Counseling for Effective Decision Making

Toward Synthesis: The Components of Counseling, Problem Solving, and Decision Making

So far in this book we have seen that except for the area of vocational choice, behavioral counseling researchers generally have not bothered to develop a technology for helping clients improve the quality of their personal decision making. But behaviorists do not shoulder the blame alone. The other major counseling theories either ignore the topic of decision making or address it imperfectly. We have also seen that although the languages of behavioral counseling and classical decision theory permit a moderate degree of cross-referencing, much research in the latter held is irrelevant or inapplicable to counseling. Fortunately, however, the recent emergence of cognitive behaviorism, the evolution of new perspectives in decision theory, and the presence of pertinent work in the amorphous problem-solving literature all hold promise for the development of a technology to help clients resolve problems of choice.

In this chapter I plan to lay the foundation for an operational model of decision-making counseling. The model will be more fully explicated in the chapters to follow. For the moment I would like to focus on a general overview of the major components of counseling, into which descriptions of the various stage theories of problem solving and decision making can be neatly fitted. In confronting this task I am acutely aware of some painfully precise comments of my good friend and colleague, Kenneth W. Hylbert, to the effect that much of what passes for scholarship is simply the relocating of bones from one academic graveyard to another followed by capping them off with a new headstone. Readers more interested in synthesis than historical background may prefer simply to glance through the material in table 11.2 and skip ahead to the sections in this chapter entitled "General Summary of Counseling Models" and "A Summary Model of the Stages in Problem Solving and Decision Making."

An Overview of Counseling

Chapters 7, 8, and 9 were laden with counseling theory, which, as my students keep telling me, may be as helpful to the neophite counselor as romance magazines are to the novice dater. Neither dictates what to do after you say "hello." A number of authors have responded to the need expressed by many counselor trainees for a procedural road map pointing out where to go in counseling and how to get there. In this section I will briefly review three such responses that I feel are distinguished by their clarity and precision.

Winborn and Associates

Five faculty members in the counselor education program at Michigan State University (H. M. Burks, J. R. Engelkes, R. G. Johnson, N. R. Stewart, and B. B. Winborn) have collaborated in the development of a flowchart (figure 11.1) that depicts the essential ingredients of "systematic counseling" (Winborn, 1973). Their work is heavily influenced by what has come to be known as the "systems approach" (see Silverin, 1968). A system can be described as an integrated and related set of components organized to obtain a specific objective. Systematic counseling is essentially an attempt to dispel the counseling mystique by viewing counseling as a complex phenomenon that can be broken down into ten subsystems (or categories of counselor activities).

Subsystem one is defined as counselor. Much of the work on systematic counseling deals with the design and evaluation of curriculum materials for counselor training (see Horan, 1972a). These educational efforts are expected to produce counselors with high levels of competence and appropriate professional attitudes. Formally, subsystem one ends with a "practicum makes perfect" experience; however, professional growth should continue beyond graduation.

In subsystem two the practicing counselor processes client referrals, which may be received from a variety of environmental sources such as parents or school personnel. A walk-in client is a self-referral. If the referral is appropriate (for example, a type of concern within the counselor's expertise), the counselor informs the referral source about various ground rules such as confidentiality and the need for information and cooperation. If the referral is not appropriate, the counselor helps the client or referral source locate assistance.

Subsystem three may be optional, depending on if there is time to prepare for an interview. Preparation may not be possible with a selfreferred client, for example, who immediately begins discussing a concern.

During subsystem four the counselor explains the counseling relationship. In the first interview all clients need to be informed, for example, about the purpose of counseling and the counselor's and client's responsibilities. Depending on the urgency of the client's concern, however, this information may be delayed until the end of the interview.

In subsystem five the counselor constructs a model of client concerns. This involves identifying the concerns, selecting those appropriate for counseling, gathering further information on the concern (including establishment of a baseline), and, finally, verifying with the client whether the model of concerns corresponds to the client's actual problems in living.

