The Web: A Constructivist Intervention in Counseling

Article excerpt


Constructivist approaches to counseling have been discussed increasingly in the professional counseling literature as successful interventions for clients as they allow clients to understand and attach meaning to their experiences. The Web, designed by a client, is a constructivist approach to counseling that encourages the processing of therapeutic issues through the identification of negative constructs that result from internalized emotions. This identification allows the client to make connections between negative cognitions and their precipitating events, facilitating the process of reconstructing these negative perceptions into more effective constructs. This article explores constructivist counseling and the application of The Web for client issues of sexual trauma, eating disorders, grief counseling, and substance abuse counseling.

In the past several years, constructivism has been gaining more attention as a strategy in delivering counseling practice (Burnett & Meaehem, 2002; Uimaggio, Salvatirie, & Azzera, 2003; Watts, 2003). Constructivism is an active process in which individuals author their reality by developing constructs from life events, as opposed to experiences being filtered through a template that assigns meaning (Mahoney & Lyddon. 1988). Constructs are cognitive schemas that provide individuals with an understanding of life experiences and subsequently shape how individuals think, feel, and behave in a given situation (Daniels, 1994). Being permeable, constructs may change with the accommodation of new experiences (Viney, 1996). In essence, constructs are tools for interpreting and reinterpreting the events and experiences of individuals. The therapeutic benefit of constructivism is in helping clients reconstruct new meaning about presenting issues, thus allowing for the creation of new solutions to deal with those issues (D'Andrea, 2000). This article will discuss a specific eonslruclivist technique thai one client designed to help her make sense of past traumatic material.

Constructivism: An Overview

Constructivism has been characterized as being a "distinctively different approach to the traditional relationship between knowledge and reality" (Hayes & Oppenheim, 1997, p. 20). In constructivism, individuals are viewed as being active creators of lheir experiences rather than passive receptors of objective reality (MeAuliffe & Erikson, 1999). In using a coristruclivist approach with clients, counselors must challenge clients to evaluate their existing knowledge base (i.e., constructs) that has life experiences as its foundation. When individuals are faced with new events, they experience disequilibria. This disequilibria becomes the catalyst for the developmental process of constructing meaning as individuals strive to accommodate new experiences and reestablish equilibria (Hayes & Oppenheim, 1997). Langer (1969) compared this process to a spiral, with each turn leading to a new level of understanding and the curves representing the assimilation and accommodation of new material.

For individuals who have experienced an emotional trauma, making meaning of that trauma can help in reestablishing the equilibria discussed above. Making meaning of events is an active process as individuals must build and organize schemas or constructs around events (Daniels, 1994). Burnetl and Meacham (2002) emphasized the proactive nature of constructivism in helping increase understanding of events, thus allowing clients to have more effective derision-making processes. To illustrate this active process, Hayes and Oppenheirn (1997) used the metaphor of the individual serving as his or her own historian by organizing and attaching meaning to experiences. Meaning is then created through relating significant life events into a personal narrative (Vinson & Griffin, 1999).

Goals of Constructivist Counseling

Similar to the Adlerian notion of style of life, constructivism suggests that clients reveal their constructs through how they live their lives, it is the role of the counselor, then, to understand the client in the context of his or her "immediate historical context" (Hayes & Oppenheim, 1997, p. …