In The Therapeutic Alliance (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.), Dr. Seligman claims that without such an alliance between the counselor and the client, therapy cannot be successful. Corey (2009) calls counseling "an intimate form of learning" (p. 17) that demands authentic involvement on the part of the counselor, which, in turn, inspires openness and honesty in the client. Developing a strong therapeutic relationship depends on the strength of the counselor's essential characteristics. Identifying personal strengths and weaknesses in these characteristics is part of understanding and learning to function effectively as the "most important instruments (counselors) have to work with" (Corey, 2009, p. 17).
An Essential Characteristic
One essential characteristic that will be a personal area of strength is empathy that includes an authentic interest in the welfare of my clients. I can empathize deeply with others and relate to the human qualities of struggle and challenge as well as joy and victory. As Dr. Seligman (Laureate Education, Inc., n.d.) discussed, having empathy toward clients enables a deep understanding of the circumstances within which the client resides. When creating a therapeutic alliance, being genuinely empathetic helps the client remain open and find safety in the client/counselor relationship.
Creating a safe, empathetic relationship in the counseling process is foundational in beginning the process of growth and healing. Developing an empathetic client-centered environment, especially during the initial meetings, provides the client with the security of a safe context within which he or she may share pertinent information. Additionally, such a setting provides the opportunity for the counselor to gain a deep understanding of the client's issues and challenges (Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning, 2005). With a natural tendency to empathize with others, I will understand the needs of my clients, and help them identify and maximize strengths as well as foster areas of deficiency.
A Challenging Characteristic
The most challenging personal characteristic will be developing and maintaining healthy boundaries. Because I become deeply involved in the challenges of others and empathize with their personal issues, I may find it difficult to keep client issues separate and maintain healthy boundaries. It is not unusual for counselors to experience their clients' trauma or burnout (Baird & Kracen, 2006). Consequently, it is common for mental health counselors to return to individual therapy at various times in their careers (Corey, 2009).
As a proactive resolution for my personal tendency, practicing self-care diligently, maintaining a peer support network, and as balanced a lifestyle as possible will help to resolve any boundary issues. I will enlist the help of another counselor as a beneficial and essential part of maintaining personal mental health, especially for issues that defy self-resolution. In addition, practicing spiritual awareness and self-reflection will promote clarity and the maintenance of healthy boundaries.
The healthy progress of my clients will depend, at least in part, on my health and well being as it contributes to my ability to counsel appropriately and effectively. Developing and maintaining effective personal characteristics will promote my ability to authentically and honestly "hold out hope to (my) clients that they can change and truly like the person they are becoming" (Corey, 2009, p. 17).
Baird, K., & Kracen, A. C. (2006). Vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress: A research synthesis. Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 19(2), 181-188. doi: 10.1080/09515070600811899
Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning (Producer). (2005). Integrative Counseling [DVD].
Corey, G. (2009). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.
Laureate Education, Inc. (Producer). (n.d.). The Therapeutic Alliance [Steaming video].