Counseling Stages – Exploration, Planning, Action


Counselling is an interpersonal process through which guidance and support is provided to persons with psychological problems. This process is for bringing about self transformation in the person. It is the process by which a skilled person aids another person. Counseling is not a one time event or meeting. It is carried over a period of time and there are various counseling stages.

Each stage is distinctively different and the counselors have to follow a sequence of steps in each stage. Further the counselor is required to use specific skills in each stage.

Counseling Stages

According to G. Egan, G. (1986) successful counselling can be seen as a three stage process

  •  Exploration: The client clarifies their problems that have brought them to counselling. They explore and clarify problems. The counselor helps the client tell his or her story, focusing and clarifying. In addition, pointing out blind spots and helping to generate new perspective.
  •  Planning: They develop strategies to improve their situation. The client develops a plan for change. The client imagines a new scenario and develops goals to achieve it. The counselor encourages a commitment to change.
  •  Action: One takes concrete steps to achieve measurable change. The client moves toward the preferred scenario. The counselor helps the client develop strategies for action. Moreover, encourages him or her to implement plans and achieve goals.

Fuster (2005), while presenting the Carkhuff’s models of counselling has presented the counselling process in five stages as –

  • Attending
  • Responding
  • Personalizing
  • Initiating
  • Evaluating.

He has also given the details of attitudes and skills required of the counselor at each stage. In literature about counselling, one also finds the process comprising of four stages as

  • Initial interview
  • The assessment
  • The middle phase
  • The termination.

The counselling process is on the basis of the stages mentioned above.

Preparatory Stage

  • The preparatory stage is very important for the counselor and the counselee. This stage is prior to the actual counselling process. It is the point when the client/ person is getting ready to accept professional help. The preparatory stage helps the client to get to know the counselor better, and to obtain reassurance. In fact, even crisis support when necessary.
  • At this stage, the client and the counselor approach each other and try to understand the possibilities of working out an agreement between them. The counselor explains the nature and goals of counselling, and they agree upon the practical arrangements for counselling with the client.
  • This stage is important for the counselors as it helps them to know the client better. Moreover, make appropriate plans for the intervention.
  • The skills of attending physically consist of the counselor’s ability to give their full attention to the counselee. In fact, to communicate his/her interest through nonverbal messages.
  •  The skill steps of attending physically are four actions or behaviors, which should flow from the attitudes of respect, genuineness and empathy. The skills of observing at this stage consist of the counselor’s ability to see the counselee’s behaviors and take clues from their non-verbal messages. The observation helps the counselor in understanding how the client feels.
  • Fuster (2005) has listed some of the questions that the counselee raises at this stage. The counselee has many questions in his/her mind, such as –
        1. Is the counselor interested in me?
        2. Is he/she willing to give me time and listen carefully?
        3. Can I share my intimate thoughts and feelings with him?
        4. Does the counselor has anything I can use?
        5. Would he be successful in my world?
        6. Can he help me?

Exploratory Stage

  • The exploratory stage is meant for entering into the counselee’s frame of reference in order to accurately understand how they experience the world.
  • The purpose of this stage is also building the counsellee’s trust in the counsellor.
  • Further the counselor tries to gather more facts and data about the counsellee and assess the client’s readiness to pass on to the next stage.

At this stage the information is obtained primarily from the client, but it may also be sought from significant others in the client’s life. (with the permission of the client)

The areas of enquiry for getting information include the following:

  • The problem, and its effects on the client and his environment
  • Probable factors that create and maintain these problems;
  • Probable factors that may relieve these problems;
  • The client’s understanding about the problem and efforts to tackle the problem.

Information is also obtained about the client’s personality and life which include:

  • The client’s adjustment at home, at work, with friends, with persons of the opposite sex, and with society in general
  • The client’s strengths and weaknesses, good and bad habits, likes and dislikes;
  • How the client spends his time or runs his life

After gathering data the counselor must integrate the data into something meaningful in order to appropriately respond to the clients’ feelings and content.