During subsystem six the counselor and client must jointly decide on a goal for counseling. Answers to questions such as "What would you like to be able to do after counseling that you cannot do now?" suggest the general goals of counseling. Specific goals should be stated in observable terms, including designations of essential conditions and criterion levels (Mager, 1962). Counsehng goals, if achieved, imply elimination of the client's concerns. If the counselor can or will provide assistance in obtaining a goal and if the client feels the goal is worth pursuing, counseling proceeds. If either condition is absent, a recycling to subsystem two may be in order.

Subsystem seven, entitled conduct task operations, involves those counseling activities that directly help the client obtain the designated goals. Counseling strategies are selected and if the long-range goal is too complex, intermediate objectives are established. Counseling strategies and intermediate objectives may need to be modified, depending on client progress.

In subsystem eight the counselor must evaluate the client's performance. If the client is functioning beyond baseline at a level commensurate with the objective, then the counselor and client may pursue additional concerns or new aspects of the same concern. If improved performance is not apparent, a recycling to another subsystem may again be in order.

During subsystem nine the counselor must terminate counseling once its goals have been realized. This involves letting the client know that regularly scheduled meetings will be ended, dealing with any resulting client resistance, and teaching the client that many of the learned skills may be relevant to other difficulties he or she may experience in life.

Finally, in subsystem ten the counselor and supervisor evaluate the counselor's performance. Feedback that the counselor receives on his or her work should result in improved effectiveness with subsequent clients.

Thoresen and Associates

Concurrent with the development of systematic counseling at Michigan State University, Thoresen (1969, 1971) and his associates at Stanford University (Hendricks, Ferguson, & Thoresen, 1973; Krumboltz, Thoresen, & Zifferblatt, 1971) also incorporated features of systems thinking into their conceptualizations of counseling and counselor education. Thoresen (1971) initially proposed a six-function model of counseling, the elegant simplicity of which was lost in a later seventeen-step version (Hendricks et al., 1973). Figures 11.2 and 11.3 depict these two flowcharts; the subsystems are self-explanatory. The 1971 version offers the advantage of being an easily stored, cognitive road map for counseling depicting the major stopping points. The 1973 elaboration is a more complete travel guide but may not be as easily committed to memory.

Gottman and Leiblum

The flowchart of psychotherapy Gottman and Leiblum (1974) developed can be roughly divided into five parts, each containing a number of components (see figure 11.4) During part one, problem assessment, the tasks of the counselor are to decide who to see in counseling, discuss with the client the reasons for and expectations of counseling, and clearly define and quantify the problem behavior. In part two the counselor negotiates a therapeutic contract with the client to work on the problem in a specified manner. This could also involve, for example, termination, referral elsewhere, or discussion of fees. In part three the counselor begins the initial therapy efforts. Here the counseling objectives are set and counseling strategies to achieve these objectives are implemented. Part four concerns how the counselor might deal with resistance arising from a variety of sources, such as client skill deficiency. Counseling strategies exist for each form of resistance, but a recycling back to part two is mandatory. Finally, part five of the flowchart involves continuous monitoring of change and eventual follow-up.

General Summary of Counseling Models

The reader has probably noted that the models of counseling just described bear a fairly close operational resemblance to each other. Counselor trainees following any of these road maps will cover roughly the same ground with their clients, Not only do they provide an excellent framework for the conduct of behavioral counseling, but with very minor modification even psychoanalytic and existential counselors can feel at home using them. For example, subsystems six and seven in systematic counseling deal with goal setting and the conduct of task operations. A Freudian counselor using the systematic counseling flowchart might work toward improved ego strength with a particular client via task operations such as free association, dream analysis, and symptom interpretation. A Rogerian counselor using the Thoresen (1971) model might try to improve the client's level of self-acceptance (in function three) via the counseling technique of reflective listening accompanied by the relationship qualities of empathy, congruence, and positive regard (in function four).

However ecumenical their products, the designers of these flowcharts were for the most part cognitive-behavioral in counseling orientation. Their models can be crudely condensed into three categories of counselor activity: assessment, intervention, and evaluation.

