Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

A Qualitative Exploration of Counseling Students' Perception of Altruism

Academic journal article Journal of Humanistic Counseling

A Qualitative Exploration of Counseling Students' Perception of Altruism

Article excerpt

Empathy is essential to the therapeutic relationship (Rogers, 1957). Altruism appears to be related to empathy, but there has been limited research investigating its development in counselors. This qualitative study explored the development of altruism as perceived by 19 counseling students. The authors discuss the findings and implications for counselor education.

Keywords: altruism, counseling students, caring, development


Central to the humanistic philosophy of counseling is the importance of a good relationship between the counselor and the client (Raskin, Rogers, & Witty, 2008). Specifically, Cain (2001) noted that humanistic therapies emphasize the importance of counselor empathy in enhancing the counseling experience. Rogers (1980) defined empathy as

   entering the private perceptual world of the other and becoming
   thoroughly at home in it. It involves being sensitive, moment by
   moment, to the changing felt meanings.... It means temporarily
   living in the other's life, moving about in it delicately without
   making judgments. (p. 142)

Smith, Keating, and Stotland (1989) posited that altruism is related to empathy in that, after understanding another's situation (empathizing), one has a propensity to engage in an act to help the person (altruism) and would experience happiness as a result. Additionally, Goleman (2006) described empathy as being a necessary precursor to altruism. In other words, one must be able to empathize with another before engaging in a helpful action.

Altruism is described as engagement in caring acts toward others without expecting something in return (Robinson & Curry, 2005). Furthermore, altruism is described as "behavior motivated by concern for others or by internalized values, goals, and self-rewards rather than by the expectation of concrete or social rewards, or the desire to avoid punishment or sanctions" (Eisenberg et al., 1999, p. 1360). Applied to counseling relationships, altruism consists of a counselor engaging in a helping relationship, motivated by unselfish caring and concern, without the expectation of receiving concrete rewards or reciprocal care and concern from the client. Therefore, altruism, given its relationship with empathy, appears to be an important aspect of the counselor-client relationship, which is a fundamental premise of the humanistic perspective.

The literature examining the development of altruism is limited prior to 1970. Additionally, despite the research generated in the 1970s and 1980s, some controversy continues to exist regarding whether the concept of altruism actually exists (Curry, Smith, & Robinson, 2009; Dovidio, 1991; Robinson & Curry, 2007). To explore this concept, Curry et al. (2009) and Robinson and Curry (2007) conducted a qualitative exploration of the development of altruism among 34 individuals residing in a retirement community. The researchers explored various hypotheses and then formulated a model for the development of altruism. The present study explored the development of altruism through the perceptions of counseling students and then compared the data to the factors that emerged in the Altruism Development Model (ADM) proposed by Curry et al. and Robinson and Curry.

The ADM consists of four contributing elements: biological, cognitive, social learning, and religious/spiritual factors. In considering the biological factor, Hamilton (1964) reported that an altruistic gene exists and through engagement in altruistic acts toward relatives, who share similar genes, the altruist helps preserve the evolution of the altruistic gene within one's species or family (Dugatkin, 2006; Rushton, 1982). Therefore, in accordance with the kinship hypothesis, individuals are more likely to engage in altruistic acts when the recipient is a blood relative; despite the personal sacrifice, the act will benefit their offspring and other family members. …

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