Counseling for Effective Decision Making

Dynamic Approaches to Decision-Making Counseling

The classification of counseling theories is not an easy task. According to London (1967) all schools of psychotherapy can be neatly fitted into a dichotomy: insight versus action approaches. Harper (1959) at the other extreme, has written a book entitled Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy: 36 Systems. Still another method identifies psychoanalytic, existential, rational, and behavioral as the four major schools of thought. There are some difficulties with this latter method, however. Both psychoanalytic and existential counselors place a good deal of emphasis on dynamic motivation. Behaviorists value (though to lesser extent) the "reinforcing" relationship qualities posited by the existentialists. And counselors in all of the camps behave "rationally" at least on occasion. Overlap notwithstanding, I will discuss counseling theory and decision making from this fourfold perspective. This chapter will focus on the psychoanalytic and existential approaches. Specifically, we will explore decision making as it is treated in the psychoanalytic therapy of Freud, the existential counseling of Rogers, and the quasi-existential approach of Carkhuff. Chapters 8 and 9 will deal with the rational and behavioral points of view.

The Psychoanalytic Therapy of Freud


In attempting to account for why human beings behave as they do, Freud (1963, 1967) invented the topographic and structural models of personality. The topographic or "iceberg" model consists of two levels, the conscious and the unconscious. just as 90 percent of an iceberg is hidden below the water surface, so likewise most human behavior results from unconscious motivation. When unconscious material attempts to enter the conscious level, a "censor" function (repression) pushes it back or lets it through in disguised form.

The structural model of personality is composed of id, ego, and superego functions. The id is a sort of seething cauldron of all that is unholy in the human condition, a vast reservoir of erotic and aggressive impulses, all unconscious, seeking immediate discharge in the environment. The ego's primary purpose is to keep the lid on the id. It does this-not very well, incidentally--through a series of defense mechanisms, the deployment of which are strictly unconscious. For example, homosexuality is taboo in this culture. Should a man experience an erotic id impulse toward another man ("I love him"), the ego uses the defense "reaction- formation" to change this impulse to its opposite ("I hate him"). Because hating for no good reason is also socially unacceptable, the ego, through another defense mechanism, "projects" this impulse onto the other person ("He hates me"). Thus in psychoanalytic theory homosexuality is an underlying cause of paranoia. The last component of the structural model is the superego, which keeps us feeling guilty whenever we fail to live up to parental expectations.

At birth the infant is all id. The ego grows out of an interaction between the id and the environment. For example, "wimpering" is an early ego technique designed to get food, (More sophisticated maneuvers are needed later on). The superego arises out of the relationship between the child's ego and the same-sex parent. A boy, fearing castration from his father as punishment for his incestuous impulses toward his mother, "introjects" the value system of his father. Introjection is a defense mechanism that literally means the boy "swallows" the image of his father, thereby destroying the threat. But because we are what we cat, the boy becomes just like dad! (If the reader has difficulty swallowing this explanation, a similar process is reflected in the saying "If you can't beat 'em join 'em"). Be that as it may, according to psychoanalytic theory, young girls feel they have already been castrated, hence they do not strongly introject parental values. Thus women are less moral than men. (Though Freud was not the first male chauvinist, he did help put an academic dressing on the doctrine of male superiority.)

Human beings operate on two principles. The pleasure principle suggests that we are basically hedonists and wish to do whatever feels good. But such indiscriminant activity is likely to bring on dire consequences, hence the reality principle posits that we act to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain. For example, the id demands that the hungry child take a cookie. The ego, recalling mama's prohibition against snacking before dinner, wards off the eating impulse and takes solace in the fact that obedience will probably merit two cookies after dinner. The superego explains why the child does not take a cookie even when there is no chance of being caught.

Decision Making

Though much of the ego's role is unconscious (for example, deployment of defense mechanisms), what little energies are left over after keeping the id in check may be devoted to conscious activities. Perceiving the environment and developing verbal and motor skills are ego tasks. Rational thinking, including decision making, is also the ego's responsibility.

