Professional Counseling. A Comparative Approach of Systemic and Client-Centered Counseling

Seminar Paper, 2013

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Professional counseling in social work

3. Two models of counseling
3.1 Systemic counseling
3.1.1 Basic attitude
3.1.2 Techniques
3.2 Client-centered consulting
3.2.1 Basic attitude
3.2.2 Techniques

4. Comparison

5. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Within the framework of the seminars "Carl Rogers: Client-Centered Counseling and Psychotherapy" and "Client-Counselor Relationship and Self-Experience" the students were introduced to the client-centered approach according to C. Rogers and topics beyond that, through various presentations and exercises such as: the client-centered personality theory, the client-centered developmental theory, comparison of the client-centered approach with behavior therapy, helper syndrome and many more. Due to the fact that the author of this term paper has completed a seminar on systemic counseling, she has chosen the term paper topic: -Professional counseling- a comparative approach of systemic and client-centered counseling. In the seminar of systemic counseling, the students were introduced to the method of systemic counseling by explaining in more detail the importance of the system, the goals, the meaning and the basic principles of systemic counseling, as well as systemic interventions or techniques. Systemic interventions in systemic counseling are context clarification, hypothesizing, circular questioning, reframing, working with genogram/metaphors and sculpture work etc., where hypothesizing and circularity also run under the basic principles of systemic counseling. At the heart of systemic counseling is communication within the system. The author now poses the following questions, which she would like to answer with her elaboration. She would like to start an attempt the similarities and differences of the two consulting models to point out, in order to work out with this housework for itself, which consulting beginning it would prefer after the attendance of the above-mentioned seminars and whether one of both can be preferred at all. In this term paper, both counseling models will be based only on counseling and not on therapy, because later in working life, counseling will be the predominant approach for social work students. The client-centered approach is mostly associated with therapy, however, C. Rogers addresses the concept not only to psychologists, but to all professionals who want to bring about a change of attitudes in their clients, such as: in school or marriage counseling, etc. (cf. Weinberger, 2008, p. 33). Therapy and counseling have the same interfaces, but therapy tends to follow a discourse of healing, which students are not prepared for in their studies. After the introduction, the author will make an attempt to define professional counseling in social work (see chapter 2), and then explain systemic counseling considering the basic attitudes and techniques (see chapter 3.1, 3.1.1, 3.1.2). Subsequently, the author will present client-centered counseling according to C. Rogers and its basic attitudes as well as techniques (see chapter 3.2, 3.2.1, 3.2.2). Finally, a comparison of the two models will be made under the above mentioned questions (see chapter 4). Finally, the author will draw a concluding conclusion about the previously presented aspects (see chapter 5).

2. Professional counseling in social work

"Counseling is first of all an interaction between at least two participants, in which the counseling person(s) should support the person(s) seeking advice - with the use of communicative means - to gain more knowledge, orientation or solution competence with regard to a question or a problem" (Sickendiek, 2008, p.13). The counselor focuses on emotional, cognitive and practical problem solving of clients or systems, such as groups, families, individuals etc. (cf. Sickendieck, 2008). On the one hand, counseling is known to everyone as a form of communication, such as in the relationship with one's partner, friend or family (door to door conversations). In social work, meanwhile, it is a professional intervention in different contexts. Counseling has emerged as an expanding field of work where social, educational, psychological, and medical professionals counsel (cf. Nestmann, 2004). "It is the client who is initially at a loss for advice, and it is the client who comes to know advice for himself in counseling" (Rechtien, 1988, p.15). Counseling is a double placement. That is, the counselor should not only be knowledgeable about communication, interviewing, and counseling methods, such as the client-centered or systemic approach (counseling and interaction knowledge), but he should also have counseling skills that are more field-unspecific and general in nature. This means that he should know how to establish a good working relationship, how to activate sources of support, how to work in a problem- and solution-oriented way, as well as how to advise in a guiding or rather restrained way. In addition, the counselor should know counseling knowledge about the respective problem situation and about legal basics, etc. Professional counselors should therefore have specialized knowledge that can be applied in the different areas of social work (drug counseling, educational counseling, family counseling), the so-called action-specific knowledge. Thus, counselors need a field-specific knowledge and a field-unspecific competence base. When both bases are present, an interaction develops that fulfills the prerequisite of professional counseling (cf. Nestmann, 2004).

3. Two models of counseling

Having started an attempt to present professional counseling in social work, the individual models of counseling will now be presented.