Assessment activities are primarily those concerned with identifying the client, helping the client define the counseling concerns, and determining what goals or objectives might ameliorate these concerns (Winborn et al., subsystems two through six; Thoresen, functions one to three; Hendricks et al., steps one to five, eight, twelve; Gottman & Leiblum, parts one to three).

Intervention activities are intended to enable the client to obtain his or her goals. A wide variety of counseling techniques may be employed either singly or in combination (Winborn et al., subsystem seven; Thoresen, function four; Hendricks et al., steps six, seven, nine, thirteen, and fifteen; Gottman & Leiblum, parts three and four).

Evaluation activities are those that determine if the client has in fact reached the goals of counseling. If so, termination and follow-up are included here; if not, a recycling to assessment or intervention activities may be in order (Winborn et al., subsystems eight through ten; Thoresen, functions five and six; Hendricks et al., steps ten, eleven, fourteen, sixteen, seventeen; Gottman & Leiblum, part five).

Although these categories of counselor activity are often sequential, in counseling practice it would be somewhat mistaken to view them as stages. Stages suggest a lockstep progression. Assessment, intervention, and evaluation activities, on the other hand, may recycle in the case of multiple goals or backstep when the goals have not been met.

Each of these categories of counselor activity in a particular kind of counseling, decision making, will be elaborated upon in chapters 12, 13, and 14 respectively. Now let us turn to the major stage theories of problem solving and decision making, many of which were conceptualized far apart from the context of counseling. After a brief review of these theories weshall look at the interface between our overview of counseling and the stages of problem solving and decision making.

Stages in Problem Solving

Formalized stage theories of problem solving span five decades. In this section I will briefly cover models proposed by Wallas (1926), Dewey (1933), and Gagné (1959), which are essentially descriptions of how individuals go about or ought to go about solving problems. I will also mention the thinking of D'Zurilla and Goldfried (1971) and Urban and Ford (1971), whose stage theories place problem solving in the domain of counseling.


In a metaphysical treatise entitled The Art of Thought, Wallas proposed what is now considered one of the earliest stage theories of problem solving. Wallas was strongly influenced by some after-dinner remarks made by the German physicist Helmholtz on the occasion of the latter's seventieth birthday in 1891. Helmholtz said that after previous investigation of the problem "in all directions ... happy ideas come unexpectedly without effort, like an inspiration. So far as I am concerned, they have never come to me when my mind was fatigued, or when I was at my working table. They came particularly readily during the slow ascent of wooded hills on a sunny day" (cited in Wallas, 1926, P. 80).

Wallas constructed the first three stages of his four-stage model from these reminiscences of Helmholtz. In the first stage, called preparation, the problem is investigated "in all directions." Then follows the incubation stage during which the problem situation is picked apart by unconscious processes while the problem solver is engaged in other activities on a conscious level. Stage three is the illumination or the "Eureka, I've found it!" experience, which occurs suddenly. Wallas derived the fourth stage, verification, from the writings of the mathematician Poincaré, who emphasized the need to examine in real life the adequacy of "inspired" solutions.

By giving credence to the incubation stage, the Wallas model differs from other problem-solving models to be discussed below. By definition this stage is unconscious and unobservable, so most problem-solving theorists and researchers do not include it in their formulations. But as Davis (1973, p. 16) wryly points out, "The same psychologists who doubt the existence of incubation or illumination also keep a pad and pencil on the bedstand for just such happenings."

Actually, the incubation stage need not really trouble even the most empirically oriented problem-solving researcher. Recall the discussion in chapter 10 of the vertical and horizontal processes in problem solving posited by the Kendlers (1962). Helmholtz's walk through the woods may have triggered associations pertinent to advancing his laboratory work. Though Wallas uses the mystique-laden word "unconscious" to characterize this stage, the phenomenon may not be any more mystical than the salivation of Pavlov's dogs.