Although the problem of indecisiveness has been subjected to considerable etiological speculation (Fenichel, 1945), psychoanalytic writers have not formally discussed the process of decision making per se. The reality principle--maximizing gain while minimizing costs--would seem to tie Freudian views of decision making to classical decision theory, however, thepsychoanalytic approach is colored by a heavy emphasis on unconscious motivation. In other words, much of what we decide to do is not rational at all; "rationalized" would be a better word.

Illustrations of the role of unconscious motivation abound in the psychoanalytic literature of vocational choice. Early writers such as Jones (1923), Zillboorg (1934), Hendrick (1943), and Brill (1949) all argued that or provided case examples in which id impulses found release in one's choice of career. Sadism, for example, might be "sublimated" (expressed in a socially acceptable manner) in the work of a butcher or surgeon. Forer (1953) and Small (1953), and later the "Michigan School" (Bordin, Nachman, & Segal, 1963) expanded on these conceptualizations and provided them with a slight degree of empirical support.

If much of what we decide to do, then, is the result of unconscious determinants, how can psychoanalytically oriented counseling facilitate the making of good decisions? The answer is very little short of a complete personal psychoanalysis--a very long and expensive procedure. (Several sessions a week at $75 or more per session for a number of years is not atypical.) Free association, dream analysis, interpretation, and transference (responding to the analyst as a parent) are all involved in this painfully slow process of total personality reorganization.

The development of insight is the major goal of psychoanalytic counseling, that is, what was previously unconscious becomes conscious. "Where id was, ego shall be" (Freud, 1963). As the result of this insight, there is a redistribution of psychic energy. The ego becomes more powerful because it no longer has to commit the bulk of its resources to defending against id impulses. A stronger ego, then, is better able to make decisions in accord with the pleasure and reality principles.

Essentially, psychoanalytic theory has provided counselors with a very colorful explanation of how people decide or remain indecisive. Unfortunately, however, counselors are left empty-handed. On an ad hoc basis there is little they can do to help clients choose between a number of existing alternatives.

The Existential Counseling of Carl Rogers


In contrast (and partially in reaction) to Freud's contention that the core of the human personality is, at best, asocial, Carl Rogers (1959, 1961) sees people in a much more positive light. We are told that human beings are endowed with certain powers of autonomy, creativity, and rational choice. The prime motivator is called the "organismic valuing process" (a sort of good id), which, if provided with the proper kinds of environmental support, will propel the individual into a "self-actualizing" lifestyle. Self-actualization is seen as an ideal way of living rather than an inert State.

Unfortunately, our quest for self-actualization is hampered by the adoption of "conditions of worth." In order to maintain the goodwill of significant others--primarily our parents--we buy into their value system. To be a worthy son or daughter, one must think and feel in a certain prescribed manner. The conditions of worth then function in much the same manner as Freud's superego. In any event, the individual is left with two competing value systems-his or her own naturally good values and the possibly artificial values of significant others. This dissonance produces a good deal of anxiety, which may cause people to seek help in counseling.

Just as the organismic valuing process and the conditions of worth mirror the constructs id and superego, Rogers uses the term "self-concept" in a manner somewhat similar to Freud's definition of ego. The self-concept consists of reflected appraisals of significant others. It is basically what we think of ourselves and consequently governs how we will act. For example, if we are labeled (accurately or inaccurately) as juvenile delinquents, we will come to think of ourselves in that manner and begin to act accordingly.

Decision Making

A poor self-concept coupled with the adoption of artificial values would certainly impede the making of a good decision. The individual's organismic valuing process--from which all good decisions flow naturally--becomes diverted from its goal of self-actualization. Decisions made to please others or to comply with a faulty-unfavorable self-image are not to one's own best advantage.

Thus in both the Freudian and Rogerian frameworks decisions are made on the basis of not entirely rational or conscious factors. Furthermore, unless we are self-actualized, our decisions may produce even more distress and discomfort. There is one recourse, however, and that is to immerse ourselves in Rogerian psychotherapy.

