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«Alicja Kargulowa University of Lower Silesia Why We Need Counsellogical Research: Towards an Anthropology of Counselling The article explores various ...»

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Journal of Counsellogy 2013

ISSN 2299-4971

Alicja Kargulowa

University of Lower Silesia

Why We Need Counsellogical Research:

Towards an Anthropology of Counselling

The article explores various meanings of counselling as understood in colloquial,

psychological and sociological terminologies and contexts. Starting from these

definitions, the article argues strongly for research into counselling and investiga‑

tion of counselling‑related issues and problems. The resultant findings, compiled and synthesised in the form of hypotheses, interpretations and generalised prin‑ ciples, contribute to  the science of counselling, i.e. counsellogy. The article seeks to characterise the existing counsellogical knowledge – knowledge on counselling and counselling research – and foster thinking about counsellogy in terms of an anthropology of counselling.

Key words: anthropology of counselling, homo consultans, counselling, counsellogy, counsellogical knowledge Why Should We Do Research into Counselling?

A participant of social life processes in Poland can easily notice two parallel phe‑ nomena.1 One of them is a steady increase in the population of clients of various therapy and counselling facilities. Coupled with the growing numbers of those who seek answers to their haunting questions in prophecies, fortune‑telling, divinations and advice proffered by sundry “helping experts,” they make up a  vast group of the vulnerable and the excluded, who need and want to  use an array of services counselling offers. The other phenomenon is a proliferation of social voices (poli‑ ticians, social activists, journalists, etc.) that advocate an accelerated inclusion of these “confused” people by providing them with direct help. This means a plea for expanding the areas of social resourcefulness and self‑reliance through setting up various advisory facilities for those in need of advice as well as for those in charge of various helping institutions. Observably, analytical and advisory units and sec‑ tions are also being increasingly established in production plants, educational in‑ stitutions and cultural facilities. This is paired with a  multiplication of self‑help 1 For various modes of participation in social life, see my article in the previous issue of Studia Pora- doznawcze/Journal of Counsellogy (Kargulowa, 2012).

259 I. Studies and Dissertations and advice publications and programmes on  the book market and in the media, respectively. The Internet isby no means lagging behind, with a variety of websites and networks brimming with advice. All these phenomena add up to a counselling boom, which could not have gone unnoticed or ignored by social life researchers.

Hence, advice‑seeking/giving has been acknowledged as a  research object in its own right that deserves to be studied within a separate, specialist research frame‑ work. Clearly, research on  various counselling forms probes into a  very complex field of immediate topical importance.

Significantly, counselling is not only a  “hot” current issue, but also one read‑ ily accessible to research now. We should remember that seeking counselling and guidance from various people, “agencies,” and institutions, as well as seeking vari‑ ous forms of help, hits the eye now, but since it does not always have to be openly registered, its irresistible visibility and availability for research may be a temporary matter only. It may easily change as the time goes by. Frequently, what goes on in counselling and related areas evades recording, is obscured by other activities it is enmeshed in, remains undetectable to the third parties or is even purposefully con‑ cealed by the counselling support‑seekers. If we keep postponing our research, we may risk losing precious empirical data and find assessing the social contexts of counselling‑related phenomena now rife in Poland ever more difficult.

Studying the existing “counselling micro‑world” seems indispensable now and, importantly, not very challenging in methodological terms. Such projects seems to fit very well with the mainstream social research. They can be conducted in the traditional methodological framework, in the so‑called intervention model or as action research, which aims to solve the essential social problems by means of open, democratic investigation in collaboration with those most affected by the problems, as Mieczysław Malewski emphasises (2012, p. 40). Its principal feature is that it seeks to capture what is going on in “the here and the now,” opts for qualitative ap‑ proaches, promotes a researcher’s autonomy not only in choosing methods, tools and techniques, but also in selecting research objects and interpretive frameworks, and identifies moral and effective action in the world as its ultimate goal (Ibid.). Such research methodologies and methodics seem most aligned with the ways of collect‑ ing empirical data on counselling (cf. Červinková, Gołębniak, {eds.] 2010; 2013), and this intuition has already been corroborated by the literature (Siarkiewicz, Trębińska‑Szumigraj, Zielińska‑Pękał, 2012).

