Approaches to Counseling-Part 1 (Psychodynamic, Adlerian, Person Centered Therapy)


In this article, we will be dealing with theoretical Approaches to Counseling. Including Psycho-dynamic, Adlerian, Person Centered Therapy, Gestalt and Existential Approach.

Biswalo (1996) defines counseling as a process of helping an individual to accept and to use information and advice so that he/she can either solve his/her present problem or cope with it successfully.

The American Counseling Association conference (2010), a consensus definition of counseling: “Counseling is a professional relationship that empowers diverse individuals, families, and groups to accomplish mental health, wellness, education, and career goals.”

Approaches to Counseling are classified as follows –

  • Psychoanalytic and Adlerian Approach
    • Psychoanalytic Approach
    • The Phenomenological (Adlerian) Approach
  • Person Centered Therapy, Existential and Gestalt Approaches
    • Person-Centered Approach
    • Existential Approach
    • Gestalt Approach
  • Rational Emotive Therapy and Transactional Analysis
    • Rational Emotive Therapy
    • Transactional Analysis
  • Behavioral Approach
  • Reality Therapy

Further, we will study about the following aspects of each perspective.

  • View of Human nature
  • Role of counselor
  • Goals
  • Techniques

Psychoanalytic and Adlerian Approach

Psychoanalytic Approach

This approach developed by Sigmund Freud in the early 1900s, involves analyzing the root causes of behavior and feelings. That was done by exploring the relation between conscious and unconscious

In fact, these therapies are based on an individual’s unconscious thoughts and perceptions that have developed throughout their childhood, and how these affect their current behavior.

  • View of Human Nature

The Freudian view of human nature is dynamic. According to him, human nature could be explained in terms of a conscious mind, a sub conscious and an unconscious mind. He introduced concepts like Id, Ego and Superego. Moreover, he proposed the theory of defense mechanisms that people use to protect ego from anxiety. For example – Repression, Reaction formation, Projection, Regression, Sublimation, Denial, Rationalization, Displacement and Intellectualization.

  • Role of counselor

Counselors who practice psychoanalysis play the role of experts. They encourage their clients to talk about whatever comes in their mind. Psychoanalytic counselors also use diagnostic labels to classify clients and help develop appropriate plans for them.

  • Goals

In most cases, a primary goal is to help the client become more aware of the unconscious aspects of his or her personality, which include repressed memories and painful wishes. A second major goal is to help a client work through a developmental stage, not resolved in primary goal. A final goal is helping clients cope with the demands of the society in which they live.

  • Techniques
  1. Free Association: Client reports immediately without censoring any feelings or thoughts
  2. Dream Analysis: In this clients report dreams to counselor on regular basis.
  3. Analysis of Transference: Transference is the client’s response to a counselor as if the counselor were some significant figure in the client’s past, usually a parent figure.
  4. Interpretation: Interpretation should consider part of all above mentioned techniques.

The Phenomenological (Adlerian) Approach

Alfred Adler attempts to view the world from the client’s subjective frame of reference.The basic premise is that human beings are always “becoming,” that we’re always moving toward the future and superiority.

  • View of Human Nature

He emphasized that it is not the childhood experiences that are crucial but it is our present interpretation of these events. Another major component of his theory is that people strive to become successful. If this need is fulfilled, the person develops a superiority complex otherwise the person can develop inferiority complex.

  • Role of counselor

Adlerian counselors function primarily as diagnosticians, teachers and models in equalitarian relationships they establish with their clients. They try to assess why clients are oriented to a certain way of thinking and behaving.

  • Goals

The goals of Adlerian counseling revolve around helping people develop healthy life styles. 4 major goals –

    • Establishment and maintenance of an egalitarian counseling relationship.
    • Analysis of a client’s life style.
    • Interpretation of client’s life style in such a way that [promotes insight].
    • Re-orientation and re-education of the client with accompanying behavior change.
  • Techniques

Techniques like confrontation, encouragement, task setting, push button are used.