Rogers (1961) has postulated that three conditions are "necessary and sufficient" for therapeutic change to occur. In the first place the counselor must be genuine. Synonyms for this concept include congruent, authentic, transparent, and nonexploitive. Being genuine implies that the counselor must be aware of his or her own feelings and not be afraid to allow the client to see them. Rogers labels the second condition unconditional positive regard, also known as therapist warmth, liking, prizing, or agapé. This nonpossessive, nonerotic love must also be nonjudgmental; that is, the counselor must have high regard for the client regardless of what is said or done. The third and final condition is empathic understanding, also referred to as sensitivity or simply empathy. Of the three conditions, this is perhaps the most crucial. It implies the ability to see the world through the client's eyes, to recognize fully and accurately the client's feelings, and to convey to the client that he or she is, in fact, being understood.

Rogers argues that such a relationship allows clients to abandon their conditions of worth without experiencing loss of support or any other dire consequences. They are thus free to get in touch with their own values-those of their organismic valuing process. And as a by-product of this counseling atmosphere, they come to think of themselves in more favorable terms. At last self-actualized clients can be trusted to make their own decisions, and these decisions will be adaptive: "I find that increasingly such individuals are able to trust their total organismic reaction to a new situation because they discover to an ever-increasing degree that if they are open to their experience, doing what 'feels right' proves to be a competent and trustworthy guide to behavior which is truly satisfying" (Rogers, 1961, P. 189).

Apart from providing these "necessary and sufficient" relationship conditions, then, Rogers has nothing to offer a client seeking help with a decision. In practice he may even ignore such requests. For example, in a filmed interview (Rogers, 1968), Rogers is asked by Gloria, a divorced client, if she should be honest with her daughter in acknowledging her sexual relationships with men. Later in the interview she wonders whether she should be more discriminating about sex partners. Rogers never deals with Gloria's questions; the interview evolves into a discussion of her relationship with her father. Rogers's responses mirror her indecision.

Building on the foundations of Rogerian self-concept theory, however, a number of vocational choice theorists (for example, Super, Starishevsky, Matlin, & Jordaan, 1963; Tiedeman & O'Hara, 1963) have argued that decision-making ability in later years can be enhanced by early favorable developmental experiences, which culminate in an improved self-concept. But apart from this "preventative" approach, the counselor is still left without a specific strategy for helping clients resolve pressing choice problems. Apparently, then, Rogerian existential theory, like psychoanalytic theory, has little to offer the client facing a decision short of complete immersion in intensive psychotherapy.

The Quasi- Existential Approach of Carkhuff


Carkhuff began his career as a sort of Rogerian apologist. He and his early associates (Berenson & Carkhuff, 1967; Carkhuff & Berenson, 1967; Truax & Carkhuff, 1967) earned prominence by picking apart the "psychotherapy is not effective" phenomenon. Carkhuff acknowledged this finding to be generally true; that is, the average mental health scores of those exposed to psychotherapy did not differ from those who had not been so exposed. But on closer inspection, although the mean scores remained the same, the variances differed widely. In other words, some people got better, others got worse. Subsequent research purported that the presence of the Rogerian relationship qualities was directly related to the phenomenon of getting better. Counselors who were genuine, warm, and empathic produced therapeutic gains in their clients. The clients of counselors lacking these attributes suffered even greater setbacks. When highly trained counselors were found to be deficient in these qualities, Carkhuff abandoned the use of the term "counseling" in favor of "helping" and encouraged the use of paraprofessionals into roles previously held by credentialed counselors (Carkhuff, 1969a, 1969b).

Carkhuff's approach to counseling has steadily drifted away from its Rogerian foundation. To the three Rogerian dimensions he added two more qualities distilled from the Gestalt counseling literature (for example, Perls, 1969). These were immediacy ("what goes on between us right now") and confrontation ("telling it like it is"). Still another quality, concreteness ("being specific"), reflects the influence of behaviorism. Carkhuff labeled the six qualities "facilitative conditions" and claims they are the sine qua non of effective counseling (Carkhuff, 1971).

