Many factors influence your experience in counseling including the theoretical orientation of your counselor. A theoretical orientation is a counselor’s philosophy about how problems develop and how these are resolved or treated. It also informs the counselor’s focus in each counseling session, goals of counseling, and interventions you will experience in counseling sessions. Below are a few examples of theoretical orientations and how they shape counseling.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a goal oriented therapeutic approach that focuses on how our thinking influences our behavior. For example, a person may think he is not as good as his peers in math and avoid answering questions or being called on during math class. A counselor operating from this approach will work with you to identify and challenge your maladaptive thinking and then your behaviors that contribute to the problem. It is common for clients to complete homework assignments related to their counseling goals between sessions. Your counseling sessions will likely be structured to aid you in making incremental progress towards your goal.

Person-Centered Therapy

Person-Centered Therapy is a humanistic approach that focuses on our natural potential to self-actualize. A counselor operating from this approach will focus on building a therapeutic relationship with you through genuineness, unconditional positive regard, and empathy. This relationship will serve to create an environment in which you can grow. You will be encouraged to use the relationship and environment to realize your growth potential and become who you choose to be. Your counseling sessions will likely be unstructured or non-directive, trusting and relying on your ability to move toward your goal.

Narrative Therapy

A counselor operating from this perspective would focus on the stories or narratives we use to inform and organize our sense of reality. For example, we may hear a person say that he is an anxious person instead of describing himself as person that experiences anxiety. In counseling, you will explore how these stories describe and shape your perspectives on your past, present, and future. Counselors operating from this perspective will also consider how culture influences our stories. In counseling sessions, your counselor will listen for omissions in problem-saturated stories. Your counseling sessions will likely focus on re-authoring your single story and the creation of options and alternative stories.

Family Systems Therapy

Family Systems Therapy is a therapeutic approach that focuses on understanding you in the context of your relationships or family. Our problems are viewed as an expression or symptom of dysfunction within a family or system. Counselors who practice from this perspective will examine your experiences within the context of your family, but will not blame your or your family for dysfunction. Instead, the counselor will observe the patterns of communication or interaction within the family and invite the family to interrupt patterns and try new behaviors to effect change. This can occur even if your family does not attend counseling sessions with you.

Talking about Theoretical Orientation with a Counselor

The brief examples above represent a few of the more than hundreds of theoretical orientations from which a counselor can operate. To find out the theoretical orientation of a counselor, you can review his or her website or ask when you schedule your first counseling session. If you are already in counseling, ask your counselor about theoretical orientation during session; this will likely lead to a meaningful discussion.

Interested in psychology or counseling? UMHB’s undergraduate Psychology Department offers classes that are designed to provide students with information which will promote an attitude of increased objectivity concerning the behavior, feelings, and attitudes of other people as well as themselves. Additionally, our Master of Arts in Counseling program helps students develop the skills to become a licensed professional counselor or licensed marriage and family therapist. We invite to check out our website or stop by for a visit!