3.1 Systemic counseling

Systemic counseling is understood as the holistic view of a person in the context of the people surrounding him or her in the system (for example, a family). Accordingly, problems are not assigned as characteristics of a person, but are constructions of reality in the social system (cf. Barthelmess, 2005, p. 111). Systemic counseling is "not about persuading people to do something, selling them something, or 'pushing' them to higher performance in the sense of Higher, Further, Faster, but about working with them in a tailored way on concrete problems at hand and solving them in the most efficient use of time" (Radatz, 2012, p. 1). The systemic consultant tries to uncover reflection processes in the system through different techniques in order to gain new information. The goal of counseling is to define new rules in the system that have been consolidated. To break the homeostatic equilibrium (maintenance of a state of equilibrium) in certain areas, to promote communication within the system and to increase spaces of possibility.

3.1.1 Basic attitude

To ensure the goals of systemic consulting, the consultant is guided by basic attitudes or basic principles, according to the guiding principle: act in such a way that the consultant can increase the number of possibilities. Among other things, the consultant should show neutrality with regard to the relationships in the system and the problem, and be all-partial to all people living in the system. "They should be like this and not like that" (Schlippe, 1996, p. 119). This quote from Schlippe states that the counselor does not have to evaluate the problem and should not find it good or bad. Furthermore, the establishment of a warm, empathic relationship should be a good basis for cooperation in the conversation (cf. Schlippe, 2005, p. 119). Furthermore, the counselor works resource- and solution-oriented and asks his questions with regard to this aspect. On the one hand, the consultant strives to uncover the difficulties in the system and on the other hand, the consultant is oriented towards the strengths of the clients (cf. Barthelmess, 2005, p. 127). According to the author Schlippe, there is an assumption that the system already has resources that it needs to solve the problem but is not currently using. These should be uncovered and strengthened in the conversation through the techniques or interventions (see chapter 3.1.2). Another basic principle of systemic counseling is hypothesis generation. "From the [...] observation of personal development or group events, the counselor can derive diagnostic and solution-oriented hypotheses that offer clues and orientation points for concrete strategies and interventions in the infinite variety of possible actions" (ibid., p. 124 cited in Barthelmess, 2005, p. 133). In other words, hypothesizing provides new perspectives and possibilities in terms of focusing on solutions to the problem. But circularity is also one of the basic principles. This is understood as the circularity of the relationship in the system. By asking questions in a circular way, new information and thought processes are stimulated and a change of perspective is made possible. Another basic attitude is systemic curiosity, which is interested in the inherent logic of the system.

