Counseling is a growing process and it changes from one level to another level. In counseling, there must be a beginning, advance to another level and must have an end. According to some scholars and theorist, there are no fixed stages in the counseling process. For instance, Gerald Egan (1975) state that there are three stages to explain the counseling process, whereby Mizan Adiliah et al. (1995) explains the counseling process in seven stages. However, they have similar opinion among them from the aspect that counseling moves towards a direction in a proper order at each level. They also agreed that ‘building relationship stage’ is present throughout the counseling process at all levels.
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Sometimes when counselors are at a level and handling a theme for the discussion, some elements from the other levels also present at the same level. As said above, building relationship happens at all levels. Therefore, it is clearly seen that each level of counseling process doesn’t happen independently but it is continuous and sometimes elements from other level also overlaps. The duration to complete each level depends on the counselor himself.
As each level in the counseling should be developed from the beginning to the end, the theme of discussion at every level must be completed satisfactorily before moving to the next level of counseling process. If the discussion in the early stage of counseling is not satisfactory or incomplete, it will complicate the counseling process and the other levels won’t go on smoothly. In means that if the discussion at each stage is more streamlined and complete, the more successful the outcome of counseling process will be. Another thing that should be borne in mind by the counselor when discussing the themes at specific stages is that the counselor can change or direct the focus of discussion to any other stages to help stimulate the ongoing discussion. In addition to that, the counselors could also review the thoughts and feelings of the client, whether the client is consistent or not.
2.1 Prepare for Pre-session
In order to conduct an effective counseling session, physical setting is also essential. A counseling room should not be noisy or distracting. Erdman and Lampe (1996) believe that certain features of a counseling office will improve its general appearance and probably facilitate counseling by not distracting the client. These features include soft lighting, quiet colours, and an absence of clutter, harmonious, comfortable furniture and diverse cultural artifacts.
According to Hamdan (2009), the counselor should take initiative to know some information about the client when the client comes to make appointment for a counseling session. He adds on by saying this is in order to build the initial relationship with the client. Therefore, it is important that the background information of the client to be gathered. Through this conversation, the counselor can assess if they are capable of handling and managing the client’s problems and the client could also decide if they are comfortable with and trust the counselor before they can enter the relationship wholeheartedly. The counselor should use close ended question during the initial this stage as it is an effective way to gather information in such a short period. Furthermore, the counselor must bring the client to a comfort by showing that the counselor is genuine ready to provide help to the client and also display a non-threatening characteristic. During the pre-session, the counselors must clarify certain issues with the client (Burnard, 1996). Below are the important issues that should be discussed.
The frequency with which they will meet
The times they will meet
When it is anticipated that the relationship will end
Whether or not the two can talk confidentially
2.2 Building Relationship
Before starting the counseling session, a counselor must build a strong counseling relationship with the client. In this level, the counselor must create a conducive and therapeutic environment; determine the initial goal of counseling and structuring the counseling relationship. The counselor should lay a foundation for trust. At the beginning of the counseling process, clients are not confident with themselves, the counselors and the impact of counseling process. Apart from that, there are clients who can’t identify the exact problem they are facing. Due to these factors, the client is unable to communicate with the counselor openly. Therefore, it is the responsibility of the counselor to create an environment that builds trust, respect; honest and also an environment that makes the client feels secured.
Clients must get the comfortableness to communicate with the counselor, feels accepted and that the client is understood in the right way. So, the counselors should communicate with the client with interest, understanding and respect the client’s attitude, feelings and problems. He should give full attention to the client and consider the client as a respected and valued human being. According to Hamdan (2009), in this stage, counselor should also listen actively, consider how the client feels and thinks about the problem and give response to the client. This involves showing facial expressions that displays the interest of the counselor to share the problem with the client, understand their feelings and to relate to the client’s problem. Counselor should also be aware of his or her body posture and movement skill. For instance, the counselor needs to show a calm face posture, sit in the right position when counseling client, showing determination in responding to the clients and intonation that is soft and not threatening.
A client comes to meet a counselor in order to solve conflicts, problems or to seek for help to become a more effective person. Some clients are clear about the problems that there are facing and some will be in a blur situation not knowing the problem faced by themselves or the purpose of meeting a counselor. A client will express his or her problem to the counselor, however it is not necessary that this is the major problem faced by the client and the tendency to solve the problem may be weak, intermediate or high. Despite all these, the first thing that should be discussed is the goals to be achieved at the end of the counseling session. Nevertheless, the exact goals could only be determined after listening to the problems and making the client understand the actual problem he is facing.
