Daily Archives: November 22, 2010

Founding Mothers & Fathers of Counseling


This essay explores three of the most significant founding fathers of psychology, W. Wundt, B. F. Skinner, and S. Freud.  Beyond his well lauded contributions as an experimental psychologist, we explore Wundt’s often neglected contributions to social psychology and the legacy of his Völkerpsychologie.  Skinner is explored both in the context of a behaviorist and as a social philosopher.  Finally, treatment is given to S. Freud and his continued relevance into the 21st Century.

Wilhelm Wundt has been described as “one of the anchors of our collective consciousness; one of the fixed points from which we extrapolate our intellectual position and from which we derive the place of our discipline in the family of the sciences.”  (Kroger & Scheibe, 1990, p. 221)  Through a distinctly social lens, Wundt attempted to explain the theoretical and logical necessities that serve as antecedents to empirical regularities.  Contemporary psychological historians frequently credit Wundt with an early recognition of the social dimensions of cognition, emotion, and behavior.  Wundt suggested that cognition, emotion, and behavior are predisposed to align themselves with the cognition, emotion, and behavior of members of social networks or organizations with whom the individual associates.  As a result… beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are held or engaged by individuals because they are represented as held by the people with whom we socialize.  (Greenwood, 2003, p. 70)

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There is a curious dichotomy surrounding Wundt, however.  While his contributions as an experimental psychologist are repeatedly lauded, the social theory that guided his experimentation is decidedly missing of influence or impact.  “His concepts of the higher synthesis, the social mind, the reality of folk-psychological actuality, etc., are all seemingly firmly anchored in a monumental philosophical system; but Wundt’s conceptual scheme breaks down when applied.”  (Haeberlin, 1916, p. 301)  “Wundt asked questions about how the relationship between individual consciousness and cultural heritage ought to be conceptualized, how mind is embedded in, and shaped by, culture.”  (Kroger & Scheibe, 1990, p. 227)  One might deduce that Wundt represents the first multicultural social theorist in the field of psychology.  “Wundt’s Völkerpsychologie contributed substantially to the clarification of the role of culture in the time scale of human phylogeny.”  (Wong, 2009, p. 258)  Aside from his obvious contributions to the field of experimental psychology, I have not included him for that reason.  He is foremost on my list due to contributions to the understanding of the collective consciousness, which are only recently being explored and lauded as his most important contributions to the field of social psychology.

Although he was preceded by great minds like John B. Watson, the field of behaviorism was radically changed by the work of B. F. Skinner.  “By the 1970s, B. F. Skinner was woven into the fabric of American culture both as an experimental psychologist and as a prominent social commentator whose radical behaviorist philosophy, and the technology of behavior arising from it, challenged traditional American outlooks on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  (Rutherford, 2003, p. 371-372)  Skinner revised the Watson Stimulus-Response (S-R) model of respondent behavior to include a third contingency, known as the Stimulus-Response-Reinforcing Stimulus (S-R-S) or operant behavior model.  “Operant behaviors are not elicited by preceding stimuli but instead are influenced by stimulus changes that have followed the behavior in the past.”  (Cooper, Heron, & Heward, 2007, p. 10)  His “experimental analysis of behavior” has been described as a “revolutionary conceptual breakthrough” that “continues to provide the empirical foundation for behavior analysis today.”  (Cooper et al., 2007, p. 11)

Aside from his contributions as a behaviorist, he was a frequent contributor as a social philosopher.  The sociopolitical Skinner reached its pinnacle following the publication of Beyond Freedom and Dignity in 1971.

The main thesis of the book, pared down to its essentials, was that the freedom or free will that we all cherish is an illusion; our behavior is actually controlled by subtle and complex systems of environmental contingencies. Skinner’s message was that these contingencies must be recognized and deliberately manipulated through a technology of behavior if we are to improve our prospects for long-term cultural and social survival.  He argued that this deliberate control would be possible only if we gave up our antiquated and sentimental belief in “autonomous man.”  (Rutherford, 2003, p. 383-384)

