Relational Approach to Counselling, Attachment Theory and Repeating Relational Patterns
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The Relational Approach to Counselling
In this essay, I will discuss the relational approach in terms of attachment theory and repeating relational patterns. Further, I will show how the relational model builds on various theoretical perspectives namely the psychodynamic and humanistic traditions.
I will consider how the relational approach impacts on the counsellors way of being with the client. I will illustrate this with examples drawn from my own client base in my placement, without including any identifiable information in order to maintain confidentiality. I have referred to the individual clients concerned as clients A, B and C. Finally, I will then outline the implications of working with a culturally diverse population.
The Relational Approach and Attachment Theory
Several theories (Holmes, Paul & Pelham 1996, p229) have been formulated over recent years in order to understand the intricacies of human relationships, namely Gestalt theory and the Relational Approach. I will discuss only the latter in this essay.
The relational model of counselling brings together the psychodynamic and humanistic traditions.
Psychodynamics is a theory and systematic study of the relationship between conscious and unconscious motivations. Early psychodynamic theory was developed by Sigmund Freud and by the mid 1950s the general application of this theory had been well established. Psychodynamic counselling tries to get the client to bring to the surface their true feelings which are present in the subconscious. It is very directive, analytical and clinical method of counselling. The humanistic approach arose as a response to Freuds negative view of human behaviour. It was developed during the 1950s by Maslow and Rogers among others.
They believed in order for a person to become a self actualised fully able person they need as well as their basic needs (food and shelter) humans need to feel safe, loved and accepted and only then they can love themselves. An important facet of this approach is self examination and the belief that we all have the capacity to grow, and resolve our own problems. A combination of these theories enables the counsellor to be more integrative and flexible within their work with clients.
The relational approach concentrates not only on the client and his/her issues but also on the relationship between counsellor and the client. A central defining assumption of this approach is the importance of relations in the development of self, especially childhood and infancy (Greenberg & Mitchell 1983).
In our day to day relationships we act in certain ways (sometime subconsciously) that lead us to be treated by others in ways that form often repeating patterns of behaviour. We fall into patterns of behaviour which can have a negative effect on our lives. These behavioural patterns also get acted out within the client counsellor relationship; this is referred to as transference which I am going to discuss later in this essay.
Experiencing these common behaviours within a therapeutic relationship (in an atmosphere of trust and safety) can be enough to bring about lasting changes. It is essential therefore to spend the first few sessions with a new client establishing a good working relationship.
One way we deal with negative childhood experiences is using defence mechanisms such as denial or repression. These are usually subconsciously done and emerged to keep painful feelings and memories out of the conscious mind.
Counsellors therefore need to ensure that clients feel safe enough to explore their issues and the ways in which they protect themselves. The counsellor needs to ensure they do not exacerbate the problem by responding to the client in ways which reinforce their fears and thus repeat past emotional trauma. Counsellors should be empathetic, understanding and non judgmental. As Kahn noted ” if we can make it possible for our clients to become aware that their worlds are coming to rest in us, and if we can be there, fully there, to receive their awareness and respond to it, the relationship cannot help but become therapeutic” (Kahn 1997, p177).
Attachment Theory and Repeating Patterns
Attachment theory is the key to understanding relational patterns. It was developed by John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth after World War II (Bowlby 1988) and it describes the dynamics of early and long term relationships. “Defence and the integrity of the individual organism are central to physical health. Attachment theory takes as starting point a comparable need for psychological security, and sees much psychological ill-health as resulting compromised safety systems” (Holmes 2001, p1). Attachment research suggests that once relational patterns have become established they tend to be transmitted from generation to generation (Holmes 2001 p65). This is likely to be unconsciously done as the behavioural patterns of parents handed on to their children.
For example Holmes describes a client who2 avoidant attachment style arose out of a childhood need to remain to a father who could not himself tolerate closeness. This 2identification with the aggressor, or avoidant attachment style, led him perpetuate a rigid of unsatisfying relationships (Holmes 2001 p68).
Its most important tenet is that an infant needs to develop a healthy relationship with at least one. It primary caregiver for social and emotional development to occur normally and that further relationships are built on the patterns developed in the earliest relationship (Bowlby 1988).
Positive attachment occurs where the parents are consistently attentive to the needs of the child and provide a secure base from which the child can confidently explore the world and its surrounding (Bowlby 1988). Psychological ill health occurs when the secure base is compromised for example when a child feels rejected buy her/his primary care givers.
Mary Ainsworth further expounded on attachment theory and developed three kinds of attachment patterns which will be described below.
Repeating Patterns of Attachment
Mary Ainsworth (1978, 1991) identified three types of attachment patterns: One is the secure base attachment. This means the child will be happy and secure in responding when a difficult situation arrives. This gives them confidence to learn to explore and find out.
The second pattern is the anxious/resistant attachment. This means the child is unsure if a response will be available. This will result in anxiety and separation and he/she will be apprehensive