Self and Self-Knowledge and Counseling Practice

Psychological Research and Theory on Self and Self-Knowledge and Counseling Practice

With modernization and industrialization self-quest has become the preoccupation of many people. An average person today may often find him/herself wondering about such questions as: „Who am I?” „What kind of personality am I?” „What types of personalities do I correspond with?” and many many others. It is so common for humans, to say nothing, about psychologists to wonder about the above questions because after all, there is nothing more interesting and exciting, and more profound and significant as the understanding we have about our own personal existence: about our concept of who we are and how we fit into the world around us.

The concept of self and self-knowledge has been neglected for couple of decades, between 1960s and mid-1980s, however since that time it has been enjoying the renewed popularity within not only psychologists and practitioners, but also those working in consulting businesses. My paper will concentrate on why the concepts of self-knowledge are of interest to counselors today. Though, before I turn to that part of the paper I will provide insights into the theory and research on the topic of self and self-knowledge. The above will provide for the explanation of the theories in regard to counseling practices to be easier to follow.

It is clear to everyone that self-knowledge and self theories are concentrated around the uniqueness of every personality. However, self-concept is also an illusive and poorly defined notion. In fact, having reviewed literature sources I have come across at least twenty different definitions of what „self“ and „self-knowledge” is. This is so because each self is unique, while at the time each author is a unique self, consequently, it is not easy to develop a steadfast definition of the concept.

For the sake of this paper I will assume that self-concept is the way, in which an individual perceives him/herself and the ways one expects to react to particular situations under particular circumstances.

Self and self-knowledge theories also identify how a person is constructed through interaction with other people. There are two major ways to look at self-concept: the global, and the domain-specific one.

A global model is he one considering that a self should be looked at as something overarching and global, this model is usually applied by counselors and therapists (Strein, 1993, p. 273). A domain-specific model emphasizes that a self should be looked at from several evaluation points, like specific competencies or attributes (Strein, 1993, p. 275).

The self concept can be also divided into such categories as personal self-concept, social self-concept, and self ideals. Personal self concept concerns one’s own opinions about oneself, social self-concept involves one’s assumptions about how one is regarded by others, finally, self-ideals concern the ideas of what/who one wants to be.

There are several theories of self that I would like to mention below. To begin with, there are theories of George Herbert Mead who believed that the society, including its culture, institutions, languages, actors, comes before the symbolic thought which, in its turn, comes before the development of selves.

Thus, when one makes public statements, one, maybe only on unconscious level, think about the appraisal from one’s self and the selves of others. Thus, according to Mead one starts to approach towards one’s self only when one acts towards others. Consequently, in his view, the self is a dynamic process within a person. There are theorists that consider that individuals generally conform to the demands of various social settings. Thus, the behavior may be better predicted by understanding the roles people think they occupy. As a consequence, in the extreme of this theory, the self can be conceptualized to be no more than the roles it plays (Markus, Nurius, 1986, pp. 954-969).

The above paragraph talked about the fact that psychologists and behavior sociologists tend to look at individuals’ social settings and the roles within that they occupy, they are also determined to consider personality types. There is an assumption that certain types of selves would act distinctively regardless of the context and overall environment. There are different types of personalities that have been developed by many psychologists, such as for example Machiavellians, narcissists, authoritarians, high self-monitors, introverted feelers or thrill-seekers, introverts, extraverts and others. So as to define the personality type of a person he/she should take personality tests. The difficulty of such tests ranges from easy and fun interpretative exercises like the Rorschach inkblot to massive exhaustive questionnaires like the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (M.M.P.I.). Lower I would like to present some of the tests that are use to assess the personality type.

Firstly, there is graphology, this method assumes that one’s handwriting can serve as a personality X-ray. Handwriting may reveal such traits as aspiration, eagerness, imagination, and ambition. The personality type is defined according to the size and slant of one’s script, how the „t’s“ are crossed, and whether the m’s and n’s are pointed or wedge-shaped. Secondly, there are Rorschach inkblot tests. For the sake of these tests one’s self type is judged on the associations one has about the ink spots presented. Thirdly, Leopold Bellak has come up with a method to define self type using the face, that is, according to him, a „map of the mind.“ Bellak believed that when dividing the face in half lengthwise and across, the right-side would reflect qualities people want to show, while the left would reflect the ones that they would rather conceal. Another good tool used in the self assessment is the „rating scales“. Rating scales typically are composed of a set of statements to which the respondent expresses a degree of agreement or disagreement. Lastly, there are „checklists“ that involve having respondents check all of the adjectives that they believe apply to them ((Lenz, Peterson, Sampson, Reardon, 1999, p. 323).

Now, having described various theories of self and self-knowledge as well as having provided several options as how to assess selves I would like to discuss the relevance of all of the above to counseling. As it can be understood, self-knowledge and self theories have always had a strong influence on the profession of counseling. This is so because counselors are dealing primary with people and of course, it is much easier to approach people whose personality types are known. It has been proven that that successes and failures people experience are strongly related to the ways they have gotten accustomed to view themselves and their relations with others.

As early as in the middle of twentieth century Prescott Lecky proposed that self-consistency was the strongest motivation force for human behavior (Lecky, 1945, pp. 26-27). His views were supported by Raimy who introduced measures of self-knowledge in counseling interviews (Raimy, 1948, p. 153). Additionally, Raimy believed that psychotherapy was all about changing the way people think about themselves, of course, if they think negatively. Thus, self-knowledge and self theories have three major qualities that are of interest to counselors. Firstly, this field is learned, secondly it is organized, and thirdly, it is dynamic (Raimy, 1948, p. 154).

Consequently, when counseling a client a counselor should be aware about the personality types and various assessment methods that can be used in order to get closer to the inner self of a person, by this making the help more efficient and the recovery more rapid. Self assessment tests could be a valuable tool, however, counselors who are willing to assess self-knowledge and self concepts must be aware of several characteristics of such tests.

These characteristics include technical adequacy of the assessment procedure, demand nature of self-report measure, and, of course, whether a particular evaluation is used for clinical purposes or pure research (Lenz, Peterson, Sampson, Reardon, 1999, pp. 324-326).

It has to be remembered that not every client can be diagnosed and helped using the self-knowledge techniques. This is because such measures must involve people who have a sufficient level of self-awareness (Ingersoll, 2007). If one does not possess a sufficient level, it might be very challenging for one to answer personal evolution questions. Additionally, such tests require substantial verbal competence – a skill that cannot be overlooked (Strauser, 1995, p. 273). Furthermore, counselors cannot take the results of such tests for granted because even at early ages people start to understand that some responses to questions would be better accepted than the others. Thus, the truthfulness of self tests has to be doubted (Strauser, 1995, pp. 274-275).

In conclusion I would like to say that from my point of view the psychological theories and tools involving the theories of self and self-knowledge are valuable and useful indeed for the counseling practice. Though, it has to be remembered that counselors deal with people, thus I do not think that even the best and proven theories can be always applied. It has to be remembered that all these theories, researches, studies and tools have been designed more for research than for practical clinical use. Thus, in order to insure the overall help to an individual a counselor has to combine the information he/she has received about the self type from the individual and his/her (counselor’s) intuition and experience when dealing with a particular case.

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