Thus, at this stage the counselors use the skill to label correctly the counselee’s feeling and the reason for the feeling.  As the counselor keeps accurate responding, the client builds up trust in the counsellor. This trust in the counselor together with the counselor’s attitudes of empathy, genuineness and respect will prepare the counseee to go deeper into self-exploration.

Planning Stage

  • The third one of the counseling stages is planning an intervention for the client. This stage is also called as personalizing the problem and the goal.
  • Once the client accepts and acknowledges the counselor’s response in the form of summary, s/he shows readiness to formulate appropriate goals and plans for the intervention. The counselor must ensure the clients readiness;
    otherwise the process will not be helpful to the client.
  • The counselor guides the client in setting the specific goals. The specific goals are useful in monitoring the progress of achieving these goals. Involvement of the client in setting the goals is very important.
  • At this stage, the counselor uses the skill of personalizing the problem and the goal together. This makes the client take responsibility and accept their contribution to the problem situation.
  • The counselee’s contribution to the problem or personal limitation must be expressed in concrete behavioral terms.
  • This contribution is something negative and is generally something that the counsellee is doing or not doing. In this case while planning the goal it is just the opposite of the problem and, thus it channels the counselee’s energy into something positive and constructive. For example, if the client’s problem is that he cannot control his temper, the goal is to control his temper.

It is the stage during which the counselor analyses the clients’ feelings and behavior, provides constant feedback, support and guidance to plan behavioral change. While planning change there are following questions are –

  • What are the emotional factors that have to be corrected to resolve the dysfunctional behavior?
  • The faulty ways of thinking that the client manifests that need to be corrected for a resolution of the dysfunctional behavior
  • The social and environmental factors that have to be addressed to resolve the dysfunctional behavior

Action stage

The focus of this stage is to motivate the client to act in order to solve his/her problem. This is done by identifying what can be done to reach the goal and by taking up specific steps in such a way that the counselee realizes that the goal is attainable.

The client is helped to achieve the goal through various available counselling models and techniques. Some of the models used at this stage are –

  • Rational Emotive Therapy (RET)
  • Transactional Analysis (TA)
  • Gestalt Psychotherapy (GT)
  • Learning theories (LT)

Some of the techniques used are supportive and behavioral, cognitive and psychoanalytical, problem solving and other. The therapeutic gains during the action stage include –
Resolution of emotional crisis

  • Resolution of problem behaviors
  • Uplifted self-confidence and self-esteem
  • Better self-control and frustration tolerance
  • Improving reality orientation and appraisal of threats
  • Modified communication and problem-solving skills
  • Improved overall adjustment, judgment, and emotional stability

Evaluation and Termination Stage

Evaluation is an important part of the counselling process. It is essential that the counselor undertakes evaluation before the termination of the process. Evaluating means to review how the counselee has taken the action in order to achieve the goal and in view of the plans how far the client is progressing.

However, at this stage the purpose is of terminating the process.

Counselling  is never abruptly terminated. The termination of counselling is systematically done after following a series of steps. The counsellor during the evaluation and termination stage ensures the followings –

1) Evaluating readiness for termination of counselling process;
2) Letting the client know in advance about the termination of counselling;
3) Discuss with client the readiness for termination;
4) Review the course of action plan;
5) Emphasis the client’s role in effecting change;
6) Warning against the danger of ‘flight into health’;
7) Giving instructions for the maintenance of adaptive functioning;
8) Discussion of follow up sessions; and
9) Assuring the availability of counsellor in case of relapse into dysfunction

Lastly, at this stage some discussion of follow up sessions and continued uncritical accessibility of the counselor to the clients is necessary. There is need for the client to continue to maintain contact with the counselor for continued assistance for the maintenance of the functional equilibrium.

The frequency of such followup sessions is based upon individual circumstances, and can increase or decrease depending upon the need. Therefore, the counselor should stress on ‘open doors’ which refers to easy accessibility of the counselor to the client.

The clients must feel that he/she need not feel guilt in case he/she relapses into dysfunction and he/she feels that the counselor will always be available to him/her.


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