B. F. Skinner set out to prove that we are capable of controlling ourselves. How is this possible?  Manipulate the contingencies under which your behaviors are reinforced by the environment in which you reside.  (Throne, 1992)  “Toward his goal he contributed 19 books; 2 of these, Behavior of Organisms and Verbal Behavior, certainly rank among the most important contributions to human thought.”  (Holland, 1992, p. 665)  Jack Michael introduced the ideas of B.F. Skinner to Montrose M. Wolf before he was exiled to the University of Houston due to the fact that “the department told me that they didn’t need a Skinnerian in the K.U psychology department, and I should find another job somewhere else.”  (Risley, 2005; Michael, 2006)

How can an essay of the founding fathers of counseling come to pass without mention of Sigmund Freud?  Despite the fact that most books that mention both Skinner and Freud tend to focus on differences instead of similarities, it is worth noting that B.F. Skinner cited Freud more often than any other author.  (Overskeid, 2007)  I have intentionally saved Freud for last, not because I want to finish strong, but because I believe the following statement to be true:

The contemporary attitude toward psychological problems that is fueled by a wish (and promise) of symptom relief (by psycho-pharmacologists and behavior therapists) and the reliance on third-party payments (that limit the number of sessions that will be covered), make Freud’s method (that is many times a week and an intense and comprehensive analysis of the interaction between patient and analyst) admittedly, not relevant for the “climate” of the 21st Century.  (Frank, 2008, p. 377)

Despite the hostile climate, it would be difficult to diminish the contribution of S. Freud.  Freud put the unconscious mind on the map.  (Lothane, 2006)  Twemlow and Parens (2006) advance the view that “Freud’s main legacy will be the application of psychoanalysis to community and social problems and issues, rather than in contributions to the treatment of mental illness.”  (Twemlow & Parens, 2006, p. 430)  Despite repeated attempts to move Freud off the couch, he still has a presence there.  “Recent research findings on the process and mechanisms of change within psychoanalytic forms of treatment now provide much needed empirical support for some of the basic tenets of psychoanalytic theory and practice, challenge long-standing notions regarding the link between therapeutic technique and clinical improvement, and suggest that factors once believed to be unique to psychoanalytic psychotherapy might be playing a crucial role in the promotion of change in other therapeutic modalities.”  (Schut & Castonguay, 2001, p. 40)  The latter opinion might suggest that the theories of Freud are not quite ready to be shoved off the couch just yet.

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Cooper, J. O., Heron, T. E., & Heward, W. L. (2007). Applied Behavior Analysis (2nd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Frank, G. (2008, Apr). A response to “The relevance of Sigmund Freud for the 21st century.. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 25(2), 375-379. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.25.2.375

Greenwood, J. D. (2003, Feb). Wundt, Völkerpsychologie, and experimental social psychology. History of Psychology, 6(1), 70-88. doi: 10.1037/1093-4510.6.1.70

Haeberlin, H. K. (1916, July). The theoretical foundations of Wundt’s folk-psychology. Psychological Review, 23(4), 279-302. doi: 10.1037/h0075449

Holland, J. G. (1992, May). B. F. Skinner (1904–1990): Obituary. American Psychologist, 47(5), 665-667. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.47.5.665

Kroger, R. O., & Scheibe, K. E. (1990, July). A reappraisal of Wundt’s influence on social psychology. Canadian Psychology, 31(3), 220-228. doi: 10.1037/h0078919

Lothane, Z. (2006). Freud’s legacy–is it still with us?. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 285-301. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.23.2.285

Michael, J. (2006). Starting a career in academia. Retrieved June, 20 2010, from http://jackmichael.org/about/index3.html

Overskeid, G. (2007, Sep). Looking for Skinner and finding Freud. American Psychologist, 62(6), 590-595. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.6.590

Risley, T. (2005, Summer). Montrose M. Wolf (1935–2004). J Appl Behav Anal, 38(2), 279–287. doi: 10.1901/jaba.2005.165-04

Rutherford, A. (2003, Nov). Radical behaviorism and psychology’s public: B. F. Skinner in the popular press, 1934–1990. History of Psychology, 3(4), 371-395. doi: 10.1037/1093-4510.3.4.371

Schut, A. J., & Castonguay, L. G. (2001). Reviving Freud’s vision of a psychoanalytic science: Implications for clinical training and education. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 38(1), 40-49. doi: 10.1037/0033-3204.38.1.40

