Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

A Phenomenological Inquiry of Clients' Meaningful Experiences in Counseling with Counselors-in-Training

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

A Phenomenological Inquiry of Clients' Meaningful Experiences in Counseling with Counselors-in-Training

Article excerpt

Researching the counseling process is an ongoing challenge because it is so complex and dynamic (Oliveira, Sousa, & Pazo Pires, 2012). The client's perspective, which is essential to understanding the counseling process (De Stefano, Mann-Feder, & Gazzola, 2010), is still often overlooked (Oliveira et al., 2012). Traditionally, researchers have examined the process from the counselor's perspective, but more recently they have taken the client's perspective into account, enriching counseling professionals' understanding (Paulson, Truscott, & Stuart, 1999; Sackett, Lawson, & Burge, 2012). However, Levitt and Piazza-Bonin (2011) asserted that studying participants' internal experiences in counseling remains largely unexplored. In accessing client experiences, researchers have called for qualitative (Levitt, Butler, & Hill, 2006) and specifically phenomenological studies to further understanding of the process (Oliveira et al., 2012). Singer (2005) posited that qualitative research methods expand understanding through asking people for their perspectives of a phenomenon. Oliveira et al. (2012) specified that phenomenological studies provide details that are naturally interesting for clinical practice. Counselors can provide more effective counseling by using participants' experiences as a guide (Elliott & James, 1989). If counselors and researchers hear from clients about their experiences, they can better understand the process.

Sackett et al. (2012) explored what clients and counselors-in-training (CITs) found meaningful in counseling by conducting phenomenological interviews following each dyad's second counseling session. Twelve counseling dyads participated, and clients and CITs were interviewed separately. Themes from the CITs' perspectives included the counseling relationship, insight, immediacy, goals, emotion, nonverbals, transference and countertransference, and CITs negotiating the counseling process and their role. Themes of meaningful experiences from the clients' perspectives were the counseling relationship, insight, immediacy, goals, emotion, and reflections on counseling. Sackett et al. provided valuable information regarding the similarities and differences in perspectives of clients and CITs and a place to build from in finding out more about clients' experiences. To gain greater depth in awareness of meaningful experiences in counseling from the clients' perspective, we designed the current study to build upon the findings of Sackett et al.'s study, which we examine more thoroughly in the next section. Using previously discovered themes and subthemes as an anchor, we conducted phenomenological interviews to further understand how clients experience the counseling process. By beginning with previously found themes (Sackett et al., 2012), we hope to get at the intricacies that starting from scratch would not allow. We concur with Elliott and James's (1989) statement, "Where information about meaning and value of therapy are sought, clients may be the only accurate source of information" (p. 445).

* Previous Research on Client Perceptions in Counseling

Several authors have qualitatively examined meaningful experiences from solely the clients' perspective (De Stefano et al., 2010; Levitt et al., 2006; Oliveira et al., 2012; Singer, 2005). Oliveira et al. (2012) and Levitt et al. (2006) both used phenomenological interviews of ex-clients to gather data. Oliveira et al. found that clients valued a counselor's nonjudgmental attitude, validation of the individual's experience, and cooperative approach. In addition, their findings indicated that a successful counseling experience is based on a knowing and competent counselor with the ability to establish a substantial and authentic counseling relationship. In Levitt et al.'s study, clients spoke of the counseling relationship more than any other factor and emphasized the significance of feeling cared for by their counselor. …

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