Self-Knowledge Research PaperHow Psychological Research and Theory on Self And Self-Knowledge May Inform Counseling Practice
Self-knowledge theory is said to be based on the structural perspective and involves three interrelated aspects, such as direct experiences, mental processes and descriptive theories.
In this paper I will investigate on the relevance of psychological perspectives on self and self knowledge to the counseling practice, as well as present my findings on regard how theory of self-knowledge can be helpful to the counselor in his or her practice.
2. Self-Knowledge and Counseling Practice
In accordance with self-knowledge theory, self-knowledge involves three distinct aspects that are related to each other: direct and private experiences of thoughts, sensations, feelings and actions; mental processes to transform those experiences into descriptive theories; and finally descriptive theories regarding one’s personal experience, as well as significance, implications and causes. The progress of self-knowledge can be observed through the sequence of particular stages: experience is described at the elemental stage, situational stage, patterned stage and process stage. In general, self-knowledge theory can be very useful in the counseling practice, as it involves asking and responding questions and responding questions requires some self-knowledge functions: physical sensations description, sensory impressions, feelings, thoughts, roles, personality traits, experiences, as well as abstract constructs. In the counseling practice a patient is usually asked to explain, describe and evaluate his or her own experiences in different manner and responding to these questions demands skills that are tightly connected with knowledge of self and stage development, mentioned earlier. During the recent decades, the use of self in the counseling practice, the therapist’s use of self, is getting more and more attention in psychotherapy. The self is mainly constructed through the interaction with others (Friedman, 1992). This is what Cashdan wrote in this regard in 1988: “…the child does not begin life with a self, but incrementally constructs one through socially engaging others”. In accordance with many writers, the sense of identity is profoundly formed and structured by the relationships the person experiences and later on this sense is refined by the historical and cultural context.
There is a distinction between the person of the counselor and counselor’s use of self in his practice. As the personality of the counselor inevitably pervades his or her relationships with the patient, the information about who the counselor is is becoming accessible to the patient in greater or lesser degree. Counselor reveal themselves in different from the first glance unimportant tiny ways, like race, voice, age, dress manner, facial expressions, the state of the counseling room, etc. But it is not obviously the same as the intentional use of self, though the counselor may change his voice, dress or state of the room intentionally as well. According to Vanaerschot(1993): “… the important part of the therapist’s attitude is not the fact that, in contact to the client, the therapist eliminates himself as a person, but the way in which he applies himself”. Use of self generally involves personal characteristics operationalisation so that they influence on the client to become important therapeutic process determinants.
Hereinafter, I would like to concentrate on the negative side when the counselor involves too much self in his or her practice. Counselors can be frequently developing an inflated feeling of their importance. They do that in order to protect themselves from the feelings of worthlessness and fear to fail in their practice. Counselors may have the need to defend themselves somehow from the substantial power their clients, let’s assume, may have. Eckler-Hart (1987) conducted the research where he claimed that “success or failure in doing psychotherapy (is) often perceived as a more global success or failure as a person”. Counselors that are stuck in this position and are not able to move forward in their practice and use of self, will most probably need to be admired and consider themselves unbreakable authorities and need an absolute acceptance from the side of their clients or colleagues. Their sense of self-esteem is fragile and therefore this can result in over-involvement of self in their professional practice.
In the process of gaining knowledge and experience, the counselor should negotiate the period of psychic adjustment in order to understand that they are just ordinary people who had to use their best professional skills in their job. Humility in this situation is the best friend for the counselor. The counselor should be able to accept both success and failure. Val Wosket described an interesting case of self-delusion in his book about the therapeutic use of self. During his practice, Wosket saw a young woman for the assessment session in the student counseling service where he worked. At that time he had plenty of clients and therefore he referred that young woman to another counselor. But that didn’t work out for her as she didn’t succeed in forming close relationship with the counselor and couldn’t trust him. And she continued to seek Wosket out on the constant basis- she came to his office, called him when it was his turn to be the resident tutor in the college. She even told him that she already had visited six helpers, but felt that she could not trust any of them. She also continues to insist that she was willing to talk to Wosket if he would just listen to her. As Wosket had a tight schedule, he continues to tell her that he is unable to take her as a counseling client, though he admitted that he was flattered and the small part of him was exulting as he thought that she something special in him, the thing she didn’t see in other counselors. During one of her evening calls during his duty she called again and Wosket asked in desperation whether she could talk to somebody else. The woman named the other member of the tutor team and said that she was not a counselor and that was the problem. Then Wosket asked about the reason and she named the fact that the other woman she could talk to was young. He shot in the eye and was immediately knocked headlong from his pedestal. Young woman replied that she had problems talking to counselors that were too old for her and she wanted to talk to someone of her age. Wosket realized that the young woman was seeking him out not because she considered him to be the gifted counselor, but because of her misperception of his age. Wosket looked younger for his years, but still he was twice as old as the young woman. If she knew how old he was, she would drop him as she did with other elderly counselors.
That was an excellent example of self-delusion of the counselor. Sometimes, the therapist just needs the series of humiliations during which the great professional self receives the refreshing impulses of reality that are essential in assisting the counselor to shift from his “superior” position. It is just the sign that the aspects of the counselor’s impaired self are being transmuted into his professional self. For instance, the counselor knows that he can be safe and calm container for his clients, but in his own life he can equally be unsettled and anxious. Or as the therapist, the person can be courageous and confrontational, when in everyday life his self is shy, over-cautious and self-doubting. “The analyst often receives no warning from his patient when he is being unconsciously destructive. For the patient is himself oriented toward the charlatan and false prophet in the analyst and encourages these aspects. A therapist often has the impression that his work is going splendidly, the deeper he falls into his own shadow” (Guggenbuhl- Craig, 1979). Counselors in the process of their practice may feel attracted to them unconsciously. And any behavior pattern, feeling or thought that is driven by unconscious forces provides with the possibility of the growth for the counselor. Counselors should allow themselves to feel certain things to their clients, as the liberating experience. Counselors could feel compassion, boredom, empathy, abandonment, disgust, fury, love and sexual excitement. As long as the counselor is able to notice and incubate those feelings and not just blindly follow them, he is able to bring himself closer to the factual experiences of the client, and not just his own feelings about him or her.
In the conclusion I would like to summarize that knowledge of self plays essential role in the counseling practice. It can have the positive impact on it, but frequently counselors might blindly follow their illusive perceptions of their relationships with clients, which have negative impact on the whole counseling process. The counselor never stops to learn and perceive himself, as just in this case he will be able to provide counseling services of the best quality for the maximum benefit of the client.
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