Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Integrating Left-Brain and Right-Brain: The Neuroscience of Effective Counseling

Academic journal article The Professional Counselor

Integrating Left-Brain and Right-Brain: The Neuroscience of Effective Counseling

Article excerpt

During the past decade, the field of counseling has considered the notion of identifying effective counseling practices. In 2005, the American Counseling Association's (ACA) Code of Ethics included a recommendation to use therapies that "have an empirical or scientific foundation" (C.6.e). The Journal of Counseling & Development introduced a new journal feature in 2007, entitled "Best Practices." In 2009, the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) modified their Standards for addiction counseling (1.3., p. 22), clinical mental health counseling (1.3., p. 34), and marriage, couple, and family counseling (I.3., p. 39) to require that the student "knows evidence-based treatments" (EBTs; p. 5). In the September 2012 edition of Counseling Today, Dr. Bradley Erford, the current ACA President, asserted the following in his monthly column:

If professional counselors use the best available research-based approaches to help clients and students, then counselor effectiveness, client satisfaction and third-party insurer satisfaction all improve. When professional counselors provide effective services, it also helps our professional advocacy and lobbying efforts with federal, state, and local politicians and bureaucrats, and leads to more counseling jobs and higher pay scales, (p. 5)

Erford argues that counselors must use research to inform practice-the public, insurance companies, and clients demand it. Yet until recently, only one approach to research-informed practice has been available to the counseling profession-namely the EBT movement that originated in the field of psychology. Many techniques and theories exist outside of the EBT movement, in addition to other models for best practices such as the common factors movement (Duncan, Miller, Wampold, & Hubble, 2010). Counselors may feel confused about which model to follow. An approach to research-informed practice that is more commensurate with the counseling profession's values and identity is the application of research evidence from neuroscience to inform counseling interventions.

Current Direction: The Left-Brain Pathway

The left side of the brain is responsible for rational, logical, and abstract cognition and conscious knowledge. Neuroscientists such as Allan Schore (2012) have suggested that activities associated with the left hemisphere (LH) currently dominate mental health services. This is evidenced by the current reliance upon psychopharmacology over counseling services, the manualization of counseling, a reductionist and idealistic view of "evidence-based practice," and a lack of respect for the counseling relationship in client outcomes despite a large body of evidence. McGilchrist (2009) takes this argument further: if left unchecked, the modem world will increase its reliance upon the LH compared to the than right hemisphere (RH), with disastrous consequences. A "left-brain world" would lead to increased bureaucracy, a focus on quantity and efficiency over quality, and a valuing of technology over human interaction, and uniformity over individualization. While this dystopia has not been fully realized yet, one could argue that the field's current reductionist and cookiecutter approach to mental health services and reliance on quantitative over qualitative research all point in one direction.

To understand the importance of the association between the LH and the current mental health system, the author reviews the history of the counseling effectiveness movement, along with the counseling profession's gradual adherence to this left-brain movement.

The History of "Effectiveness"

It is hard to know when the term effectiveness was first used in counseling circles. A long history of competition exists between different theoretical schools that sought to find evidence for the efficacy of their theory and discredit (or at least, disprove) all pretenders. Eventually, in 1995, the American Psychological Association (APA) defined effectiveness by identifying counseling interventions that were considered to have adequate research support (Task Force for Promotion and Dissemination of Psychological Procedures, 1995). …

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