Friday, April 15, 2016

Teaching Theories and Basic Skills

     I still have some major internal conflict on the topic of teaching theories to therapists. I'm still unsure of whether it is a good idea or not. I think that the main counseling skills of true active listening, empathy, reactive choices (interpretations, reflections, minimal urges, etc.), and appropriate self-disclosure. Of course, some of these skills come easier to some student of the field versus others. This should be monitored, as we do not want to continue teaching the expert. I'm starting to think that some mastery of these skills should be shown before moving on to deeper theories of the field. To put this whole paragraph a different way: While theoretical orientation is of high impact, it should not be taught before the basic elements of the craft are honed in the budding clinician.
     Theories are all well and good (and I will get to these parts in a moment), but they do not fulfill the needs of the therapeutic dyad that the basic counseling skills do in full. A therapist without active listening is deaf; a therapist without empathy is cold and uncaring; a therapist without correct reactions is ineffective; and a therapist without a personal and semi-transparent identity is not a true person, but a cheap mask. No amount of theoretical knowledge will help that therapist - he or she is not a researcher, an occupation where warmth, though encouraged, is not vital. Simply being intelligent in theory might increase the positive content of the message, but as every good therapist knows, how a message is conveyed is not of secondary importance.
     While it might seem as if I am bashing theories, allow me to be the first to quash this idea. Theories provide us with important information about what might be going on behind the eyes of a client. They also inform us as to what reaction might be appropriate for the clinician and the client. It must also be said that the basic counseling skills can be learned, and even monitored, by anyone, without the necessary education that therapists undergo. The layman is, of course, capable of reading any text that a budding or expert therapist might, but I would say (hesitantly) that the layman is not able to understand the implications of the text without the same education. This is, to some small degree, what separates the therapist from the natural-born thinker.
     It would be very difficult to measure the ability of trainees in the basic counseling skills. Observers would need to be use, in order to grade trainees in real interactions with clients. Pen-and-paper exams would be useless here. This would further push the impact of professors and instructors in their job as gatekeeper for the field. Were they to observe a student who shows no aptitude in these basic skills, they would need to take action for the sake of their university's program and, more importantly, to keep the bar set high for incoming professional therapists.

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