While theoretical elements are important to a counselor’s work, each professional must formulate a personal philosophy of counseling. As early as the mid-20th century, John Hipple (1968) wrote, the “philosophy is the rock upon which the counselor’s effectiveness rests” (p. 86). A personal philosophy helps a counselor to be aware of what they are doing, why they are doing it, and the outcomes they wish to achieve with their method. Without a philosophy, it is easy to get lost and make errors in the process. A personal philosophy is a critical self-exploration where a counselor emphasizes their values in the context of professional work. Since it is virtually impossible to separate true self from the practice of counseling while still being effective, the approach of formulating a personal philosophy serves as a guiding paradigm in the reality of the job. This paper will explore my personal philosophy based on the Adlerian theory of psychotherapy based on a balance of goal-oriented and humanistic approaches with an emphasis on social belonging and positive encouragement.
Theoretical Approach to Counseling
The theoretical approach which serves as the basis to my personal philosophy and counseling activities is known as Adlerian psychotherapy. It established in the early 1900s by Alfred Adler, a known philosopher and psychiatrist which emphasized the examination of individuals in social contexts, with each person having an innate goal of belonging and being significant (Adler Graduate School, n.d.). Adlerian therapy is known for its flexibility and utilizing a multimodal approach to treatment. A counselor can utilize the Adlerian approach for assessment but plan the treatment by employing interventions from Adlerian philosophy or other therapeutic approaches deemed appropriate. Many view it as a strength, however in the current era of accountability, it may serves as a liability since not all therapeutic approaches are recognized as evidence-based (Sperry, 2018). Nevertheless, Adlerian psychotherapy is recognized by the APA and licensed psychotherapists must have specialized training in the philosophy through an academic institution.
Adlerian therapy is a holistic approach to personality and psychotherapy which incorporates humanistic philosophy. Adler was the arguably the first psychologist to create a theory around encouragement as a central core to human development and psychotherapeutic treatment. The Adlerian approach emphasizes that humans are intrinsically oriented toward social interest, and when they lose it, encouragement is necessary, particularly towards social engagement. For Adlerian practitioners, the focus is not to change behavior, but to instill underlying fundamental change; thus, the goal is not to modify behavior but to instill courage and confidence to motivate individuals (Wong, 2015).
The Adlerian approach focuses on holism in the context of how individuals move through life. One cannot understand a person by analyzing parts of their lives or personality, but the whole comprehensive concept of the being must be understood to derive patterns and an individual’s relationship to social systems. Adlerian psychotherapists believe that all behavior occurs and has a purpose within social context. Therefore, the cognitive state and approach to life of an individual is shaped within the social systems, shaped from early years of life by family dynamics. All behavior is viewed as socially embedded or having social meaning, so there is a strong emphasis on relationships in the Adlerian approach, particularly with the core of social interest, or a sense of cooperation and belong with people and participation for the common good (Carlson & Englar-Carlson, 2017).
Concept of Human Nature
The term individual psychology coined by Adler highlights the holistic and phenomenological examination of human behavior. The approach emphasizes that the human nature of personality is indivisible and there is an essential unity to the human psyche. Despite the emphasis on social relationships, Adler argued that humans create themselves rather than being shaped by past experiences. Each individual develops a unique way and style of living that is an expression and movement towards their goals. The belief is that human nature and behavior is not determined solely by the biological factors and environment, akin to what Freud proposed around the same time of Adler, but that human being have the capacity to influence, create, and interpret phenomena and events (Carlson & Englar-Carlson, 2017).
For the most part, my view of human nature reflects the Adlerian perspective with some additions based on personal experience. However, my primary perspective is that human nature is inherently problematic, in the sense that everyone, no matter the background, has psychological problems and traumas. However, this leads to another aspect of human nature in that people are resilient. With proper guidance, support, encouragement – people can overcome anything. Going with the Adlerian approach, human nature is both compassionate and seeking compassion from others. I believe that with compassion and encouragement, people are able to overcome hardship and become healthier as they become more aware of their own identity.
In line with the Adlerian approach, I highly believe in the social element of human nature. Connection remains as the fundamental human need that most people attempt to meet or acquire. These social connections can be beneficial in formulating characters, overcoming challenges, or building encouragement. However, social relationships are also the basis of significant fear and anxiety in individuals as a large majority of individual emotions and perceptions are based on social assumptions. Due to fear, humans often avoid what is perceived to be bad or uncomfortable, which may be detrimental in a wide variety of contexts. From my observation, people strive towards control, let it be over themselves, others, or their life choices and outcomes. However, life rarely goes according to plan, and our resilience inherently allows to adapt to any situation and, with appropriate help or support, to find solutions.