3.1.2 Techniques

As already mentioned, systemic consulting works with different techniques. The basic attitudes or principles are carried out by the techniques or systemic interventions, for example, to consult problem- and solution-oriented. Techniques include clarifying the assignment and context, hypothesizing, asking (circular) questions, reframing, working with genograms/metaphors, sculpture work, etc. In systemic consulting, no suggestive questions are asked, i.e., no closed questions are asked, which are to be answered with yes or no. Through these questions, the counselor does not obtain new information and cannot stimulate the client's ability to reflect in order to initiate a change process (cf. Barthelmess, 2005, p. 126). In order to question new points of view, information, and patterns of thought and action, systemic questions should begin with the W-words, i.e., "how, what, when, who, with what" (cf. Radatz, 2010, p. 35). "Why questions" should be used cautiously because they invade the client's privacy too much and can be misunderstood (too negative) by the receiver of the message. It is helpful to modify the why questions by using a phrase such as, "How is it that...?". But also the exemplary question "Afraid that she will kill herself?" does not represent a W- question, but a suggestive question. Furthermore, it is also very important to ask the client only one systemic question and not directly two or even more questions at the same time. This can lead to overwhelming the client and to confusion. Systemic questions can not only be solution-oriented or resource-oriented, but can also be behavioral questions, discernment questions, hypothetical questions, or even circular questions, among others. As mentioned earlier, circularity is part of the basic mindset of the systemic consultant. The basic consideration of circular questions is "[...] that in a social system all exhibited behavior can always (also) be understood as a communicative offer: Behaviors, symptoms, but also the different forms of emotional expression are not only to be seen as events taking place in people, but they always have a function in the mutual definitions of relationships" (Schlippe, 1996, p. 138). Circular questions therefore ask those who receive the message rather than those who send the message (cf. Schlippe, 1996, p. 138). Circular questions are divided once into questions about reality construction and questions about possibility construction. Reality construction is understood as what is, i.e. the actual state, and possibility construction is understood as what could be. Possible reality construction questions include triadic questions, classification or scaling questions, percentage questions, etc. Reality construction questions include aggravation questions, improvement questions, as well as miracle questions. One possibility construction question asked was the miracle question ("What if a miracle happened and the problem disappeared overnight?"). The miracle question aims to help clients imagine what would happen if the problem disappeared overnight. By fantasizing, clients find it easier to talk about the problem disappearing. Sensibly, the wonder question should be asked only after the problem has been identified and expressed. As mentioned earlier, hypothesizing is a basic attitude of systemic counseling and is also a technique. A hypothesis is an assumption about what is, that is, the construction of reality. The goal is to increase the possibility space. Hypotheses should be formulated in such a way that all members in the system are covered (cf. Schlippe, 1996, p. 118). "Thus, it is not a matter of finding the one correct hypothesis. Rather, it is precisely the diversity of hypotheses that also leads to a diversity of perspectives and possibilities" (Schlippe, 1996, p. 117). To be more effective in solution-focused counseling, it is also useful to look for clients' strengths and competencies and then ask questions about their own ideas for solutions. A possible question would be "what would their life look like if [...]", "where do they see themselves in x years?", "what needs to happen to make them feel better?". The clarification of the task in systemic consulting also represents an important building block. Through this clarification, the consultant is given the task of helping the client. Without this clarification, it is not up to the consultant to appropriate the client's account of the problem. In a counseling session, it is therefore useful to ask the client whether he/she can imagine systemic counseling in the counseling center under the specified conditions (duration of the session, etc.). If the client answers this question in the affirmative, the assignment is transferred to the counseling center. Another technique is that of sculpture work and work with the genogram. Sculpture work provides access to a complex system in order to look more closely at the relationship of the system members (e.g., the family). The genogram represents a more manageable overview of the complex family structure.

3.2 Client-centered consulting

Systemic counseling was introduced, so that now client-centered counseling according to C. Rogers can be presented. Carl Rogers (1902-1987) is today considered the main representative of humanistic psychology. Starting in 1942, he developed the concept of client-centered therapy. Carl Rogers has a positive view of man, which results, among other things, from the self-actualization tendency of man. According to this, the human being has the ability and the tendency to develop continuously. The goal of counseling is to reorganize the client's self-concept in order to integrate new experiences into his self-concept. Solving the problem is not in the foreground, but the further development with oneself in order to be able to deal with the problem better and the examination of the self-image and the ideal image (self-exploration). The self-concept is understood as the knowledge based on memory, the knowledge about personal characteristics, abilities and preferences etc. The self-concept includes characteristics of the self and its relationship to the environment. As already described in the introduction, Mr. Rogers addresses not only psychologists, but also all other professionals who want to bring about a change of attitudes in their clients (cf. Weinberger, 2008, p.33). In this model of counseling, the focus is not on the problem, but on the client, "who in principle has within him the ability to come to a better understanding of themselves in the context of a special relationship offer and consequently to make changes in attitude and behavior" (Weinberger, 2008, p. 22). Another goal of this approach is to activate the potential of the clients. This is made possible by creating a good client-counselor relationship. The focus of the client-centered approach is therefore on the relationship. The relationship is characterized by the basic attitude or therapist variables (empathy, unconditional appreciation, genuineness/congruence), which set in motion a process in which clients become aware of their feelings and experiences and then disclose them. "When a person has experiences that do not fit his or her self-image, the self may deny or distort these experiences (Kriz, 1994, p. 201 cited in Plate, 2013, p.51). Accordingly, the goal of the whole is to reconcile pathogenic incongruencies (mismatch of the ideal and the real image) and experiences of the client with himself and the environment. Through the relationship and adherence to the basic approach, the client's self-concept is reorganized and new positive experiences are integrated into the self-concept. "If the counselor realizes these three counselor variables, then- according to the client-centered approach- the client can come to terms with his or her emotional experience in an intensified and increasingly anxiety-free way and better understand his or her own views, values, motives, and actions (Rechtien, 1988, p. 82).


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Professional Counseling. A Comparative Approach of Systemic and Client-Centered Counseling
University of Siegen
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ISBN (eBook)
professional, counseling, comparative, approach, systemic, client-centered
Quote paper
Corinna Schneider (Author), 2013, Professional Counseling. A Comparative Approach of Systemic and Client-Centered Counseling, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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