Reflective thinking, according to Dewey (1933, p. 12), can be distinguished from other thought processes in that it involves "(1) a state of doubt, hesitation, perplexity, mental difficulty, in which thinking originates, and (2) an act of searching, hunting, inquiring, to find material that will resolve the doubt, settle and dispose of the perplexity."

Dewey proposed a five-phase model of reflective thought that is perhaps the most widely cited description of the problem-solving process. Phase one is called suggestion, a term meaning "the idea of what to do when we find ourselves 'in a hole.' " Dewey maintained that where there are two or more suggestions "they collide with one another, maintain the state of suspense, and produce further inquiry" (1933, pp. 107-108) Some inhibition of direct action is necessary prior to the second phase, intellectualization. Dewey noted that a question well put is half-answered. The problem solver needs to define clearly "the conditions that constitute the trouble and cause the stoppage of action" (1933, p. 109). The third phase is the guiding idea or hypothesis. Here suggestions of stage one become tentative suppositions that can be tested. In phase four reasoning determines what are the logical consequences of adopting the guiding idea. But so far the conclusion is hypothetical. During phase five, testing, "conditions are deliberately arranged in accord with the requirements of an idea or hypothesis to see whether the results theoretically indicated by the idea actually occur" (1933, p. 114).

Dewey pointed out that the order of these five phases of reflective thought is not fixed. Moreover, some phases may be greatly expanded; others hurriedly passed over. The influence of Dewey's thinking on subsequent writings has been quite pronounced; for example, Kingsley and Carry's (1957) stage theory bears a strong resemblance.


Dewey's thinking also apparently influenced Gagné (1959), except that Gagn´ incorporates concepts of classical decision theory into his fivestage problem-solving model. During phase one, reception of the stimulus situation, the problem solver is motivated to achieve some definable goal but cannot reach that goal through behaviors based on reflexes or habits. This leads in phase two to the occurrence of concept formation or concept invention. Such processes are greatly influenced by the rules problem solvers adopt. These rules may not be clearly articulated but they still dictate which parts of the stimulus situation are deserving of attention. The third phase involves determining courses of action. Here the problem solver generates alternatives that may differ along a conservative-risky dimension. Gagn´ uses a somewhat restrictive meaning of decision making to characterize the fourth phase; that is, the individual ought to select the alternative with the highest expected utility. The final phase, verification, concerns how the problem-solving endeavor is affected by feedback such as discovery that the attempted solution was functional or inadequate.

D'Zurilla and Goldfried

In their attempt to wedge the problem-solving literature into a behavior modification framework, D'Zurilla and Goldfried (1971) define "problem solving" as "a behavioral process, whether overt or cognitive in nature, which (a) makes available a variety of potentially effective response alternatives for dealing with the problematic situation and (b) increases the probability of selecting the most effective response from among these various alternatives" (p. 108).

They view problem solving in general and problem solving in the context of counseling as consisting of five stages. The first stage, general orientation, concerns the development of a proper attitudinal set (including, for example, suppression of the urge to respond impulsively). In the stage, problem definition and formulation, the problem solver needs to define operationally all aspects of the situation, separate relevant from irrelevant information, and identify the primary goals. Stage three involves the generation of alternatives--as many as possible through brainstorming and similar procedures. In stage four, decision making, the problem solver selects the alternative that yields the highest expected utility. The fifth and last stage is verification. Effective problem solving demands feedback on the actual outcomes of the chosen alternative. If the outcome is unsatisfactory, a recycling of the problem-solving process may be in order.

Urban and Ford

Counseling and psychotherapy are also viewed by Urban and Ford (1971) as a problem-solving enterprise consisting of five stages. In stage one, the identification of the problem, a crucial task is to find the best way to conceptualize what it is that has gone wrong. Stage two, analysis of the problem, involves determining what it is that makes the problem function as it does. This stage presupposes formal knowledge of personality and counseling theory. During stage three the problem solver is concerned with the selection of goals. "Effective pursuit of the problem-solving approach calls for an explicit specification of the outcomes that one should seek" (1971, p. 15). Stage four focuses on implementation of the problem solution. Here the problem solver (with the aid of a counselor) proceeds to arrange for the conditions under which change will occur. In the final stage, subsequent evaluation, information with respect to the impact of the solution is fed back into the system.

