Impact of Personal History in Professional Work
Unfinished business can be defined simply as unresolved issues. It often emerges within the context of interpersonal relationships. It can occur at a conscious or unconscious level. In the counseling field, there is an association of the concept of unfinished business with Gestalt therapy. In Gestalt therapy, unfinished business is conceptualized as the emergence of figures or situations from one’s past that are not completed or resolved, which can then manifest as unexpressed feelings (Corey, 2014).
In the context of the therapeutic process, we usually associate resolving unfinished business with the client. It is not often linked with counselor professional identity development. Unfortunately, counselors are not immune to experiencing unfinished business or its effects. Wosket (1997) believes that counselors must always reflect carefully and vigilantly on the relationship between their psychological world and the characteristics and roles of being a counselor. Areas of unfinished business can exist from various life experiences such as parental or family issues, abandonment, or abuse as a child; and manifest themselves in many ways, such as domestic violence, low self-esteem, mental illness, and substance abuse.
Those who grew up in unhealthy families and learned to be caretakers find the helping professions a natural extension of that role. Helping others can also be a way to seek the nurturing for one’s needs; we attempt to give to others what we need to receive. Adults who have grown up in pain-filled families often have a conscious or unconscious wish to make things better for others in the same situation. But healing the self-first is vital for counselors who want to help others. The untreated professional can unwittingly harm clients and their families.
For example, untreated adult children of alcoholics may still be in denial about their own needs. Instead of dealing with personal issues, they tend to go to conferences, read more books, and learn more and more ways to say the same thing. At best, what they offer their clients is information. All too often, what they give their clients is professional enabling.
The most important training for counselors is counseling targeted at addressing their own unfinished business. This statement is not intended to discount professional training or education. Mental health counselors and family counselors certainly need a solid foundation of knowledge and therapeutic techniques. However, all the knowledge in the world will not help if counselors cannot support client changes and confront denial.
Without working on personal issues, counselors will continue the patterns of denial and enabling they learned in their own unhealthy families. They will not only support and encourage their clients to stay stuck, but they will collude with them in believing that powerlessness is reality. Unless counselors are on the path of their own recovery, counselor and client may join in the sincere delusion of perceived powerlessness and inability to change.
While not all counselors have experienced pain-filled or dysfunctional childhoods, personal healing becomes a prerequisite for success in the counseling profession for those who have. For other future counselors, current personal issues become the focus of self-reflection and personal counseling.
Counselors who are unable to examine their own past and present issues, therefore, are at minimum less effective as helpers and often are unable to help clients effectively examine issues brought to the counseling session. We cannot take a client any further than we have gone ourselves.
In this unit, you will assess the impact of personal unfinished business from the counselor’s perspective and the potential impact on the therapeutic process. Hopefully you will begin to see how your life experiences inform your worldview and contribute to any unfinished business.
Corey, G., (2014). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy (8th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson-Brooks/Cole.
Wosket, V. (2006). The therapeutic use of self: Counselling practice, research and supervision. New York: Routledge
To successfully complete this learning unit, you will be expected to:
1. Identify and apply ACA ethical principles for clinical practice.
2. Explore the impact of personal history on professional work.
3. Reflect on personal characteristics and behaviors that may influence helping processes.
4. Evaluate available support systems and community resources for a specific client.
Discussion 1: page needed with two references.
Applying the ACA Code of Ethics
Using the ACA code of ethics, read through the ethics vignette located below. Respond to the questions at the end of the vignette and post any additional ethical implications related to the vignette that you identify for your instructor and fellow learners to review.
Linda is a 42-year-old licensed mental health counselor, who has been seeing Julie as a client for six months. Julie, 38 years old, came to counseling feeling depressed. She works hard to raise two children by herself, feels overwhelmed much of the time, and has low self-esteem. She’s very sensitive to rejection, and has ended several friendships when she believed the other person was critical or not accepting of her.
Over the course of their counseling relationship, Julie has developed very warm feelings for her therapist, and has sometimes wished that they had met under different circumstances so they could have been friends. Linda and Julie have a lot in common. They are close in age, were raised in the same religion, have similar values, and enjoy the same activities. Coincidentally, both of their children are in the high school band together. Julie has seen Linda at some of the band rehearsals, and they’ve chatted briefly by their cars afterward while waiting for their children.
In the past few sessions, Julie has talked about something “missing” in her life and has expressed a desire to reconnect with a church community. She has heard from her children that Linda’s family attends a church of the same denomination she was raised in – the only one in their small town — and tells Linda that she’d also like to go to services there. She asks if Linda would introduce her to some of the members of the congregation, and help her to get acquainted with church activities or committees she might become involved in. She states, “It would be so good to see you on Sundays, too!”