This course really opened my eyes into the roles and responsibilities I will have to take up as a therapist. Every approach we have studied throughout this course has given me an “attitude”, technique, or perspective that I will not only use in my practice, but also applies to myself in my own life. A very special person in my life is always telling me to live authentically; after this course, I understand what that means. I have changed nearly every aspects of my life throughout this semester and now live a healthy happy life.
I have come to realize that being a therapist is not just a job; it is a way of life. “Effective therapists are authentic, sincere, and honest.
They do not hide behind a rigid role or facades. Who they are in their personal life and their professional work is congruent,” (Corey, 2013). Living authentically will help me foster the strong therapeutic bond with my clients—which is key to successful therapy.
Below, I have listed a few of the ideas that have had the most influence on my understanding of how to work with clients.
From Person-Centered therapy I took unconditional positive regard. Learning to care for, accept, and value a person as they are will give a greater chance for success in therapy as clients sense my authenticity. Learning to separating overt behaviors from the person is also key. “The caring is non-possessive and is not contaminated by evaluation or judgment of the client’s feelings, thoughts, and behavior as good or bad” (Corey, 2013).
In Gestalt therapy I learned the importance of awareness and integrating the functions of body and mind. As everybody knows, if you do not work out, your muscles get flaccid. What most people don’t realize is that your brain also stays in better shape when you exercise, and not just challenging your mind by, for example, learning a new language, doing difficult crosswords or taking on other intellectually stimulating tasks. As researchers are finding, physical exercise is critical to vigorous mental health, too.
I have gained much more understanding of how to work with consumers with mental health and addiction issues, but these three ideas have had the greatest impact. Learning to live authentically, accept others for who they are and keeping a fit mind and body have had the greatest impact on me and will guide my interaction with clients and encourage them to follow such in their own lives. As much as I would like to be “eclectic,” I think that until I have gained experience-counseling clients, I will focus my therapy around a few specific approaches through theoretical integration.
These theories include Gestalt therapy, Existential therapy, and Cognitive behavior therapy. Because Gestalt therapy can be applied to such a wide range of problems and population and is especially well suited for the initial phases of crisis intervention work, I intend to apply it in my work with veterans and their families. Applying its key concepts such as Perls’s style: “moving the client from environmental support to self-support and reintegrating the disowned parts of one’s personality,” (Corey, 2013) will be very effective in helping veterans learn to accept the part of themselves many of them try to separate from. Much like Gestalt theory, I will use Existential therapy to help other’s make good choices, cope with anxiety and guilt, make sense of life and develop healthy core values and beliefs. “Existential therapy focuses on exploring themes such as morality, meaning, freedom, responsibility, anxiety and aloneness as these relate to a person’s current struggle,” (Corey, 2013). I would like to apply this theory to both individual and group counseling.
Finally, of all the types of psychotherapy, the most widely accepted as useful for PTSD treatment is cognitive-behavioral therapy (Sayer, N. A.;U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Services Research and Development Service, 2011). It has also been applied and shown to be effective in treating depression, anxiety, substance abuse, anger and stress management; all of these disorders are ubiquitous in the clients I intend to work with. Because this approach has been extensively researched and proven by many agencies, I intend to make it a central part of my therapeutic practice. Learning how to recognize how cultural issues can affect my client’s perspective and shaping my therapeutic style to fit the client’s view of the world is part of being an effective counselor.
Allowing clients to make decisions based on their outlook and not imposing my personal values on them is important. It is also important to consider how diverse clients may perceive our actions, such as self-disclosure. Applying Person-centered therapy in my practice is an approach that has been shown to be effective when working with groups of people from diverse cultural backgrounds. “The underlying philosophy of person-centered therapy is grounded on the importance of hearing the deeper message of a client,” (Corey, 2013).
My strength as a counselor will come from my life experience; the book says that it may prove challenging to help a client through a problem that we have not been through ourselves. I believe the challenges and adversity I have overcome in my own life will give me valuable insight and understanding of my client’s situations. My weakness will be my ego. My weakness will be “unconditional positive regard” of my clients. I have to remember that clients know, within themselves what’s best for them. I have a tendency to try to take over a situation and “fix” things. It will be important that I allow my clients to find their own path to recovery and impose my own values and beliefs on them.
