Sunday, June 10, 2012

Theoretical Orientation

Because I believe finding or developing meaning and purpose in one's life is central to psychological health and well-being (Ryff & Singer, 1998; Steger, 1998) my present theoretical orientation has an existential and humanistic foundation with some psychoanalytic and cognitive influences as well. For example, I believe people's sense of purpose infiltrates the whole of who they are and their intrinsic desire toward self-fulfillment, but early childhood and life experiences contribute to patterned ways of thinking that tend to disarm and disturb a person's natural ability for self-fulfilling growth. Ultimately, I find a personal sense of meaning in research that suggests well-being and psychological health directly correlate with having meaning and purpose in life. Hence, I believe the revitalization of these concepts in therapeutic interventions has a lasting effect on clients (Frankl, 1963; Wadsworth & Baker, 1976).

Insights and their Implications

This week's video reminds me that my worldview informs everything I do, and the two cannot be disconnected (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010). In essence, the integration of worldview into theoretical orientation is a natural process incited by the resonance between our values, beliefs, and experiences and one or more theoretical approaches. Remembering that I see the world as I am rather than how it might actually be, instead of a conscious determination of the best or most appropriate psychological theories, I am naturally drawn toward those that have a visceral personal significance. Consequently, it is not from a dogmatic theoretical understanding that counselors engage clients, but because of how they intrinsically develop their theoretical orientation by virtue of the composite of their personal beliefs, values, and experiences. The implications of accepting and evolving my personal theoretical orientation is that I can understand it as a vehicle by which to appreciate the world of others. It is not a truth, but a reflection of my own unique human perspective. As I learn to deeply appreciate my own developmental process, I can embrace and appreciate the worlds of my clients.

Secondly, implementing a fundamental group of theories is not a contractual agreement between the counselor and the theoretical orientation, severed only by a breach in agreement. A counselor's foundational orientation does not necessarily dictate how counselors practice, but will generally inform the therapeutic process. As Jason Patton described, counselors develop a fundamental intentionality from which they practice (Laureate Education, Inc., 2010). This intentionality neither dictates every interaction and intervention, nor does it create strict boundaries within which counselors must practice.

Although it appears that intentionality is chosen, more likely it is the underlying human condition of the individual counselor, and it changes and grows along with him or her (Bitar, Bean, & Bermúdez, 2007). This, of course, includes personal affects as well as well as clinical and educational training. The implications of this understanding in practice will contribute to my personal and professional evolution as I integrate various theories and experiences. This will help me support, encourage, and advocate for the appropriate growth and development of my clients with intervention techniques supported by a personally fitting intentionality that resonates equally with my clients.


Taking into consideration the individual and unique cultural context of each client will always remain important. We can use techniques or integrate several from other theoretical approaches that may resonate with a particular client. For example, if I am working with a client who has clearly misappropriated thoughts about a particular object or circumstance, cognitive therapy may be the most appropriate intervention, although I would not fail to at least consider the genesis of the misappropriated thoughts, perhaps established in childhood, or as the result of some deeper self-perceived shortcoming.

One important aspect of understanding how deeply intertwined worldview and theoretical approach may be, is to be conscious of how readily I might tend to impose personal beliefs and values onto clients, even within the most positive aspects of my intentionality. As important as it is to understand personal perspectives as they relate to how I practice, it is equally important to reflect on the importance of personal worldview without trying to convince others to perceive it similarly.


Bitar, G., Bean, R., & Bermúdez, J. M. (2007). Influences and processes in theoretical orientation development: a grounded theory pilot study. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 35(2), 109-121. doi: 10.1080/01926180600553407

Frankl, V.E. (1963). Man's search for meaning: an introduction to logotherapy. New York: Washington Square Press.

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2010). Techniques in counseling. Baltimore, MD: Author.

Ryff, C. D., & Singer, B. (1998). The contours of positive human health. Psychological Inquiry, 9, 1-28.

Steger, M. F. (1998). Experiencing meaning in life: Optimal functioning at the nexus of well-being, psychopathology, and spirituality. In The human quest for meaning: A handbook of psychological research and clinical applications (2nd ed., pp. 1-19). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Wadsworth, A. P., & Barker, H. R., Jr. (1976). A comparison of two treatments for depression: the antidepressive program vs. traditional therapy. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 32,445-449.

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