As discussed before, encouragement plays a key role in Adlerian psychotherapy. Encouragement from this perspective can be described as to help others towards an understanding that solutions can be found, and the person can cope with any predicament. It can also be a nonverbal attitude which communicates esteem and worth to the individual. However, being grounded in humanistic psychology, encouragement emphasizes features of a functional human being. The four core dimensions of encouragement are:
- positive view of self;
- positive view of others;
- open to experiences;
- sense of belonging (Wong, 2015).
Encouragement skills can differ depending on the situation, there are various therapeutic skills that are practiced in Adlerian psychology. For example, recounting examples of how others coped with similar problems and overcame are meant to instill hope and express confidence that the client can change. Another technique is to ask questions about the client’s strengths to derive a positive view of self. A technique to make the client open to experiences can consist of asking them to do something that they fear of doing. This is based on the premise that the individual will begin to behave differently regardless of their level of confidence, but once they see that they are safe, they are motivated. A sense of belonging can be implemented in various ways. For example, a thought exercise can be used when clients imagine how their positivity and collaboration with others contributes to their feelings and success in their lives (Wong, 2015).
Use of Assessment, Diagnosis, and Testing
According to the AMHCA code of ethics, there is a value in objectivity and integrity in the strive to understand human behavior and the need to maintain highest standards when providing mental health counseling services. The code also calls upon counselors to “utilize educational, psychological, diagnostic, and career assessment instruments” (AMHCA, 2020, p.9). My personal view is that the use of assessment, diagnosis, and testing is appropriate and should be encouraged. However, it should not be central to the process of counseling. The use of these tools ensures objectivity as well as helps to provide a medical and evidence-based perspective to the process. Counseling is addressing mental health, so the steps of assessment and testing are critical as they would be in the medical field, to identify the condition of the client and establish their diagnosis for further treatment.
As outlined by the American Counseling Association (2014), assessment is critical to gather information for a variety of purposes such as decision-making, treatment planning, and forensic procedures. Meanwhile, a proper diagnosis contributes strongly to determining client care such as type of treatment and recommended follow-ups. I agree strongly with the merits of this as the counseling process is a gradual, step-by-step phenomenon, that must take into consideration a range of factors. This makes assessment and diagnosis necessary in order to remain competent as a professional and provide clients the help they need. However, as also stated in the ACA code of ethics, the client’s personal and cultural contexts should be taken into consideration. Therefore, there is no general approach, and assessments must be chosen carefully based on consideration and applied when appropriate to accommodate the client’s mental health or any other needs or state. Overall, I believe in the efficacy of the assessment, testing, and diagnosis, and subsequent treatment, but the objective measures should only have a limited impact and by no means should treatment based solely on diagnosis, guidelines or some other measures and statistics, since each client is so uniquely different individually.
When describing myself, I would say I am a positive person, and oftentimes see the same in other people. Generally, in my life I have encountered lots of kind, helpful people, some that I became close to through various social connections, and others that were just there or just short encounters. Personally, I gain a lot of mental strength from social communication and support from these connections. I believe that this is the reason why I am drawn to and promote the Adlerian approach to psychotherapy. The dogma of establishing a ‘sense of belonging’ for individuals and perpetrating healing and self-exploration through encouragement is a healthy and effective way to resolve mental health problems. Other approaches and techniques of the Adlerian philosophy also appeal to me, seeking to encourage growth, strength, and resiliency from the client via focus on self-growth and identifying strengths. My positive approach to life has always taught me that problems should not be solved by delving on the past or the issues, but taking the lessons and strengths, and building on these fundamentals. Inspiration and motivation are key to behavior change in Adlerian theory, which is the reason why I find it so inherently moving and applicable to my life and in my attempts to help others both personally and professionally.
AMHCA. (2020). AMHCA code of ethics.
American Counseling Association. (2014). 2014 ACA code of ethics.
Adler Graduate School. (n.d.). Alfred Adler: Theory and application.
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Hipple, J. (1968). Development of a personal philosophy and theory of counseling. The School Counselor, 16(2), 86-89.
Sperry, L. (2018). Achieving evidence-based status for Adlerian therapy: Why it is needed and how to accomplish it. The Journal of Individual Psychology, 74(3), 247–263.
Wong, Y. J. (2014). The psychology of encouragement. The Counseling Psychologist, 43(2), 178–216.