Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Extending the Humanistic Vision: Toward a Humanities Foundation for the Counseling Profession

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

Extending the Humanistic Vision: Toward a Humanities Foundation for the Counseling Profession

Article excerpt

Founding humanists argued that counseling should be ideologically grounded in the humanities. Currently, professional counseling culture is largely structured by scientific assumptions, which, the author maintains, have had a detrimental impact on the profession. Specific recommendations for shifting professional counseling culture to a humanities foundation are offered.


The counseling profession has a fascinating history. Part of the allure of this history is the various, and often conflictual, accounts of the counseling process and human nature that have been proposed. From the Freudian view that people are basically sexual animals (Freud, 1905/1958), to the Rogerian vision of human strength and self-actualization (Rogers, 1951), and to the computer programming models of the cognitive behaviorists (Beck, 1976), counselors have been witness to an awe-inspiring parade of ideas about how to bring about human change.

One controversial theme that has run through these ideas is whether the counseling process should be fundamentally conceptualized as art or science (Hofmann & Weinberger, 2007). Orthodox behaviorists, for example, argued that counseling should be a strictly scientific enterprise (Skinner, 1974), whereas founding humanists alternatively proposed that counseling should be informed by the humanities, not the reductive forces of science (Maslow, 1968; Matson, 1971; Rogers, 1951). At this point in history, most practitioners would probably agree that the counseling process should be conceptualized along both artistic and scientific lines (Hofmann & Weinberger, 2007).

This ideological compromise is a functional and adaptive one for counselors to adopt. Arguably, counseling should be composed of a mixture of relational intuition and scientific accountability. However, at a conceptual level, this compromise prevents each of the ideologies from reaching its full visionary potential, as the image offered by the humanities or arts is kept in check by science, and the scientific vision, likewise, is tamed by the humanities. As an analogy, mixing two colors might produce a visually appealing result; however, because the colors are mixed, the full aesthetic potential of each of the individual colors is lost.

Notably, though ideologically pure, sweeping visions of counseling processes and the helping professions have occasionally been offered at various points in social science history. Watson's (1919) proposal that humans are blank slates on which behaviorists could write, Skinner's (1976) vision of a utopia founded on the principles of learning, and existentialist conceptions of the importance of human freedom and subjective experience (May, Angel, Ellenberger, 1958) were arguably breakthrough attempts to articulate relatively pure visions of scientific- and humanities-based counseling ideologies. The extraordinary insights gained from these visions were eventually critiqued and assimilated back into the diluted science/ humanities ideological mixture.

During the past 2 decades, however, advocates for a scientific vision of counseling have once again begun to break out of this long-standing mixture and have articulated a vision of the helping professions grounded in pure science, unencumbered by insights from the humanities. The empirical supported treatment (EST) movement (Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures, 1995), best practices conceptualizations of counseling processes (Hansen, 2006c; McGowan, 2003), and the position that EST training should be a required part of educational curricula in the helping professions (e.g., Task Force on Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures, 1995), for instance, all draw from a vision of counseling that is akin to medicine or engineering rather than literature or art. Notably, then, scientifically minded social scientists have not restricted their vision to the counseling process; they have advocated that multiple aspects of helping professions (i. …

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