Revisiting the Principles of Free Will and Determinism: Exploring Conceptions of Disability and Counseling Theory

By Phemister, Andrew A. | The Journal of Rehabilitation, July-September 2001 | Go to article overview

Revisiting the Principles of Free Will and Determinism: Exploring Conceptions of Disability and Counseling Theory


Phemister, Andrew A., The Journal of Rehabilitation


Over three centuries ago Thomas Hobbes asserted that each person is free-- that is, has control over which actions to perform-- to the extent that the individual has the capacity to act upon his or her desires (Magill, 1997). Though Hobbes felt that such freedom was only an illusion (Yalom, 1980) his thought stills holds a stunning and prophetic significance for the contemporary counseling theories employed by rehabilitation counselors.

A theory is understood to be tool that a counselor uses to help organize information into meaningful frameworks that allow him or her to make sense of particular situations and events, to construct definitions, and to identify potential problems and solutions (see Corey & Corey, 1998). Counseling theories provide rehabilitation counselors guidance. However, implicit within this truism is the compelling lure that is felt toward a particular theory because it may help to confirm a counselor's own self-concept and philosophical beliefs about human nature (Emener, 1997; Nowlin & Blackburn, 1995; cf Emener & Ferrandino, 1983). It is axiomatic that people entering into the profession of rehabilitation counseling do so because of a desire to help others. This desire to help may be seen as the product of one's own life experiences (e.g., one's own disability), one's upbringing and, personal ideology. Throughout their education, rehabilitation counselors-in-training are introduced to a variety of counseling theories, and some of these he or she will be personally, perhaps emotionally, drawn to. Indeed, Corey and Corey (1998) emphasized that the most suitable theory for a counselor is the "one that is an extension of [his or her] values and personality" (p. 62). The question then becomes "why was a particular theory attractive to the student in the first place"? What moved him or her toward one theory and not another? As it is, the experienced counselor may have come to understand, through academia and practice, "what" he or she is doing with any given client (e.g., offering unconditional positive regard) but will, at some point, need to ask him or herself "why?" he or she is doing that in particular-- and not just because theory stipulates it (Nowlin & Blackburn, 1995; Dopson & Gade, 1981; emphasis added).

It is this attraction between counselor and theory that should necessitate rehabilitation counselors' reflection on their beliefs toward human nature in general, and disability in particular. "Why is an existentialist, an existentialist?" "Why is one counselor more comfortable with behavioral approaches and another with reality therapy?" A rehabilitation counselor's personal beliefs about human nature will a priori influence any theoretical orientation that is used to address disability (Emener, 1997; Nowlin & Blackburn, 1995). Counseling theories are certainly necessary but can become highly complex intellectual veils through which rehabilitation counselors perceive their clients. Thus, the attempt to recognize one's personal attraction to a particular theory is imperative in order to realize one's underlying assumptions about human nature and individual potential. The purpose of such a personal investigation, particularly regarding rehabilitation counselors, lies in the philosophical principles of free will and determinism which are generally regarded as the originating sources of contemporary counseling theory (Furlong, 1981).

Originating Principles

As is well known in the counseling professions, most theoretical views of humankind have sprung from one of two basic philosophical principles: free will (sometimes referred to as free-choice or freedom) and determinism (Furlong, 1981; Gelso, 1970; Roth, 1969; cf Nowlin & Blackburn, 1995). Broadly defined, the former view considers humans to be responsible beings having the power to control their own lives through choices which can influence the environment and others within it, while the latter view likens humans to highly sophisticated and complex machines who are totally determined by internal (hereditary) and/or external (environmental) forces beyond their control (Furlong, 1981). …

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