Though he does not acknowledge it in print or in public, Carkhuff's approach to counseling has been accelerating recently in a behavioral direction. In a speech to the American Educational Research Association, Carkhuff (1973a) described working with a youngster upset by the fact that his family would soon be moving to a strange town. This concern boiled down to a specific problem of potential loneliness, which in turn suggested the making of friends as a counseling goal. Carkhuff provided an operational definition of a friend that met all of Mager's (1962) criteria for wellwritten behavioral objectives. Carkhuff then suggested that the making of friends was a complex skill that could be learned (shaped!) in successive steps. It was clear that a technique like behavioral rehearsal would be the predominant counseling strategy.

Decision Making

Prior to the aforementioned speech, Carkhuff (1973b) published a very popular paperback entitled The Art of Problem-Solving. This book suggests a four-step process for helping clients resolve problems of choice.

The first step is called "developing the problem." Here the counselor's focus should be on exploring the problem and trying to understand the client's frame of reference. The Rogerian relationship-listening qualities are of paramount importance, as Carkhuff believes that the goal of counseling (reaching a decision) flows from a comprehensive understanding of the client.

Carkhuff labels the second step "breaking down the problem." At this time alternative courses of action are generated and values are ordered into a hierarchy. Carkhuff's use of the term value here is somewhat cryptic. It does not closely correspond to the notion of value or utility in classical decision theory. Nor does it resemble the concept of value reflected by various psychometric procedures and devices (cf. Katzell, 1964). For example, in working with a fictitious woman client, Carkhuff identifies the following as "values" to be considered in choosing how to spend her work life: children, husband, job, school, housework, miscellaneous, finances. Thus for Carkhuff values do not mean abstractions like honesty, prestige, achievement, unselfishness, and so forth. Nor do they strictly speaking suggest gains and costs or positive and aversive consequences. As stated, they seem to represent factors to consider in making a decision. Only by an intuitive leap can we translate them into anything akin to values, For example, "children" might really represent "not spending a desired amount of time with my children"--a perceived aversive consequence of a particular alternative.

The third step in Carkhuff's decision-making paradigm is called "considering courses of action." This step involves a close examination of those values and alternatives that promise the highest degree of fulfillment. The counselor is allowed to suggest values and alternative courses of action when the client cannot, a proviso that represents a radical departure from Rogerian theory.

Carkhuff labels the final step in helping clients reach a decision "developing courses of action." Both choosing and implementing courses of action are involved. The conceptual basis of this step resembles the "moral algebra" of Ben Franklin (see chapter 1) and the balance sheet procedures of Janis and Mann (1977; see chapter 5). The specific decision -making grid Carkhuff suggests (see figure 7.1) apparently evolved from the vocational decision-making work of Katz (1966), which will be discussed in chapter 8. In Carkhuff's grid the various alternative solutions to the choice problem are represented along the horizontal axis and values are depicted on the vertical axis. Because values may be stronger in some individuals than others, provision is made for "weighting." For example, Carkhuff's client rated children as +8, husband and job each as +5, school as +4, housework as +3, miscellaneous as +2, and financial as +1. (Similarly, with someone facing an occupational choice, "prestige" might be double the rating assigned to "salary" or vice versa.) Then one or two plus or minus signs are entered under the alternatives according to whether they allow expression of the corresponding value. A mathematical index of this expression can be obtained by multiplying the value's weight by the number of plus or minus signs under each alternative. Finally, by summing these weight- expression products under each alternative, the most promising alternative emerges as the one with the highest total score.
Value Hierarchy I
Get babysitter
Get housekeeper
Quit job
Quit School
Build up
Cut- down
Husband's help
Teacher's aide
1 . Children (+8) -- (-16) ++(+16) ++(+16) +(+8) +(+8) +-(0) +(+8) +(+8)
2. Husband (+5) +(+5) ++(+10) ++(+10) +(+5) +(+5) +-(0) ++(+10) +(+5)
3. Job (+5) +(+5) +(+5) --(-10) +-(0) +(+5) +-(0) +(+5) ++(+10)
4. School (+4) +(+4) +(+4) +-(0) --(-8) +(+4) +-(0) +(+4) +(+4)
5. Housework (+3) +(+3) +(+3) ++(+6) +(+3) +(+3) +-(0) +(+3) +(+3)
6. Misc.(+2) +(+2) +(+2) +-(0) +-(0) +(+2) +-(0) +(+2) +(+2)
7. Financial (+1) -(-1) -(-1) --(-2) +-(0) 0(0) +-(0) 0(0) 0(0)
Source: R. R. Carkhuff, The art of problem solving, (Amherst, Mass.: Human Resource Development Press, 1973-b).
FIGURE 7.1. Decision-making grid

