NUMBER 881 • 6 DECEMBER • SCHOOL COUNSELLING
Significant, in our eyes, is the motivational and other “work” involved in reaching a “working alliance” phase in counselling. That work – on both sides of the counselling relationship – relates to a diverse number of factors to be addressed: clarifying the roles of counsellors, de-stigmatizing or ensuring the safe and confidential access of counselling services, and creating a relationship wherein clients feel they can be critically reflective and (eventually) committed to their understandings, goals and coping strategies. This study’s co-participants were as engaged in that “work” as were their counsellors, and they made no distinctions between their accomplishments and the relational work that created them (Newman & Holzman, 1997). In this regard, studies focusing on counsellor or client personality attributes that “create” quality counselling relationships offer a blind alley to counsellors (example, Sexton, Whiston, Bleuer & Walz, 1997), particularly when not seen as accomplishments transacted between clients and counsellors. More specifically, a counsellor identified as “trustworthy” by a personality test may not be experienced that way by his/her clients.
Also significant in our view are issues of context and access. Most activity in secondary school counselling offices seems to happen around short encounters. However, for counselling relationships to get beyond their significant building stages – to do problem-focused, and often intensely personal work – requires settings, time and developmental work difficult for students and counsellors to find. This can be further compromised when students are unclear about what counselling entails, or must decide whether their counsellors “wear disciplinarian or supportive hats”. Creating accessibility and contexts where counselling relationships can develop, if required, is important so that students can experience going beyond their initial discomforts in talking about what is difficult for them to experience and share. This takes time and circumstances where the development of comfort, reflection, and mutual purposefulness is possible. In this regard, what we are suggesting is common in addressing the anxieties presented by clients: they need to feel relaxed and reflective as part of their counselling. The students in this study were part of a small group receiving personal counselling, within the overall caseloads of the counsellors who nominated them as co-participants.
Interestingly, these co-participants did not fit the often-cited view that teens will choose to speak to their peers. For them, their relationships felt insufficiently supportive, or they weren’t prepared to be reciprocally supportive when addressing a matter of considerable significance. In this sense, the counselling role, when seen as asymmetrically “for the client”, was a resource to turn to. From there, however, came the relational work required to make accessing this resource worthwhile for clients.
DOUG THOMPSON AND TOM STRONG
Thompson, D. and Strong, T. (2003) Secondary school counselling as adolescent clients see it. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice, 16(1) pp.68-82