Stages in Decision Making

Though the study of decision making predates the problem-solving literature by a couple of centuries, most descriptions of the stages in decision making are of relatively recent vintage. In this section I will initially cover the stages mentioned by Bross (1953) and Krumboltz (1966). Stewart and Winborn (1973) credit Krumboltz for inspiring their work; however, their creative flowchart for decision making in systematic counseling is worthy of special mention. The influence of these writers can be seen in several early models of decision-making counseling my colleagues and I have proposed. Finally, I will summarize the stages in Janis and Mann's (1977) conflict model of decision making.


In his book entitled Design for Decision Bross (1953) closely follows the concepts of classical decision theory, During stage one the decision maker begins with a list of actions (alternatives). A decision problem is defined by the existence of two or more possible alternative courses of action, only one of which may be taken. In stage two the decision maker must generate a list of outcomes for each action. Stage three involves the estimation of probabilities for these outcomes. For example, what is the likelihood of my getting wet if I do not take an umbrella? In stage four the decision maker determines the desirability of each outcome. Getting momentarily caught in a tight summer shower, for instance, may be less aversive than carrying around an unused umbrella on a sweltering day. In stage five a decision criterion that yields the recommended course of action is applied. Typically this would involve selecting the alternative with the highest expected utility.


In chapter 9 we saw that an eight-stage model of decision-making counseling developed by Krumboltz and his students (Krumboltz & Baker, 1973; Krumboltz & Thoresen, 1964) stimulated much of the existing research on behavioral decision-making counseling. In 1966 Krumboltz published a slightly more explicit version of the stages (that is, behaviors or goals) in adaptive decision making. His revised model also involves eight stages.

Initially the decision maker ought to be generating a list of all possible courses of action. Stage two involves gathering relevant information about each feasible alternative course of action. Stage three focuses on estimating the probability of success in each alternative on the basis of the experience of others and projections of current trends. In stage four the decision maker should be concerned with considering the personal values which may be enhanced or diminished under each course of action. In the fifth stage deliberating and weighing the facts, probable outcomes, and values for each course of action are the appropriate activities. The sixth stage focuses on eliminating from consideration the least favorable courses of action. In stage seven the decision maker ought to be formulating a tentative plan of action subject to new developments and opportunities. Finally, stage eight involves generalizing the decision-making process to future problems.

Other stage theories, essentially similar in content but consisting of fewer stages, have been proposed by Magoon (1969), Evans and Cody (1969), and Bergland, Quatrano, and Lundquist (1975).

Stewart and Winborn

In the overview of systematic counseling presented earlier in this chapter we saw that subsystem seven, entitled "conduct task operations," dealt with the implementation of counseling strategies designed to help clients reach their goals. Depending on the goal in question, any one of a number of possible strategies might be selected. As a further refinement to subsystem seven of systematic counseling, Stewart and Winborn (1973) proposed a flowchart for the stages of career decision-making counseling (see figure 11.5).

Under the heading generate alternatives (subsubsystern 7.4.1) the alternatives to a choice problem are listed and a decision is made if more alternatives are needed. Additional alternatives can be acquired from structured experiences, reference material, and resource material. If a sufficient supply is at hand, the appropriate task is to gather information concerning each alternative.

The searcg for information leads the client to examine desirability of attainment. Essentially, the decision maker compares the consequences of an alternative with his or her intersts, vales, and goals and drops undesirable alternatives (subsystem 7.4.3). Further data on desirability may be neeed on the remaining alternatives.

If the alternatives at hand are desirable, then the decision maker proceeds to examine probability of attainment (subsystem 7.4.4). (Once can also arrive at this stage via the search for information.) Here the essential task is to compare one's personal and environmental factors with the requirements of the alternatives. Alternatives unlikely to be attained are then dropped. Further data on probability may be needed at this point.