As I begin to acquire a style of therapy that fits my own personality and become acquainted with all of the major approaches to psychotherapy, I will use approaches that are found to most effective for treating substance abuse, PTSD and other issues common for combat veterans. These approaches are Gestalt, Existential and Cognitive-behavior therapies.
In my own personal spiritual belief, I believe we all came to this world with a purpose and a “life-vision” of how we will accomplish this purpose and learn the lessons intended. “I don’t think that anything happens by coincidence… No one is here by accident… Everyone who crosses our path has a message for us. Otherwise they would have taken another path, or left earlier or later. The fact that these people are here means that they are here for some reason” (Redfield, 1997). Gestalt Therapy suggests that people are born with the ability to enjoy rewarding contact with others and lead a happy life. Traumatic experiences throughout life interrupt development and people “get stuck” in fixed patterns and beliefs about themselves and get in the way of leading a happy life. Typically clients seek help because they are in pain, but do not know why. Helping them become aware of what is bothering them will allow for growth and eventual resolution of these issues.
Using an existential approach, I will teach clients to live more authentically and live in the here and now, to be less concerned with superficial concerns—to take responsibility for their actions, and take ownership of their lives and find meaning in it. I will teach clients to realize that although we cannot control the events in our life we do have the ability to choose how we respond and feel about them. “Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think” – Martin Seligman. “Existential therapy focuses on exploring themes such as mortality, meaning, freedom, responsibility, anxiety, and aloneness as these relate to person’s current struggle” (Corey, 2013). These themes are all typically areas in a combat veteran’s life that they struggle with when returning home. From an existential view point, a soldier who is able to see his part in combat as serving a higher purpose, will allow him to reconcile any horrors of his combat experience with a perception that his role was part of the “greater good.” Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is what I will most likely adopt in my practice. Research has shown this therapeutic approach provides adaptive ideas and techniques that CBT has proven to be effective in treating combat veterans (Tanielian, 2008).
I considered the population of clients I hope to serve, veterans of combat, and what maladaptive behaviors would most likely be troubling them. Lastly, I reflected on my experience with a VA therapist and how he helped me to understand and change how I thought about the trauma and aftermath of war. I was able to process my experiences in combat, and change the behaviors I relied upon to survive combat that were hindering my reintegration with friends, family and society. A key concept that I personally found useful and I believe will be for other combat veterans, are those found within the framework of rational emotive behavior therapy, (REBT).
Veterans often feel shame and struggle to come to terms with the disturbing events witnessed and duties they undertook to stay alive on the battlefield. “Ellis insists that blame is at the core of most emotional disturbances. If we want to become psychologically healthy, we better sob blaming ourselves and others and learn to fully and unconditionally accept ourselves despite our imperfections,” (Corey, Theory and Practice of Counseling and Pshychotherapy, 2013) Soldiers appreciate plans of attack; especially when they have coordinates to the enemy’s location. With the components of the A-B-C framework they will be able to see how it is possible to identify and challenge their beliefs surrounding traumatic events, which lead to negative emotions and behaviors. I want to help my clients to identify and challenge inaccurate beliefs and thoughts.
Together we can come up with and ending that will bring them balance, peace of mind for braving the circumstances of war, doing what was necessary to survive and make it home to their families. “After a traumatic event, you might blame yourself for things you couldn’t have changed. For example, a soldier may feel guilty about decisions he or she had to make during war. Cognitive therapy, a type of CBT, helps you understand that the traumatic event you lived through was not your fault,” (Tanielian, 2008).
A major limitation to Gestalt therapy that its techniques lead to intense expression of emotion—especially for combat veterans, this could prove to be quite difficult. Existential therapy could prove to be difficult to apply to clients that are “closed off” and do not want to open up. I think the structure of CBT will be effective when working with veterans, but for some clients it may be too structured. CBT does not delve too deeply into a client’s past, and if a veteran has issues from earlier in life they may not be discovered. I look forward to becoming more “fluent” in the application of these techniques and helping to “save the lives” of my clients as I make an effort to give back to the world.