Throne, J. M. (1992, Dec). Understanding Skinner. American Psychologist, 47(12), 1678. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.47.12.1678

Twemlow, S. W., & Parens, H. (2006). Might Freud’s legacy lie beyond the couch?. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 23(2), 430-451. doi: 10.1037/0736-9735.23.2.430

Wong, W. (2009, Nov). Retracing the footsteps of Wilhelm Wundt: Explorations in the disciplinary frontiers of psychology and in Völkerpsychologie. History of Psychology, 12(4), 229-265. doi: 10.1037/a0017711

ACA Ethical Statement – Multiculturalism

In my opinion, having an awareness of multiculturalism and diversity are a foremost in my mind as being important to our success at developing healthy working relationships with clients.  The word culture appears 8 times in the American Counseling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics.  Specifically, it suggests that “counselors recognize that culture affects the manner in which clients’ problems are defined.  Clients’ socioeconomic and cultural experiences are considered when diagnosing mental disorders.”  (ACA, 2005, p. 19)  Ivey, Ivey & Zalaquett (2010) broadly define multiculturalism and diversity to include “race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, spiritual orientation, age, physical ability/disability, socioeconomic status, geographical location, and other factors.”  (Ivey, Ivey, & Zalaquett, 2010, p. 43)  Given this broad contextual definition of culture, and the mandate of the ACA, we can deduce that multiculturalism should be an integral part of every counseling interaction we undertake.

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Some would suggest that the only alternative is functioning as a culturally encapsulated counselor who defines reality according to one set of cultural assumptions, shows insensitivity to cultural variations, makes little effort to accommodate the behavior of others, and resists adaptation and rejects alternatives.  (Corey, Schneider-Corey, & Callanan, 2007, p. 117)  While it is suitable difficult to criticize multiculturalism in moderation, at its extremes I would suggest that multiculturalism can be detrimental.  Specifically, cultural relativism presents a dimension of diversity that, when examined closely, undermines the validity and the usefulness of some multicultural pursuits.  The influential American anthropologist Ruth Benedict, in her seminal work entitled Patterns of Culture (1934), described cultural relativism:

No man ever looks at the world with pristine eyes.  He sees it edited by a definite set of customs and institutions and ways of thinking.  Even in his philosophical probings he cannot go behind these stereotypes…  The life-history of the individual is first and foremost an accommodation to the patterns and standards traditionally handed down in his community.  From the moment of his birth the customs into which he is born shape his experience and behavior.  By the time he can talk, he is the little creature of his culture, and by the time he is grown and able to take part in its activities, its habits are his habits, its beliefs his beliefs, its impossibilities his impossibilities.  Every child that is born into his group will share them with him, and no child born into one on the opposite side of the globe can ever achieve the thousandth part.  (Benedict, 1934, p. 2-3)

To most, that makes sense, and I wager that most would agree with the above statement.  However, consider this.  “If all morality is relative, then what moral objection could one make to the Nazi holocaust, to the economic deprivation of a Latin American underclass, or to a militaristic nation’s unleashing nuclear devastation on others?  And what would be wrong with conducting painful experiments on young children, using them for case studies on the long-term psychological effects of mutilation?  In a world where no moral court of appeals exists, might makes right.  The only appeal can be to power.”  (Holmes, 1984, p. 17, 18)

Making cultures equally valuable makes them equally valueless.  The point, if there is one, is that we need to seek out and obtain a balance between multiculturalism and ethnocentrism.  If we go too far in either extreme, we do so at our own peril.

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American Counseling Association. (2005). ACA code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.counseling.org/Files/FD.ashx?guid=ab7c1272-71c4-46cf-848c-f98489937dda

Benedict, R. (1934). Patterns of culture. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Corey, G., Schneider-Corey, M., & Callanan, P. (2007). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Holmes, A. F. (1984). Ethics. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Ivey, A. E., Ivey, M. B., & Zalaquett, C. P. (2010). Intentional interviewing & counseling (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Ponton, R. F., & Duba, J. D. (2009, Winter). The ACA code of ethics: Articulating counseling’s professional covenant. Journal of Counseling and Development : JCD, 87(1), 117-121. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.bellevue.edu:80/login?url=http://proquest.umi.com.ezproxy.bellevue.edu/pqdweb?did=1618074141&sid=2&Fmt=2&clientId=4683&RQT=309&VName=PQD