Assuming a sufficient number of desirable and probable alternatives exist, the decision maker proceeds to make final choice (subsystem 7.4.5). This involves listing and ranking all surviving alternatives and selecting the leading one.

Baker, Herr, Horan, Hudson, and Wallace

Many of the foregoing descriptions of the stages in problem solving and decision making are relatively abstract. In contrast, Herr, Horan, and Baker (1972) proposed a relatively explicit description of sequential counselor behaviors in vocational counseling (see table 11.1). The eighteen-step model shows the theoretical influence of Bross, Krumboltz, Mager, and systematic counseling. Its cumbersomeness and limited applicability led Horan (1972b) to offer a condensed version. Still another revision consisting of ten steps applicable to both vocational and nonvocational choice problems was later employed in a study by Wallace, Horan, Baker, and Hudson (1975) that examined the relative efficacy of several training modalities. Counseling students were rated on the presence or absence of these behaviors plus their ability to maintain neutrality concerning what the client ought to do. High interrater reliability and internal consistency (.89 and .85 respectively) on the rating scale suggest that these stages or behaviors are discrete and easily identifiable.

Janis and Mann

In the Janis and Mann (1977) conflict model personal decisions follow a five-stage sequence. The decision maker must respond to one or more key questions during each stage. In stage one, appraising the challenge, the decision maker asks "Are the risks serious if I don't change?" Stage two involves surveying alternatives. Here the decision maker needs to know if a particular alternative is an acceptable means for dealing with the challenges and if he or she has sufficient surveyed the available alternatives. In stage three the decision maker is concerned with weighing alternatives. Key questions are "Which alternative is best?" and "Could the best alternative meet the essential requirements?" During stage four there is deliberating about commitment. The decision maker wonders whether to implement the best alternative and allow others to know. Finally, in stage five, there is adhering despit negative feedback. Here the decision maker must again ask "Are the risks serious if I do or don't change?"

Stages four and five in the Janis and Mann model emphasize points that most other decision theorists do not make. The activities Janis and Mann describe as "vigilant information processing" permeate stages two through four.

A Summary Model of the Stages in Problem Solving and Decision Making

By now it should be abundantly clear that most stage theories of problem solving and decision making are directly comparable. To be sure, there are differences in emphasis and minor variations, but most of these models can be readily synthesized into four sequential stages. Initially, in stage one, the problem-solving or decision-making individual engages in conceptualization, that is, construction of a cognitive model of the troubling portions of the environment. The basic task here is to define the problem or decision dearly. Questions such as "What has gone wrong?" or "Why am I feeling uncomfortable?" occur during this stage,

After appraising the situation, the individual proceeds to stage two, enlargement of the response repertoire. Here the major activity is to generate as many potential alternative responses as possible. (Some authors speak of hypotheses, solutions, actions, plans, or simply alternatives.) The question "What can be done?" occurs repeatedly during this stage.

Stage three focuses on the identification of stimuli discriminative of positive or aversive consequences for each response. Probabilities of utilities accruing from the various possible responses are determined on the basis of past or newly acquired experiences or both. The question "What would happen if I did what could be done?" characterizes much of the information-gathering activity in this stage.

Finally, stage four deals with response selection. The possible responses are ranked and the most promising response is implemented. The choice may be tentative, however, subject to new developments and feedback. Essentially, the question "What will I do?" is answered.

Table 11.2 places this four-stage summary model in juxtaposition with the problem- and decision-making stage theories reviewed earlier in this and previous chapters. The summary model is depicted in the first column. Models offered by other authors are deployed in columns 2-25 in such a way as to allow cross-referencing of all stage theories. Several general observations can be made:

