Counselling in Oxfordshire

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Blog » Where do counselling theories fit in our work together?

18 Aug 2016

What's more important about psychological theories in our work together  - that they're true, or that they're useful?

The word 'theory' derives from the Greek 'theoria', which has the same root as 'theatre', in a word meaning 'to view' or 'to make a spectacle'. Thus it might be said that a theory is primarily a form of insight, i.e. a way of looking at the world, rather than a form of knowledge of how the world is.

  • David Bohm, Wholeness and the Implicate Order


A counselling theory is a set of hypotheses about what makes people tick, and how that might inform my work with you as a counsellor. Theories are useful because they are predictive  - they tell me what may be happening or what might happen  - and because they are explanatory  - they make sense of what has already happened to you or how things are now.

Theories of the mind are important to me as a counsellor only in so far as they help our work together. If a theory helps make sense of my work you, or if it gives me useful hints and clues as to what underlying psychological forces might be working in your life, then it is helpful. For a practitioner then, the important question about a counselling theory is not so much "Is it true?", but "Is it useful?"

So theories are helpful in the same ways that clues are to a detective.  A good detective might have a hunch that helps him or her decide where to look for evidence, but the hunch is not the evidence. Likewise, a theory doesn't tell me for sure what's going on for you, but helps provide hints and clues about what to home-in on, or what to explore, for us to do fruitful work together.

A psychological theory cannot capture the richness and essence of what it is to be you, any more than a stick-figure drawing can capture your image as a living person, so one of the exciting things about the working integratively across theories is that it makes the real relationship between us primary, and the sense of my working "in a theoretical model" a very useful, but secondary, perspective. 

Images used in this blog.