Intentional Interviewing

Within the context of the therapeutic exchange, the word ‘intentional’ in ‘intentional interviewing’ seems to suggest that every motion (think micro-skills) a therapist makes should be motivated by a sense of purpose.  Beyond a results driven goal-oriented structure, Ivey, Ivey, and Zalaquett (2010) seem to be proponents of a ‘structured interview’ that remains flexible enough to account for ‘the unexpected,’ and semi-structured enough to account for the multicultural variation of clients.  Given a broad interpretation of culture that could literally represent any number of demographic variables including “age, gender, place of residence; status variables such as social, educational, and economic background; formal and informal affiliations; and the ethnographic variables of nationality, ethnicity, language, and religion;” it is literally impossible for two people to match on every variable.  (Corey, Schneider-Corey, & Callanan, 2007, p. 115)  As a result, I am inclined to suggest that every counseling session should invariably be built on a foundation that advances diversity and diminishes stereotypical generalizations.

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This structured interviewing process is founded on a 5 step process that includes building the relationship, identifying a story and strengths, goals, restory, and action.  The relationship is of paramount importance to the establishment and maintenance of a working alliance between the therapist and the client.  The foundation of the relationship building process is listening.  “It is consistently estimated that 30% of successful counseling and therapy outcome is due to relationship or common factors consisting of caring, empathy, acceptance, affirmation, and encouragement.”  (Ivey et al., 2010, p. 19)  None of the above common factors are possible without listening.  Personally, I think 30% is modest.

The story and strengths portion of the interview will be variably determined by the underlying system or theory that is being employed by the therapist.  This is an attempt to determine “where the client is at” as determined by the underlying theoretical premise(s) to which we subscribe.  The authors suggest we be sensitive to themes that would allow us to draw out, identify, and accentuate one or more strengths of the client.  This may be as mundane as acknowledging that the client has sufficient insight to recognize that they needed help, or it may manifest as highlighting adaptive coping mechanisms within the context of the stories told.

Once we have determined “where the client is at,” it is important that we allow the client to verbalize “where they would like to be.”  I have chosen my words carefully because the notion of client autonomy and self determination is paramount to the goal setting process.  Furthermore, this process of goal identification proves useful in focusing motions on the objective.  Ideally, the stories we attempt to cultivate should be relevant to the verbalized goal.  The alternative is a meandering experience without a focal point.

Restory is an element of the equation that I consider to be more of an art than a science.  Restory represents a process whereby we reinterpret and reframe events in an attempt to “help clients generate new ways to talk about themselves.”  (Ivey et al., 2010, p. 19)  I liken this portion of the interview to the ‘trial close’ in a sales presentation.  This is a critical element because there is a process of ‘trial and error’ on the part of the therapist whereby we attempt to find a ‘trigger’ in the client that will serve as a catalyst.  Just as no single type of close works on every customer, no single theoretical solution is going to work for every client.  As a result, Ivey and associates suggest we keep an open theoretical stance and remain flexible in our endeavor to find a personalized solution for the each individual client.

Action… action is ‘the test’ to attempt to see if our proposed solution is ‘close enough to the target’ to be effective.  I stress ‘close enough to the target’ because more often than not the colloquial maxim ‘there’s more than one way to skin a cat’ holds up.  If we are successful the client will generalize concepts explored in therapy to the ‘real world’ and subsequently make progress toward his or her stated goal.

There is one specific aspect about this process that I feel the authors have neglected… perhaps this aspect is addressed later in the text, or in another section, but where do ‘implications’ fit into the mix?  In my view, it is absolutely necessary for us to have the client identify the implications of both action and inaction, be they positive or negative.  Through this process, we leverage the relationship to position the action as a solution to the predicament.  In this process, I believe it is imperative that we ask the question ‘What if you choose to try XXXX?’ or ‘What if you choose to do nothing?’  Without a client realizing the implications of the choice, there’s no point in taking the action.  Just food for thought…

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Corey, G., Schneider-Corey, M., & Callanan, P. (2007). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Ivey, A. E., Ivey, M. B., & Zalaquett, C. P. (2010). Intentional interviewing & counseling (7th ed.). Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.