Counseling is both an art and a science since it combines the art of warm relationship with clients and the science of applying scientifically derived techniques to adequately deal with any issue of concern presented by a client. Murdoch & Barker (1991) stated that all behavioural approaches to therapy have a common aim of direct modification of observable behavior which has been identified by the client as in need of change.
The client scenario is that of a person frequently faced by fear of heights that has further disrupted her way of life. This fear of heights is usually referred to as acrophobia. I have chosen to apply behavioral counseling to assist this client. The following is the hypothetical counseling session:
Counselor: Good morning Jenny, you are welcome.
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Jenny: Good morning, Thank you
Counselor: (observing her body language), you look a bit tired.
Jenny: (looking hesitant), sure, I had a hard time getting to this floor, you know.
Counselor :( listening empathetically) I understand, each one of us has some form of normal fear of some objects or situations.
Jenny: So this is abnormal fear?
Counselor: As I told you last week, not really abnormal but rather it is a phobia that can be managed. Have you ever had an unpleasant experience in the past related to heights?
Jenny: Yes, in my childhood where I fell from the balcony of the apartment which my uncle had rented.
Counselor: Am sorry but that must have been an awful experience…
Jenny: Sure and I was lucky because I did not get any serious injury….
Counselor: Have you ever taken a flight?
Jenny: Once, I always find a reason to avoid getting on an aeroplane.
Counselor: What would you do if you got a job that requires you to take frequent flights?
Jenny: I think I would reject such an offer irrespective of the lucrative ness of the job.
Counselor: So it is this disruptive. What reactions do you have when on an elevated place?
Jenny: I mostly experience accelerated heart rate, sweating, dizziness and trembling.
Counselor: Those are some of the common symptoms of phobias. What would you identify as specific aspects of behavior that needs modification?
Jenny: I would like to feel comfortable when riding in a glass elevator or better still on an aeroplane.
Counselor: With time and commitment this is possible. We will work towards those goals in the subsequent counseling sessions using behavioral therapy approach.
Jenny: I really appreciate the assistance accorded to me. Thank you.
Some of the approaches in behavioral counselling or therapy are based on the principles of classical conditioning advanced by Ivan Pavlov (1927) such as systematic desensitization that is used to ‘cure’ some phobias. Murdoch & Barker (1991) describes systematic desensitization as a gradual process through which a client is exposed to the stimulus eliciting phobic attack from the least fearful situation to most fearful. For a client with acrophobia, I would begin by having her view a picture taken from high heights, standing on a chair, riding on a glass elevator and finally to peering from an edge. Due to the cultural background of my client who spent most of her childhood in the countryside where she was not used to viewing great heights, I would anticipate slow progress of this therapy. Nonetheless, I believe this therapy would be the most appropriate to deal with her problem.
In conclusion, behavioral counseling aims at direct modification of the client’s overt behaviors thus progress can be easily observed and measured. This approach states that since most behaviors are learnt then a person can get rid of a maladaptive behaviors such as phobias, panic attacks and addictions using the same principles of learning.