is very little difference between the process of true education and the
process of counseling. Counseling like education has been around for a
much longer period of time than the descriptors themselves.
Counseling is a broad term with many specific meanings. According to one dictionary meaning counseling is, "Direction or advice as to a decision or course of action." Contrast this with the implied operational definition in the following, "Listening is the foundation of counseling..."1 For the purposes of this article we will use a definition, which is more in keeping with current psychological practices and understandings.
Counseling is a process where one person assists another to gain perspective with respect to the challenges of their life. This process works best where the counselor listens to the stories of the one being counseled and may create other exercises that create "openings" for a person to understand elements of the past which are destabilizing the present. Counseling involves encouraging one to find the strength within themselves to grow and develop.
Professional counseling involves more than this, but the major part of a counselor's work is actively listening to the client, asking non-judgmental questions, and mirroring back what is being heard.
In some cases all that is needed to enter into such a dynamic process is to create a safe and comfortable atmosphere, build rapport and trust and then simply ask the question, "How are you today?" Though this works, and works well, it does not work in all cases and it is not necessarily the most efficient means to the end.
This is where stories come in. For the purpose of this article we are considering the following types of relevant stories:
The story, "Trying Too Hard2" describes a scenario where one person assists another, by suggesting a course of action but never suggests a specific solution. In the story, Hakim, a fisherman, helps his niece, Cantara, by encouraging her to, "Go for a long walk every day." and to not dwell on her problems, and to listen for messages. The story gives no details of what the problem was, nor does it give any details as to what solution was found. It implies the value of meditation by walking and implies much about the process of intervention into a crises. This story is a good example of a stimulus story that can be read by the counselor or by the client or both.
The story has so little descriptive detail that a reader or listener can insert themselves or in some other way identify with a character or a situation in the story. When the listener / reader does this, their experience is called a parallel story. They create their own experience and take away what is needed for their own growth.
After such a story a counselor may ask questions such as:
The process of using a stimulus story such as "Trying Too Hard2" can be further stretched by creative writing or journaling. The counselor can ask the client to talk about how they would like to be in the future, about how they would handle a particular situation, or to write or talk about a fictional character. More often than not, a person in crises or growth will write themselves into such a story, giving themselves further insight without the need for comment by the counselor.
In summary, we need more stories such as those in Still Reflections: Stories of the Heart and In the Glow of Understanding, stories that are psychologically "safe", stories that do not glorify violence, infidelity, or the use of drugs and alcohol. Additionally we need additional material or curricula such as the book Story Centric Education3.
If you have suggestions or opinions on the ideas presented here, please contact us.
Steven Fletcher, January 2005
Intentional Interviewing and
Counseling, Ivey and Ivey
2 Still Reflections: Stories of the Heart, Fletcher, P. 322
3 Anticipated publishing date - August 2007