A counseling relationship must be structured so that the client can clearly see the direction he or she leading to and understanding the counseling process. In the beginning, client will feel a bit difficult in understanding how the counseling process would help him or her (Burnard, 1996). He adds on by saying that the counselor and client should agree on few issues before starting a counseling process. Below are the issues that should be agreed beforehand.
Understanding of counseling process – Making the client understand the stages involved in counseling process and how counseling can help the client in solving the problem. Furthermore, the counselor should also explain the role of a counselor and counseling. A counselor must get as much information as needed, review it by taking into account the background of the client and values of counselor.
Clarification of matters that are involved in the counseling process – The counselor must explain to the client on the appointment date and timing, the duration of the session, how frequent the meeting would be and lastly the duration for the whole process of counseling to end.
Confidentiality – The counselor should also state that the issues discussed in the counseling session will remain confidential.
A counselor must show high ethical behavior during the counseling sessions. In the initial stages of counseling, the counselor should make clear of the confidentiality of the counseling sessions and the competencies of the counselor. This would lay a foundation for trust.
2.3 Exploring and analyzing problem
At this stage, the counselors should assist clients by paying attention on exploring, understanding, analysing self perception and client’s perception about the problem. To understand the client and his or her thoughts, counselor must first explore widely the scope of the client’s problem in the real world. Besides that, the counselor should also understand how the clients think, the way he changes and also understand the extent to which it is difficult for him to make changes. The counselor must understand the inner strength of the client and how can the client get external power.
In this level, the counselors can assist client to change his or her awareness of the problem to a deeper awareness that shows the importance of counseling in solving the client’s problems. The major function of a counselor at this stage is to understand the reasons the client seeking for counseling. To ease the process of exploring, the client must identify if the problem expressed by the client is the real problem that he or she is facing. In addition to that, the counselor also must identify the context and environment at the time and place the problem occurred. Counselor should also analyse if the problem is critical or not, how long has it been since the problem happened, assess the extent of the problem have involved other people, especially the closest person to the client and the impact of this problem on the closest people in the client’s life, if it has made any changes.
This exploration process will be more effective and successful if the counselors listen actively, gives explanation to the issues raised, support and encourage the clients and also treat them as a valued person. The counselors should ask open ended questions during this process in order to gain more information and also the counselor must be aware that the client is not showing too much of dependency on the counselor. A counselor could actually probe information from the client by asking how the client solved previous problems that were similar to the problem that the client is facing presently. For an example, the counselor can obtain information such as the approaches the client attempt when trying to solve the previous problem, has the client discussed previously regarding his problem with someone that is close to find solution, changing his or her environment, trying new approach and etc.
This exploration process can make the client’s refusal in addressing the problem, or difficulties that the client experienced through the process of solving the problem. In this exploration stage, counselor finds ways or temporary solutions or tentative plans or strategies to help clients at the next level.
2.4 Identifying the roots or source of the problems
Many times the only way to solve a problem is to get to the root of it. This involves figuring out when it started, how it started and why it still continues to be a problem. The counselor can assist the client in solving the roots of their problems which will then eliminate the symptoms attached to them. A good counselor can help change your personal problems from the roots on up.  This requires time and patience on the part of the person seeking help.
According to Hamdan (2009), it is difficult to find the main grounds of complex problems. He also said that this may be due to three main factors which includes destiny, the cause of the problem could be a different individual but involves the client as well and lastly would be the client’s own weaknesses.
2.5 Discussing alternatives
Once the feelings have been expressed, the next stage involves assisting the client to identify ways to deal with or cope with the problems. Not all problems can be sorted out and has a solution. However, the counselor has assisted the client to identify a situation that was unclear. The next thing is to draw out a plan to make the situation more lively and clear. The counselor helps to recognise the ability and resources and then discuss the alternatives if the problem could be solved.
