Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Gender Self-Confidence and Social Influence: Impact on Working Alliance

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Gender Self-Confidence and Social Influence: Impact on Working Alliance

Article excerpt

The counseling relationship is one of the most intimate relationships that an individual may have. Researchers have recognized the importance of this relationship by emphasizing qualities of caring, such as warmth, support, understanding, and acceptance (Hall, 2004; Lambert & Cattani-Thompson, 1996). Bordin (1979) was one of the first researchers to use the term working alliance in the counseling profession's efforts to explore this relationship. Bordin (1994) defined this alliance as one between "the client seeking change and the therapist offering to act as a change agent" (p. 13).

A strong working alliance was found to be one of the key predictors of positive outcomes in treatment and of client change (Bordin, 1979; Emmerling & Whelton, 2009; Horvath & Symonds, 1991). Working alliance is the major ingredient that allows a client to accept and work within the treatment relationship. Bordin (1979) contended that this alliance consists of three distinct parts: goals, where treatment is going; tasks, how the client and counselor will get there; and bonds, the level of warmth and understanding the client and counselor share.

The quality of the bond aspect of working alliance was identified as very important for clients (Fitzpatrick, Iwakabe, & Stalikas, 2005; Mallinckrodt, Gantt, & Coble, 1995). Therapeutic bonding between the client and the counselor occurs as a result of "their experience of association in a shared activity" (Bordin, 1994, p. 16). When the negotiations of goals and tasks are based on bonds of mutuality, there can be enough strength in the therapeutic relationship to withstand the strains involved in the process of change. Less attention was given to how this bond was achieved and which counselor factors contributed to and maintained a good working alliance. Counselors who are perceived as empathic, nonjudgmental, and congruent are more likely to be open and responsive. The openness and responsiveness allow counselors to fit their treatment approaches to the needs of the client (Nissen-Lie, Havik, Hoglend, Monsen, & Ronnestad, 2013; Stiles, Honos-Webb, & Surko, 1998; Watson & Cellar, 2005; Watson & Greenberg, 1994).

The purpose of the present study was to investigate the qualities of a counselor that affect the working alliance, focusing on the counselor's use of social influence within the counseling session, the counselor's gender self-confidence (examining two aspects), and the counselor's sex (defined as male or female). These attributes were studied with regard to how deeply the therapeutic working alliance developed between the counselor and the client.

Working Alliance, Sex, and Gender Identity

One area of concern in the development of working alliance is the impact of the counselor's biological sex (defined as either male or female). Blow, Sprenkle, and Davis (2007) found small client preferences regarding biological sex, including preferences for female counselors and matching the counselor's sex with that of the client (L. A. Johnson & Caldwell, 2011). In a meta-analysis, Bowman, Scogin, Floyd, and McKendree-Smith (2001) found only one study with a small effect size for clients favoring biologically female counselors (d = 0.04). In two meta-analyses (Beutler et al., 2004; Blow, Timm, & Cox, 2008), no significant relationship was found between the counselor's biological sex and treatment outcomes.

The relationship between the counselor's gender identity and working alliance remains unexplored. There seems to be some confusion regarding the use of the terms sex and gender in the literature, with these two words being frequently used interchangeably. For the purposes of this study, sex refers to biological sex (i.e., male and female), and gender refers to a much more complex concept encompassing features that are culturally defined. Gender identity is the cultural definition of what behaviors are acceptable for a biological male and a biological female and is based on a social construction that fits the context of the individual's life. …

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