Encouragement as a Vehicle to Empowerment in Counseling: An Existential Perspective

Article excerpt

This article continues the discussion of empowerment in the field of rehabilitation, by describing a concept that is often taken for granted but never fully elaborated in helping persons gain empowerment: courage. The writer argues that understanding what courage is, and how it is a measure of motivation, can assist rehabilitation counselors to establish conditions in the counseling process that can be rightly termed "encouragement." Encouragement in the counseling process, then, may facilitate "empowerment."

Introduction

A major recent emphasis in disability rights and rehabilitation counseling is that of empowerment. The way that empowerment is generally viewed in this arena is that the experience of disability leads to the experience of viewing life differently, and to the creation of a new perspective that is less concerned with body image and ability, and focuses rather on living interdependently with the full use of one's assets (Hahn, 1989). The position of this paper is that the element of courage is involved in the creation of this new perspective, and that rehabilitation and independent living counselors can facilitate this process through the use of encouragement. For example, the word "encouragement" is used several times by both Emener (1991) and Vash (1991) in their articles on empowerment.

Rehabilitation counseling involves several components including evaluation (assessment), guidance (teaching new ways of living) and confrontation (removing blocks to and challenging the client to use resources). However, practitioners also frequently encourage clients particularly when they want them to try things which are new, or threatening, or for which the person has low confidence. Courage is a philosophical construct that belongs to the field of ontology and has been discussed in depth in the existential psychology literature (May, 1967, 1969, 1975). Thus, the author believes that the study of existence (existentialism) can elucidate courage as construct, and that conceptual bridges can be built to specific strategies in counseling that can "encourage" the creation of new life perspectives in persons with disabilities. Indeed, this paper will purport to demonstrate that courage is the stuff of everyday life and is a measure of how we live that life. As Rollo May (1967) puts it in The Art of Counseling:

To live the life of self-expression requires courage. To love greatly, to admit one's hate without having it destroy one's equilibrium, to express anger, to rise to heights of joy and to know deep sorrow, to go on far adventures in spite of loneliness, to catch lofty ideas and carry them into action in short, to live out the infinite number of instinctual urges that rise in glorious challenge within one - this requires courage.

Courage has been defined in the philosophical and psychological literature (Heyd, 1982; May, 1972; & Walton, 1986) as generally occurring in the presence of the following conditions: (a) a careful presence of mind and deliberate action; (b) the presence of difficult, dangerous, and painful circumstances; and (c) a morally worthy intention. Tillich (1952) adds another dimension that underlies courage, which is that the person is engaged in an act that has existential meaning for him or her. Without that existential meaning, daily efforts become nothing but the drudgery of the slave.

Disability is sometimes accompanied by giving in, or, as Wright (1983) calls it, succumbing. Depression is the most frequent concomitant of this, but certainly other characteristics are also associated. External locus of control, failure identity, low self-esteem, and substance abuse often are the result of a person' s succumbing to a disability experience (Beck & Lustig, 1990). In the area of substance abuse and alcoholism. several theories seem to imply that abuse and addiction result from a breakdown in courage as it is defined above. The degree of difficulty of a person' s life (social strain), as exemplified by barriers to educational and employment opportunities, as well as escapism through addiction to give meaning to our existence, is reviewed by Simon (1986) in an article on alienation and alcohol abuse. …