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The Challenges of Educational Counseling - Part 1

Updated on May 6, 2015

The gender variable has a significant impact on the psychological health of freshmen. The transition in students' life from secondary education to college, and the social forces involved in the process lead female and male students tend to experience environmental change quite differently (Pompeo et al, 2013). In this regard, Chodorow’s (1978) object theory which has it that “because the mother (a woman) is the first object of a child’s attachment, separation from her is necessary for a boy’s identity development. A girl’s identity, conversely, develops within the maternal bond; therefore, a young woman’s sense of self is threatened by separation, whereas a young man’s is threatened by attachment” (p.16). These discrepancies culminate in dissimilar relational-domains that counselors need to take heed of. As a result, it is argued that "men prefer to participate in group or community relationships, whereas women enjoy and psychologically benefit from both one-on-one and community relationships. Regardless of the reason for this difference, one thing seems clear: Women have more relational opportunities that can lead to improved psychological functioning compared with their male counterparts. As college counselors work with these women, focusing attention on these relational domains may help improve psychological health” (p. 19).

The transition involves parental detachment which makes parent-child relationships become overshadowed by peer and community relationships in college due to the fact that college dorming reduces the amount of interaction with parents. As a consequence, it is incumbent upon college counselors to understand the impact of the presence or absence of peer and community relationships from students' lives. It is also important that counselors have awareness of individual expectations and perceptions of rejection that may actually cause rejection as well as relationship breakdown. College counselors should help female students gain a sense of self-awareness, and hone their leadership skills by assisting them in the analysis of their physical self-concept and deconstructing critically the ideal self-image promoted by media and other cultural means.

According to Pompeo et al (2013) the transition is underlined by feelings of isolation due to a lack of a sense of belonging which may lead to a state of body dissatisfaction among female students. Feelings of vulnerability are conducive to binge drinking which leads in turn to sexual risk-taking whereby students seek some form of acceptance among peers. The combination of interpersonal and environmental influences as such induces psychological distress and ultimately low self-esteem.

College counselors are thus required to pay attention to the connection between gender and relationships which may have an impact on students' psychological health and recovery. Counselor can improve their clients' growth and functioning by repairing or adding relationships to the students' lives. This process begins firstly with the counseling relationship and then the students' relationship with their own selves.

Group therapy is suggested as a method of conducting this form of counseling, because it enhances personal growth and interpersonal functioning by relating to one another. Nonetheless, it is important to take account of cultural variations in group therapy. The authors add that “no two women are alike” (p. 23) due to cultural and life phase variables. As a result, counseling therapy needs to have a sense of collaborative relationship between counselor and client to cater for the specific and personal needs of each individual.

These principles dovetail with the Model of Ecological Counseling which deems educational environments to be ecosystems underlined by a set of social substrates. In the model, counseling is defined as “contextualized help-giving that is dependent on the meaning clients derive from their environmental interactions” (Conyne & Cook, 2004, cited in Macmahon et al, 213, p. 416). The definition accentuates the importance of controlling for social, physical and institutional domains in order to account for student’s behavior. The ultimate goal of ecological counselors is to enhance the fit between the client and their environment by developing an ecological empathy that is cognizant of the dynamics shaping their value system and meaning-making. There is more emphasis therefore on the importance of understanding the difference in relationship expectations between men and women, and how women’s expectations of rejection and the impact this latter has on their psychological state can in effect lead to relationship breakdowns and psychological distress.

Ecological counseling is therefore trans-theoretical. That is, it makes use of theories depending on contextual idiosyncrasies. Part two shows how ecological counseling transcends the stereotypical models that can impede effectiveness of the counseling profession.


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