Person Centered Therapy, Existential and Gestalt Approaches

Person Centered Therapy

This approach, founded by Carl Rogers in the 1940’s, is based on the belief that people have the capacity and the right to move toward self-actualization. This approach views the client as their own best authority
on their own experience, and the client is fully capable of fulfilling their own potential for growth.

  • View of Human Nature

Rogers believed that people are essentially good. Rogers views the individual from a phenomenological perspective, that is according to him the important aspect is the person’s perception of reality rather than an event itself.

  • Role of counselor

The counselor’s role is a holistic one. He or she sets up and promotes a climate in which the client is free and is encouraged to explore all aspects of self.

  • Goals 

Rogers emphasizes that people need to be assisted in learning how to cope with situations. The client moves towards the goals of realization, fulfillment, autonomy, self determination, and perfection by becoming more realistic in their perceptions.

  • Techniques
  1. Unconditional positive regard: It means that the counselor accepts the client unconditionally and non judgmentally.
  2. Empathetic understanding: The counselor accurately understands the client’s thoughts, feelings, and meanings from the client’s own perspective.
  3. Congruence: It means that the counselor is authentic and genuine and transparent to the client.

Existential Approach

Existential approach can be described as a philosophical approach that is not designed to cure people but instead helps the client reflect and search for value and meaning in life.

The existential perspective was introduced into the US by Rollo May. He believed that individuals can only be understood in terms of their subjective sense of self.

  • View of Human Nature

Human beings form their lives by the choices they make. They focus on the freedom of choice and the action that goes with it.

According to Frankl (1962), the meaning of life always changes but it never ceases to be. We can discover life’s meaning in three ways: By doing a deed. By experiencing a value. By Suffering.

  • Role of counselor

Existential counselors are focused on helping the client achieve and expand their self awareness. The counselor’s responsibility is to be aware of his or her own biases and prejudices.

The counselor must be sensitive to and help the client explore his  weaknesses, limitations and responsibilities as well as his strengths, opportunities and freedoms

  • Goals
    • To enable people to become more truthful with themselves.
    • Help the clients to reflect upon and understand their existence.
    • Take responsibility for decisions.
    • Help people examine roots of some of their anxieties and learn how to better cope with them.
  • Techniques

The interventions are based on philosophical views about the nature of human existence. It is free to draw techniques from other orientations. The use of counselor’s self is the core of therapy.

The most effective and powerful technique counselors have is the relationship with the client. They also make use of confrontation. Existential counselors borrow some techniques such as imagery exercises, awareness exercises goal
setting activities etc., from other models.

Gestalt Approach

Gestalt approach is an integrative orientation. In that it focuses on whatever is in the client’s awareness. This term was first used as the title of a book, written by Fritz Perls, (1951).

“Gestalt,” a German word meaning “whole” . It operates as a therapy by keeping the person in what is known as the here and now. In this approach, feelings, thoughts, body sensations and actions are all used as a guide to understanding what is central for the client in each moment.

An emphasis is placed on personal responsibility for one’s own well being.

View of Human Nature

Gestalt counselors believe that human beings work for wholeness and completeness in life. Human nature is rooted in existential philosophy, phenomenology, and field theory.

Role of counselor

Gestalt counselor can help their client to both work through and move beyond their painful emotional blocks.The
counselor must pay attention to clients’ awareness, to clients’ verbal and nonverbal message. He/she is exciting, energetic, fully human and personally involved.


The main goal is to increase the client’s awareness of “what is.” Awareness includes knowing the environment, knowing oneself, accepting oneself, and being able to make contact. The approach stresses present awareness and the quality of contact between the individual and the environment.


Some of the most innovative techniques ever developed are found in Gestalt therapy. These take 2 forms:

  1. Exercise – Ready-made techniques such as enactment of fantasies, role playing, psychodrama, dream work, empty chair, confrontation such as what and how, making the rounds, exaggeration.
  2. Experiments –
    • Internal dialogue exercise
    • Making the rounds
    • Reversal technique
    • Rehearsal exercise
    • Exaggeration exercise
    • Staying with the feelings

We will see the next 4 approaches in – Approaches to Counseling and Helping – Part 2


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