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Psychological counselor training should cultivate independent personality

CHEN QI and JIANG KE | 2019-09-26
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
 
At present, the national professional certification program for psychological counselors has been canceled, and a new accepted standard has yet to be formed, belying an ongoing conflict regarding the ideal personal character of counselors. Photo: FILE
 

 
Since the national professional certification program for psychological counselors was canceled in 2017, the future of the psychological counseling industry has been heatedly discussed, such as who should be in charge of the industry, who should be responsible for certifying psychological counselors, and what kind of psychological counselors we need in China.
 
On the one hand, it seems an indisputable fact that we need psychological counselors. On the other hand, there is no consensus on how to train a qualified psychological counselor. At present, the old standard has been abolished, but a new accepted standard has yet to be formed, belying an ongoing conflict regarding the ideal personal character of counselors. This conflict facing counselors is what has been called the “personality paradox.”
 
 
Independent personality
More than any other profession, psychological counselors need an “independent personality,” essentially a sturdy sense of self that can hold its own viewpoints against the sway of clients and society. No matter what a counselor’s theoretical schools and tactics are, their work objectives are mainly achieved through interpersonal communication with clients. This process is the interaction between the personalities of the counselor and the client. 
 
The client comes in with a problem, the typical essence of which is an unusual or wrong way of interacting with others or with himself or herself. What the counselor should do is to influence the client to adjust their own personality and way of interacting with others through the corrective example of the counselor’s established personality. Therefore, in a sense, the independent personality is a tool for psychological counselors to achieve their goals.
 
The process of personality interaction between the counselor and the client is not always peaceful, and sometimes there will be fierce conflicts and confrontations. At such times, the counselor’s professionalism is reflected in their ability to use tactics to overcome the client’s resistance without being dragged along by them and thereby to control the consultation process. 
 
At this point, the counselor’s strong independent personality is the basis for them not to lose themselves in the counseling. It is evident that such an outcome cannot be achieved by consulting tactics alone. Therefore, it can be said that independent personality is also a guarantee for the counselor’s own occupational safety and mental health.
 
Furthermore, the counselor’s job is to discuss the client’s dilemmas with them. Therefore, the counselor should try not to make a value judgment, nor make a diagnosis of what is “normal” or “abnormal,” rather they should lead the client to locate the root of the issue. 
 
In this process, a counselor needs to be independent of mainstream values of judgment, stay clear from personal preference and hold a detached attitude toward the client. Otherwise, the counselor may end up relying excessively on social popularity or mainstream value judgments in their evaluation, resulting in a tendency to treat all clients as patients or to fabricate various psychological diseases and arbitrarily impose them. 
 
It should be noted that the psychological counselor is not a psychiatrist and thus is not qualified to make a diagnosis of mental disease. Instead, they should restrict themselves to only discussing problems with clients. Therefore, the independent personality is also the basis by which psychological counselors keep within their professional boundaries.
 
 
Status quo
However, we also see that, in reality, psychological counselors face multiple difficulties in the development of an independent personality. First of all, the growth and training of psychological counselors is a process that makes them more and more attached to a certification organization or supervision mechanism, at the risk of losing their independent thinking.
 
Second, due to the pressure from mainstream social and cultural value orientation, it is not easy for psychological counselors to preserve their independent personality. When the whole society is advocating a certain standard of success, everyone is somewhat impacted. 
 
In fact, we can see a lot of psychological counselors trying to package themselves as celebrities to maximize their personal benefits. Though we cannot prevent a counselor from pursuing fame and wealth, we must be concerned that their independent personality may have been compromised.
When chasing fame, some counselors may defend themselves by saying that this is just a stage in their personal development. A developing counselor needs to gain enough experience and popularity to support their professional development, and once they obtain enough experience and confidence, they can still return to cultivating an independent personality.
 
This is indeed a discussion about persona. The term, coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, refers to a state that one can arrive at as a compromise between one’s innate psychological constitution and society. Once a psychological counselor starts to pursue fame and wealth, he or she will somewhat become the same person as his or her clients and suffer the same trouble. When suffering from similar problems to the client, a psychological counselor will unconsciously project their own problems on to the client, which will not help the client but pile on their troubles.
 
Another argument is that psychological counselors must adapt to the needs of the market for their own survival. Without certain fame, it will be difficult for counselors to receive cases, which in turn means less experience, popularity and income to support the development of the individual. In the end, the counselor may be kicked out of the industry.
 
It is because of this reality that the counselor is confronted with a dual challenge of keeping an independent personality and having to be subject to the rules of survival. The conflict between the two constitutes the personality paradox faced by psychological counselors.
 
 
Transcendence, independence
To solve the conflict, we propose to change the current training model, so that psychological counselors can gain an independent personality—a prerequisite for the profession.
 
We must recognize that the fundamental goal of any training model is to produce qualified psychological counselors. If we agree that, in addition to professional knowledge and skills, an independent personality is the most important quality for a psychological counselor, then the question becomes, “What would a counselor with an independent personality look like?”
 
We believe that psychological counselors with an independent personality should not go along with the crowd but rather hold firmly to their stance in therapy, abide by their own standards and professional ethics, and make judgments without the interference of external forces.
 
The “I” is an obsession attached to self-esteem, status, honor and other desires, and it is generated in relation to other people. Therefore, it is difficult to form an independent personality when an individual is obsessed with “self.” 
 
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, no self is at the core of self-realization and transcendental experience. Independent personality means a kind of detachment and independence. Detachment demands that an individual go beyond established norms and standards when making decisions and judgments, and rather pose questions or emendations to rules based on general principles, which is the so-called conscience. 
 
For example, in Kohlberg’s dilemma task, teenagers with the highest level of moral cognition were able to go beyond the one-dimensional criteria of “stealing is bad” or “saving people is good” to judge the good and wrong of the characters in the story in the sense of justice and fairness. This is a kind of transcendence.
 
When one is able to face the world in a detached and independent state, one can have a richer vision of the world. It will be easier for one to find patterns in complex phenomena, accurately describe a problem, and separate the problem from the specific situation. This is precisely what a qualified counselor needs in order to help clients.
 
Chen Qi is from the School of Nursing at Wenzhou Medical University; Jiang Ke is from the School of Mental Health at Wenzhou Medical University.