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  • Writer's pictureMichael D. Erickson LPC

Counseling Theory and Practice

I’m often asked “What is counseling?” The question is not as easy as it sounds. For example, the counseling practices change by the developmental age of the client. Also, it changes due to the presenting problem of the client. I want to provide a very simplified perspectives on the practice of counseling, one I often share with parents or folks that have little to no experience with therapy, counseling, or psychiatry. My general thesis is rudimentary, but counseling can be divided into 2 areas.

One being that of value clarification.

Often times I see a client that is referred for counseling due to a general area of exploration of self. That individual may not be suffering or meet any of the diagnostic criteria established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, however still wishes to grow as an individual. The other encounter would be one specific to the presenting issue that brought about the referral. This most likely would include the disorders covered under the DSM 5 as well as any situational issues that arise such as trauma, transitional issues, coping with grief or otherwise dysphoric, identifiable areas. Within these particular categories and each general area of counseling, one can break it down like a flow chart, into the theoretical orientations of the therapists. For example, I consider myself generally a cognitive behavioral therapist however often shift into existential counseling when clinically appropriate. My preference is existential counseling because it covers extensive and pervasive degrees of the client’s overall well-being and experience. Cognitive behavioral techniques generally target areas of depression, anxiety, trauma, grief and a myriad of other issues that can be addressed through talk therapy. Essentially, cognitive behavioral therapy is exploring the self-talk and belief system that a client creates, which manifest into symptomology such as depressive symptoms and anxiety. By addressing the thought distortions and self-talk one can theoretically, change one’s symptomology. Existential counseling deals primarily with one's place in life. Commonly one might seek existential counseling during what “pop-psychology” calls a midlife crisis. One could also experience an existential crisis as one transitions from adolescence to adulthood and from adulthood to the various stages within adulthood.

By understanding counseling in this admittedly rudimentary spectrum one can see that counseling entails much more than just feeling better. It deals with becoming a better person from whatever perspective that means to the client. Exploring areas with a client, one can speculate on what helps the person grow and achieve whatever level of functioning they are seeking. I find this incredibly important in the area of spirituality. Many people at some point in their life experience dysphoria surrounding spirituality. This does not necessarily mean religion. Religion is a large element of spirituality however billions of individuals on this planet see spirituality as a process rather than falling into one of the classified world religions. This gets back to my earlier point about value clarification. Americans for example mature with a certain set of familial values. Those familial values will be questioned and tested throughout their lives. At some point individuals challenge their familial values and personalize them or reject them outright. This is often called secondary and primary faith. Individuals with a religious identification could question that identification and, as they say “lose their religion.” Others consequently, solidify their spiritual and religious orientation and delve deeper into their belief system. I believe this to be incredibly important as we evolve as adults. So, as you can see counseling is much more than identifying a problem in fixing it or merely “talking to someone.”

Michael D. Erickson LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor helping people through their mental health needs. He also is a credentialed mediator and trained parent coordinator and facilitator. He can be reached at his office at Erickson Counseling & Mediation PLLC.

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