  1. Problem-solving theorists tend to devote more print to initial conceptualization activities than do decision theorists. One might get the impression that decision theorists feel their work begins when the problem has already been defined as one of choice.
  2. Although not necessarily reflected in table 11.2, chapter 10 would suggest that problem-solving theorists have also had more to say on how alternatives might be generated. Decision theorists often write as if the list of alternatives is already at hand or easily acquired.
  3. Decision-making theorists, however, have far outstripped their problem- counterparts in detailing the activities pertinent to determining the likelihood of various positive and aversive consequences of the alternatives. Problem-solving theorists are often rather vague about such data-gathering procedures.
  4. Except when they have appropriated the work of decision theorists, authors in the problem-solving area have contributed relatively little to the matter of choosing among several viable responses. Much of the problem-solving literature seems to imply that a problem has a single, albeit hidden, solution. Moreover, although both groups emphasize the need for evaluation of any response selected, decision theorists may have the edge in the topic of response implementation
These observations do not characterize all problem-solving or decisionmaking theorists. There is a good deal of variability within each camp, perhaps enough to wash out any differences between them. Thus these observations may in fact be crude stereotypes rather than apt descriptors. In any event, because the problem-solving literature seems to expand indefinitely and decision making implies those areas of problem solving where decision theorists have been less than explicit, from this point on I will refer to all the activities in table 11.2 as components of decision making.

Finally, although many authors use the words stage, step, or phase in referring to these components, this does not necessarily imply a rigid sequence of events. Such words are useful primarily for their "outlining" or expository capacity. As Davis (1973, p. 17) points out, "These simplifications are helpful if we keep some qualifications in mind. Whether solving an anagram or designing a generator, a person ... will overlap his steps, as when he begins to think of solutions while defining the problem; he will backtrack to earlier stages, as when he finds it necessary to redefine or further clarify 'the givens'; and he may skip some steps entirely, especially the incubation one."

Decision Making in Counseling

We have just seen that decision making consists, or ought to consist, of four components: (1) conceptualization, (2) enlargement of the response repertoire, (3) identification of discriminative stimuli, and (4) response selection.

Most of our decisions are not made with the help of a professional counselor, though many of us do consult with others who may function as counselors whenever we face a difficult decision. For instance, the spouse who consults with a divorce attorney might attempt a reconciliation after carefuliv considering the consequences of various alternatives. Or a medical patient might decline elective surgery after thorough discussion with his or her physician.

Even though the majority of our decisions are made apart from the context of a formal counseling relationship, decision-making concerns are among the most common problems in living brought to the attention of counselors. Recall that counseling includes assessment, intervention, and evaluation. The four components of decision making can be merged into these counseling activities,

Assessment in decision-making counseling involves the identification of those skills presently lacking but required for the client to conceptualize the problem, to generate sufficient alternatives, to uncover pertinent discriminative stimuli, and to select an appropriate response. Once these skill deficits have been assessed, intervention in decision-making counseling deals with the application of specific counseling techniques in an attempt to foster the development of the necessary skills. Finally, evaluation in decision-making counseling focuses on the determination of whether or not the intervention activities have had any impact.


Three attempts to provide counselor trainees with a procedural road map for counseling are distinguished by their clarity and precision. Winborn and his associates developed a flowchart that depicts the ten essential ingredients of systematic counseling. Thoresen and his associates also incorporated features of systems thinking into their six- and later seventeen-step conceptualizations of counseling. Gottman and Leiblum's flowchart of psychotherapy consists of five major components. Each of these similar models can be condensed into three categories of counselor activity: assessment, intervention, and evaluation.

Wallas, Dewey, and Gagné have each offered a stage theory of problem solving; so have D'ZurilIa and Goldfried, and Urban and Ford, whose stage theories place problem solving in the counseling domain. Similarly, Bross, Krumboltz, Stewart and Winborn, my colleagues and 1, and Janis and Mann have described the stages of decision making. All of these formulations can be condensed into four stages: conceptualization, enlargement of the response repertoire, identification of discriminative stimuli, and response selection.

In decision-making counseling assessment refers to the identification of the skills implied by these stages that are needed to make an adaptive choice; intervention means the application of specific counseling techniques to foster the development of these skills; and evaluation involves determining the impact of intervention activities. The next three chapters focus on these categories of counselor activity in greater detail.

Counseling for Effective Decision Making - Copyright © 1977 John J. Horan, All rights reserved.
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