maximize an individual’s freedom by giving him or her control over their environment while analyzing responsiveness and reaction to the environment. Counselors will work to help people learn how to overcome, for example, excessive substance use and to better take care of their bodies.
Counselors will also assist in overcoming sexual dysfunction, drug addiction, compulsive gambling and obesity, as well as anxiety, shyness and depression.
Facilitating Behaviour Change
Most theorists indicate that the goal of counseling is to bring about change in behaviour that will enable the client to be more productive as they define their life within society’s limitations. According to Rodgers (1961), behaviour change is a necessary result of the counseling process, although specific behaviours receive little or no emphasis during the process.
Alternatively, Dustin and George (1977) suggested that the counselor must establish specific counseling goals. A necessary shift from general goals to specific goals should take place to enable both the client and counselor to understand what change is desired. Specific behaviour goals have additional value as the client is better able to see any change that occurs.
Krumbolz (1966) suggested three additional criteria for judging counseling goals, as follows:
- The goals of counseling should be capable of being stated differently for each individual client.
- The goals should be compatible with, though not identical to, the values of the counselor.
- The degree to which goals of counseling are attained by each client should be observable.
These goals are not mutually exclusive, nor are they equally appropriate for every client at any specific time. Counseling goals can be classified according to three categories: ultimate, intermediate and immediate.
Ultimate goals are philosophical ideals that can be reasonably expected from counseling. These goals include helping individuals to realize their full potential or to become self-actualized.
Intermediate goals relate to the reasons for seeking counseling and usually require several sessions to achieve them. Helping the individual develope to become and remain a well-adjusted, mentally healthy person and to achieve his/her potentialities, would classify as an intermediate goal.
Immediate goals, on the other hand, are the moment-by-moment intentions of counseling, for example, encouraging the client to verbalize an unexpressed feeling.