Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Learning Journals as a Counseling Strategy. (Practice & Theory)

Academic journal article Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD

Learning Journals as a Counseling Strategy. (Practice & Theory)

Article excerpt

The effects of counseling have been subject to extensive examination including the meta-analyses of Lipsey and Wilson (1993) and Matt and Navarro (1997). The results of these analyses demonstrated the positive effects of counseling interventions but do not indicate how, when, and why these benefits eventuated (Paul, 1967; Shadish & Sweeney, 1991), nor do they consider mediating variables. Much of the research in this area has involved the measurement of quantitative behavioral outcomes and short-term behavioral change (Steenbarger & Smith, 1996). However, there has been a recent move toward more qualitative, process-orientated research (Polkingthorne, 1994). This move addresses the previous methodological myopia but neglects the place of learning in the counseling process. It is suggested that if learning is viewed as underpinning all counseling, then clients should be able to transfer what they have learned from the counseling experience to problematical situations without the need for further counseling.

This view arises from a constructivist philosophy that perceives learning as developing from the ways in which individuals strive to make meaning of the world through cognitive processes (Shaver, 1992). To achieve this in a counseling situation, a catalyst to prompt reflective thought is required. The writing of a learning journal has been used to promote reflection in the field of education, and there is a prima facie case for applying it to counseling. Dewey (1933) stated, "The function of reflective thought is, therefore, to transfer a situation in which there is experienced obscurity, doubt, conflict, disturbance of some sort, into a situation that is clear, coherent, settled and harmonious" (pp. 100-101).


Neimeyer (1993), in a metatheoretical consideration of constructivist psychologies, described constructivism as a philosophical context rather than a technique. It emphasizes the proactive, self-organizing features of human knowing and deals with decision-making processes (Anderson, 1990). Cognition is seen as a proactive, anticipatory phenomenon, with clients actively and collectively recording and refining their understanding of the experiential world.

The constructivist approach to counseling is more reflective and elaborative, with the counselor assisting the client to develop a personal construction of reality. Of particular relevance is the technique of narrative reconstruction. This provides an innovative literary perspective on psychological phenomena. Neimeyer (1993) claimed, "the structure of human lives is inherently narrative in form; people constitute and are constituted by the stories that they live and the stories that they tell" (p. 226). Constructivist counselors see their work as collaborative with the client, involving a process whereby personal narratives are recorded and refined to assist the client in understanding. This is a learning process that may use several narrative forms. Personal journals have been used (Mahoney, 1991) to facilitate both self-expression and self-exploration on the part of the client.


Burnett (1999) indicated that counselors generally agree on the importance of learning new skills that allow clients to make choices regarding their situations and to transfer learned skills to new situations. This is viewed as part of a lifelong learning process. Although learning has been considered a legitimate component of counseling, it has often been regarded as a means rather than an end (Lambert, 1986). However, Mahoney (1991) stated that "all theories of psychological change are fundamentally theories of learning" (p. 26), and Lyddon (1995) noted that cognitive therapy is based on individual constructs of knowing in a rational or experiential sense, with clients using cognitive processes to resolve psychological difficulties. …

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