Towards an Eclectic Theory of Counseling

Counselor Educators have discussed and debated the role of theory in professional counseling since, "forever." Generally the discussion includes references to the importance of being grounded in theory so that the practitioner is "doing counseling" instead of "chatting up" an acquaintance. To this end, understanding theory and using it to center oneself as a counseling professional is productive. However, when theory becomes the issue of primacy for the practitioner, everything else tends to follow...including the services the client/patient/individual receives from the counselor. Hence, the importance of identifying a theory of eclecticism or and integrated approach to counseling that recognizes the importance of theory-drive practice, but is nonetheless sensitive to the needs of the individual with whom the counselor is working.

I have found Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model of Counseling (sometimes referred to as the "stages of readiness to change" model - see to be the closest thing I have yet found to a bona fide “eclectic theory” of counseling. Its refocusing of the practitioner’s attention on the client by attending to his or her stage of readiness to change rather than presuming the primacy of the practitioner’s theoretical orientation is both refreshing as well as productive.

I agree that it is important to teach counseling theory as a “walk through the museum,” but the benefit of such a course is not that it shows student “how” to do counseling effectively so much as proffer an understanding of from “where” it originated. Personally, I have discovered that I need to have three things in order to “do” counseling effectively: (1) an understanding of why humans think and act the way we do – Personality Theory, (2) an understanding of the options available to me to do counseling – Counseling Theory, and (3) a personal “bag of tricks” born of training, experience, mentoring, etc. Whether one’s personal approach to counseling is a more fundamentalist’s adherence to “X” theory or integrated and eclectic personal approach, my argument is, one’s personal theory of counseling is essentially an amalgam of these three elements.

Prochaska’s model, for me, is a nice way to both honor the contributions of “theorists of yester year” while providing me the opportunity to practice “person-first” approaches that focus on meeting the client/patient/consumer where he or she is in the counseling process. If counseling is more about what we do with the individuals with whom we work than what we do to them, it seems that theory may well be an important component in the design of an effective vehicle to move folks from where they are to where they want to be, but it likely should not be “driving the bus.”

What do you think?

Dr. Robert


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