Close inspection of Carkhuffs decision-making grid quickly reveals the classic "error of misplaced precision." It does the astronaut little good to have a landing gear sensitive enough to deposit him on a postage stamp if his booster rocket will not bring him anywhere near the moon! Although the most fulfilling alternative in the Carkhuff grid emerges in a mathematical cloak, the foundation garments are completely subjective. Determination of both the values and alternatives, as well as the assignment of weights and estimates of expression, are entirely figments of the joint client-counselor imagination that need to be fortified by information-seeking behaviors.

Katz's (1966) model, which apparently stimulated Carkhuff's thinking, was not similarly troubled. Katz recommended using an a priori, factoranalytically based value taxonomy. The levels of the value and the expression possibilities were also empirically based. For example, if a client values a particular salary and must choose between several job possibilities, there are statistical tables to which one might turn in order to estimate the probability of making that salary in each occupation under consideration.

Difficulties with his model notwithstanding, Carkhuff does deserve accolades for exploring the concept of decision making in counseling apart from the area of vocational choice. Although much has been written on decision making and vocational development (for example, Herr, 1970; Herr & Cramer, 1972), very few counseling theorists have extended vocational choice paradigms to include other problems in living. Carkhuff has provided us with a seminal model for further consideration.


Dynamic approaches to counseling include Freud's psychoanalysis, Rogers's existential counseling, and Carkhuff's quasi-existential "helping" interventions. Freudian theory stresses the importance of unconscious motivation; posits a three-part model of personality structure (the id, ego, and superego); and suggests, as does classical decision theory, that we act to maximize pleasure while minimizing pain. Psychoanalytic writers have not formally discussed decision-making counseling, but because of the extraordinary role of unconscious motivation, it would appear that to enter psychoanalysis and gain "insight" is the only way to facilitate rational choice.

Rogers posits a prime motivator called the organismic valuing process, which leads to self -actualization unless it is hindered by the adoption of artificial conditions of worth. The self-concept, formed from reflected appraisals of significant others, governs how we act. A poor self-concept or the adoption of artificial conditions of worth impedes naturally good decision making. Immersion in Rogerian counseling with a genuine counselor who provides unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding allows clients to get in touch with their own values, think of themselves in more favorable terms, and consequently make good decisions. Thus Rogers responds to client choice problems as he would any other client problem in living.

Carkhuff's helping model adds three other qualities to the Rogerian dimensions (immediacy, confrontation, and concreteness), all of which are called facilitative conditions and deemed essential for effective counseling. Unlike Freud and Rogers, Carkhuff specifically addresses the topic of decision-making counseling with a four-step intervention package: developing the problem, breaking down the problem, considering courses of action, and developing courses of action. The last step employs a decision- grid that apparently evolved from grids used in vocational counseling, but Carkhuff's model suggests wider application. Carkhuff's willingness to provide direct assistance to clients with choice problems has much in common with rational approaches to counseling reviewed in the next chapter.

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