Academic journal article TCA Journal

Dismantling Eclectism: Choosing, Understanding, and Implementing a Legitimate Theory of Counseling

Academic journal article TCA Journal

Dismantling Eclectism: Choosing, Understanding, and Implementing a Legitimate Theory of Counseling

Article excerpt

The demands of work environments to promote change with clients, coupled with the seemingly overwhelming nature of counseling theory, have resulted in idiosyncratic implementation of techniques borrowed from divergent theories of counseling (i.e., eclecticism). The result is often inconsistent and scientifically unsupported treatment by both professional and school counselors. This article outlines three different types of eclecticism in an attempt to promote therapeutic consistency within the counseling process, as well as the counseling profession. The article discusses the benefits of operating from a single guiding theory, and assists the reader in choosing which theory of counseling best fits his or her individual approach to counseling.

Many counselors cringe when they hear the words "counseling theory." Their responses are likened to those exhibited by secondary students when the word "algebra" or "calculus" is mentioned. This is due partly to the fact that many professional and school counselors consider counseling theories to be overwhelming and impractical. Counseling theories, they may report, are difficult to understand, and adhering to a single theory only limits one's options and understanding of clients (Jensen, Bergin, & Greaves, 1990). "My clients are so diverse, a single theory is insufficient in helping me meet their needs," is a statement often heard from counselors in both clinical and school settings. This is especially true when counselors consider implementing a theory within the confines of a school environment, or in meeting the results-oriented demands placed on them in their private practices by managed care and other third-party payors.

Due to the depth and complexity of many counseling theories, as well as the demands of the work environment, counselors often forgo an in-depth understanding of counseling theory and simply begin to accumulate various techniques from many divergent schools of thought (McBride & Martin, 1990). In doing so, they often fail to consider the purposes) of the technique and, as a result, do not understand how to incorporate the chosen techniques) into the overall counseling process. In other words, intentionality is often sacrificed for expediency. Recognizing that every technique has a method, a purpose, and a goal is critical for the correct utilization of the technique. In actual practice, counselors can find themselves reacting to the problems and deficits with which their clients present instead of intentionally fostering movement through the therapeutic process. In these situations, techniques are often chosen haphazardly in an attempt to "make something happen." Lacking an understanding of the intentionality underlying chosen techniques, counselors may find that promoting change with clients is difficult, if not impossible (Patterson, 1997; Lazarus, 1996; Lazarus & Beutler, 1993; Lazarus & Messer, 1991).

The intention behind a given technique can only be found in the theory from which it originated. Since theory can be intimidating, however, counselors often fail to gain a proficient understanding of the assumptions, intentions, and goals of a given theory. As a result, and coupled with the demands inherent to many counseling environments, eclecticism has become the approach of choice within the mental health field. In a national survey of over 400 mental health professionals conducted by Jensen, Bergin, and Greaves (1990), 68% of the respondents reported using 2 or more theories when engaging a client. Furthermore, the average number of theories used in an eclectic combination by those surveyed was 4.4. Though no research was found addressing the percentage of professionals using eclecticism specific to the state of Texas, probability would suggest that the statistics for Texas would be comparable to the national results. While determining that eclecticism is the most frequently used approach, Jensen, Bergin, and Greaves go on to report, "Our study provides additional evidence that the term eclectic does not adequately describe the types of therapy being used" (p. …

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