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According to Burnard (1996), most counseling theorists agree that it is the client who should identify solutions to problems and this process can be encouraged by a ‘brainstorming’ session. He says that in brainstorming, the client is encouraged to think diversely about possible ways of resolving his or her present situation and nothing need to be excluded at this stage. The counselor must motivate and encourage the client to be creative and spontaneous as well as thoughtful, logical and sensible. The idea is to generate as many solutions as possible. Out of this usually comes an evident solution. There are few issues that should be given importance in this process. As suggested by Hamdan (2009), this process involves:
Client is given the opportunity to make choices
Set aside adverse and inappropriate alternatives
The alternatives must be discussed and decided by both client and counselor
Study the advantages and disadvantages of each alternative
Out of the process of reaching an idea about how things might be resolved comes the need to identify a practical plan of action. A plan of action identifies a method and pathway for achieving a desired result. It specifies what the subordinate must do to reach agreed-upon goals set during the counseling session. The plan of action must be specific, showing the subordinate how to modify or maintain his or her behavior. It is helpful if this plan is committed to paper. However, some people prefer a more relaxed approach to such planning. The point is that the plan should be both reasonable and achievable.
2.6 Taking action or implementing the plan
The counselor should ask if the client understands and agrees with the proposed plan of action. This stage of counseling is carried out by the client almost independently of the counselor (Burnard, 1996). In this stage, the action which was planned earlier will be implemented. The main task at this stage is to help clients solve problems and guide the client in order to function effectively. Clients need emotional support, encouragement and reinforcement of what they have newly learned. According to Burnard (1996), change is very difficult for most people; it often brings with it a degree of anxiety and it is the counselor’s function to help the client to deal with that anxiety.
In this stage, appropriate counseling approach must be used. The approach to be used must be based on a specific strategy that focuses on increasing the level of client’s mental, welfare, the emotions, or even increase the level of client’s potential to act with more appropriate behavior. If the counselor feels that his client needs help to get factual information, or clients need help to make a decision, or the client shows the thinking process that is not reasonable, then the emphasis in counseling should be given to the cognitive emphasis (Carroll, 1996).
The duration of the implementation of the actions should also be determined at this stage. In addition to that, a leader always benefits from documenting the main points of a counseling session, even the informal ones. Documentation serves as a ready reference for the agreed-upon plan of action and helps the leader track the subordinate’s accomplishments, improvements, personal preferences, or problems. A good record of counseling enables the leader to make proper recommendations for professional development, promotions, and evaluation reports.
Furthermore, with the client’s presence, establish any follow-up measures necessary to support the successful implementation of the plan of action. Follow-up measures may include providing the subordinate with specific resources and time, periodic assessments of the plan, and additional referrals. If possible, schedule future meetings before dismissing the subordinate.
After implementing the first alternative, the client will discuss with the counselor if the goal has been achieved and the problem has been solved. If the problem has still not been solved, the counselor must suggest to the client to try to implement the other alternatives which was discussed in the previous stage. However, should the problem been solved after implementing the alternatives, the counselor can then continue to the next stage which is the termination of counseling session.
2.7 Termination of the session
Once the problems have been solved, hence, the counseling session can be terminated. Many fail to understand the importance of terminating the counseling relationship and ignore this stage in a counseling process. It is stated by Gladdings (2004) that termination should be planned because if the relationship is ended too soon, clients may lose the ground they gained in counseling and regress to earlier behaviors. He also added on that if termination is never addressed, clients can become dependent on counselor and fail to resolve difficulties and grow as persons. The three main aspects that should be completed at this stage are stated below.
The development of the client throughout the counseling sessions must be formulated and the effects must be evaluated.
Other issues that must be resolved at this time must be presented.
Ways to maintain the growth of the client must be analysed after the termination of the counseling sessions.
Both the clients and counselors must be prepared for these endings. One way to facilitate this preparation is through the use if structure, such as time frames, and both verbal and nonverbal signals (Gladdings, 2004). The clients must learn how to solve the problem by themselves so that they don’t depend on their counselors when they face difficult life situations in future. However, not all issues can be solved by clients but if the goals which were agreed-upon at the beginning of the counseling session have been achieved, then the counseling session can be terminated. Nevertheless, the client can be given permission to contact the counselor again if needed. Once the termination is completed, it is helpful to conduct some type of follow-up within a year (Gladdings, 2004). The counselors can contact their clients to evaluate the client’s performance and also to check if the problem has been solved completely.
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