Two researchers, Corrine R. Sackett and Gerard Lawson, published a paper earlier this year in the Journal of Counseling and Development that explores the therapeutic process from the client’s perspective. Their paper, “A Phenomenological Inquiry of Clients’ Meaningful Experiences in Counseling with Counselors-in-Training,” aims to emphasize the client’s perspective because “[t]raditionally,” according to the paper’s authors, “researchers have examined the [therapeutic] process from the counselor’s perspective.”
Although volumes have been written about the therapeutic process for nearly a century, it’s rare that researchers focus on the experience of the client solely. In many instances, as illustrated by Sackett and Lawson, focus remains often on the practices of the therapist, therapeutic interventions, or theoretical frameworks. In particular, Sackett examined what clients find meaningful in their interactions with counselors-in-training (CIT). She found that clients emphasize the following themes and subthemes:
• The counseling relationship
• Transference and countertransference
Sackett and Lawson note that “[t]he counseling bond is paramount, and the client’s responses reflect this.” Moreover, the authors’ findings remain consistent with previous research. Sackett and Lawson note: “These findings are also compatible with other researchers’ findings that clients value feeling honored, understood, accepted, and cared for by their counselor.” To put it clearly, if the client does not experience some or all of the abovementioned themes and subthemes, he or she may not have successful therapeutic outcomes.
At its core, client-centered therapy remains a fairly new topic of investigation among researchers, but the evidence presented by Sackett and Lawson—and, of course, similar findings by other researchers—add weight to the discussion about the role of meaning-making by the client while in therapeutic contexts. Clients, for example, as Sackett and Lawson’s work suggests, must feel welcomed into the therapeutic process, and other such “constructivist” theories have it that the client must create meaning for him or herself in order to have positive therapeutic outcomes.
The researchers’ work is important because it sheds light on the important subject of client-centered therapeutic research. As noted from the outset, much research to this point has been methods focused or counselor focused. When attempting to assess whether a client has a meaningful experience with the therapist, it remains vital and important design studies that keep the client in mind. Another important finding in Sackett and Lawson’s study remains: “Clients in our study found counseling meaningful when they were given tangible activities in session that helped bring their lives, issues, and relationships into focus or that shed new light on things.”
Clients find meaning in their interactions with counselors when specific themes such as insight, goals, and emotion are present during the session. Finally, it remains important that more researchers focus on the experience of the client in the clinical environment. That way, perhaps more effective interventions may be established and clients may have more meaningful experiences.
Sackett, C. R., & Lawson, G. (2016). A Phenomenological Inquiry of Clients’ Meaningful Experiences in Counseling With Counselors-in-Training. Journal of Counseling & Development, 94(1), 62-71.