Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Devaluation of Inner Subjective Experiences by the Counseling Profession: A Plea to Reclaim the Essence of the Profession

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

The Devaluation of Inner Subjective Experiences by the Counseling Profession: A Plea to Reclaim the Essence of the Profession

Article excerpt

Historically, counselors have placed great value on the inner subjective experiences (ISE) of clients. This emphasis on the unique way that clients experience the world was present at the beginning of the counseling profession, when vocational guidance was the primary focus (Bradley & Cox, 2001; Jones, 1994), and was later fortified by the humanistic psychology movement during the mid-1900s (Hansen, 1999, 2000b; Sass, 1989).

During the last several decades, however, the counseling profession's focus on ISE has declined substantially. As a group, we are far less interested in the unique, personal experiences of our clients than we used to be. The influences of relational techniques, the medical model, and even the social constructionist movement, as I demonstrate in this article, have shifted the focus of the counseling profession away from the inner life of its clientele. This is, indeed, a historical trend of great significance because it represents a fundamental change at the core of the profession. It is surprising, however, that this shift has received little attention in the counseling literature. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to trace the history of ISE as a focus of the counseling profession and to discuss the implications of this history for the identity of the profession and counseling practice.

I outline the history of ISE in the counseling profession by discussing (a) the valuing of ISE as the foundation of the counseling profession, (b) the devaluation of ISE in counseling, (c) the importance of revaluing ISE, and by (d) elaborating conclusions for the practice and profession of counseling.

* ISE as a Foundation of the Counseling Profession

The counseling profession began with the vocational guidance movement during the early 1900s (Bradley & Cox, 2001). Although on the surface this emerging specialty was concerned with helping clients identify a career, the underlying philosophical spirit of vocational guidance emphasized careful attention to the needs and particular preferences of individual clients (Jones, 1994). Unlike other helping professions (e.g., psychiatry, clinical psychology) that reduced clients to pathological entities, early counselors attempted to help clients actualize their innate potential. Thus, careful attention to individuality and human potential were planted as value seeds in the earliest days of the counseling profession. These values received support and greater articulation when psychological humanism began to emerge as the "third force" in psychology in the mid-20th century, the two "first forces" being psychoanalysis and behaviorism (DeCarvalho, 1990).

Humanism, particularly in the form of client-centered counseling, has had a tremendous influence on the counseling profession. Indeed, "it seems difficult to imagine counseling today without the impact of Rogers and his ideas" (Kottler, 2004, p. 36). More than any other treatment orientation, humanism expressed the values that were already present in counseling traditions. Notably, when the basic value system of the early vocational guidance movement is compared with the theoretical assumptions of humanism, the similarities are striking. Both are nonpathologizing models that emphasize the uniqueness of each client and the potential to actualize oneself. This comparison demonstrates that the vocational guidance movement actually contained the basic theoretical seeds of humanism half a century before third force psychology entered the mental health scene. It is no wonder, then, that the humanistic movement had such a pervasive influence on the counseling profession. Humanism simply helped to articulate, clarify, and extend the values that were already an integral part of counseling.

One of the central features of humanistic theorizing is the importance placed on ISE. Humanism, because of its phenomenological roots, idealizes subjectivity (DeCarvalho, 1990; Hansen, 2000b; Sass, 1989). …

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