Twenty-First-Century Counseling Theory Development in Relation to Definitions of Free Will and Determinism

By Wilks, Duffy | Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, April 2018 | Go to article overview

Twenty-First-Century Counseling Theory Development in Relation to Definitions of Free Will and Determinism


Wilks, Duffy, Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD


In the decade and a half since the publication of "A Historical Review of Counseling Theory Development in Relation to Definitions of Free Will and Determinism" (Wilks, 2003), a resurgence of interest in free will and determinism has occurred and is evident in professional literature across several disciplines of human behavior (Baumeister, 2011). Because counseling theory development rests on underlying philosophical views of behavioral causality, and because effective counseling practice is conditioned by theoretical foundations consistent with human experience (Hansen, 2007), research designed to investigate the concepts of free will and determinism in relation to the etiology of human behavior continues to be an important line of inquiry.

The present review is a continuation of the Wilks (2003) historical narrative. In keeping with current efforts to share data across disciplines (Bavel, FeldmanHall, & Mende-Siedlecki, 2015), 21st-century causal research trends in philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, and counseling were reviewed. The intent was not to list all researchers but to trace the development of counseling theory in relation to causal perspectives and report the general direction of emerging theory. Specific causal definitions drawn from Runes's (1962) Dictionary of Philosophy to identify, organize, analyze, and integrate the data were used to achieve these goals.

Definitional Categories

The question addressed in the literature search was as follows: Based on Runes's (1962) definitions, which philosophical causal constructs are represented by recent theoretical trends in counseling and psychology? The definitions used as criteria for theoretical classification were determinism, defined as "the view that the will is not free but determined by psychical or physical conditions" (Runes, 1962, p. 78), and adaptations of Runes's (1962, p. 112) definitional distinctions between the freedom of indeterminacy and the freedom of self-determinism. Freedom of indeterminacy refers to the will's alleged independence of antecedent physiological and psychological conditions, and freedom of self-determinism involves decisions independent of external constraint but in accordance with the inner physiological and psychological conditions, needs, motives, and goals of the actor.

Although definitional clarity was provided in some of the reviewed literature (Hanna, 2011 ; Oh, 2015; Wichman, 2011), definitional confusion or a lack of definitional specificity was also evident in that references to the constructs of agency, freedom, free will, and self-determinism were not always differentiated on the basis of the type of freedom referenced (self-determinism or indeterminate free will). Therefore, in the interest of avoiding definitional ambiguity, in the present context, the freedom of indeterminacy is referenced as free will, and the freedom of self-determinism is simply referred to as self-determinism.

Historical Backdrop

Results of the earlier review (Wilks, 2003) indicated that theoretical causal synthesis was in part achieved when the physiological and psychological events inherent in original views of strict determinism (Freud, 1954; Skinner, 1938; Watson, 1913; Wolpe, 1958) were incorporated into holistic, teleological, biological, environmental, and cognitive soft self-determinist processes (Adler, 1964; Bandura, 1989; Ellis, 1957; Frankl, 1959; Glasser, 1965; Maslow, 1968; May, 1969; Rogers, 1961). Over time, self-determinism and probabilistic causality converged (Wilks & Ratheal, 2009), and the resulting paradigm--probabilistic self-determinism--held that the presence or absence of physiological, biological, psychological, cognitive, cultural, environmental, systemic, relational, and social events (drives, needs, motives, beliefs, preferences, and goals of the actor) merely increases the likelihood of a behavior occurring, rather than necessitating its occurrence as is required by strict determinism (Bishop, 2010). …

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