Scientific analyses and accounts of counselling need to  conform to  meth‑ odological standards mandatory for any research on  the social life, but they also need to adopt general philosophical and ethical assumptions which pertain to the questions posed by the counselling participants (guidance‑seekers and counsellors alike), their understanding of life and their attitudes to the world.2 The analyses and 2 Anthony Giddens aptly outlines the scope of such questions: These issues have to do with the nature of human action and the acting self; with how the interaction should be conceptualized and its relation to institutions; and with grasping the practical connotations of social analysis (Giddens, 1984, pp. xvi‑xvii).

260 Journal of Counsellogy 2013 accounts need also a terminology which could adequately render the phenomenon they cover. Briefly, they need to be informed by a science of counselling, a theory a counselling, counsellogy in one word.

–  –  –

It makes sense to start with tracing back the term “counselling” and inquire how our (prospective) research object is (to be) defined and understood. That, actually, turns out to be highly challenging and ambiguous. Counselling, namely, is neither a simple physical phenomenon nor a tangible thing graspable by the senses. It can be discussed only if a certain conceptual apparatus is developed in the first place.

“Counselling” is, nevertheless, a so‑called sensitising concept in that it affects the imagination and, thereby, even if not accompanied by any illustration, it conjures up an image of what it refers to (cf. Konecki, 2000, p. 38). Such a sensitising con‑ cept is indispensable in accounts of genuine counselling practices, and the simpler its definition, the better. The popular (schematic and unambiguously termed), sim‑ ple, commonsensical definition has it that counselling is the provision of guidance which helps the advice‑seeker solve his/her problems. We need to  add, however, that the commonsensical view is only one of the many images of counselling put forward in the literature. It is worthwhile to survey them briefly.

Irrespective of the kind of problem that the guidance‑seeker experiences, the situation of advice‑giving, counselling, guidance‑provision, etc. can be viewed in terms of a  specific social system made up by the counsellor and the counselee.

It is the bare fact of its being there that is essential for counselling to  take place, and counselling is here an action/process/phenomenon/fact in which the partici‑ pants face up to the counselee’s diverse possible problems (Kargulowa 2004). The problems can range from personal ones concerning private life, through problems affecting the groups or organisations the counselee is engaged with, to  the prob‑ lems pertaining to  broader systems, possibly even managed by the counselee, if s/he is a policy‑maker or a local, regional or state functionary. The problem‑solv‑ ing process should lead to a change in the counselee, to a transformation of [his/ her] experience, knowledge and action structures (Alheit, 2011; Kargulowa, 2012;

2013). Counselling is in practice a specific performance – a collaboration effected mainly through words, an event/fact/process which is by definition performative (Siarkiewicz, 2010a). This popular understanding of counselling includes constitu‑ tive elements of counselling and its various perceptions in everyday life. In this nar‑ row sense, counselling can be considered to have generally been identified, with its particular aspects still to be explored in order to define general laws and principles pertaining both to its nature and to its social role. Hence, it is still essential to scru‑ tinise other available definitions of counselling.


I. Studies and Dissertations

According to the definitions of first dictionaries and encyclopaedias, the social interaction in which counselling is practised tends to be described as the counsellor’s action undertaken vis‑à‑vis the counselee.3 This account seems typical of the sociological line of reasoning to be found across analyses of the process of social life. The action can be professional (performed by a  professionally trained coun‑ sellor) or non‑professional (undertaken by any advice‑giver4), yet it always has its distinguishable subject, object, aim, methods, tools and means, course and measur‑ able effects. The action is always located in a particular natural, social and cultural environment. If we delve more deeply, counselling can be seen as the performance of a  role/profession of counsellor or, alternatively, as the provision of specialised services.5 Optimally speaking, the service consists in cooperation of the counsellor and the counselee, who jointly address the latter’s problem. Sometimes, however, it may gravitate towards rivalry, particularly if the counselee has been pressed by oth‑ ers to seek counselling while it is not what s/he really wants at the moment. It can also dwindle into bought friendship, when the counselee is eager to sustain con‑ tact with the counsellor, without however trying to solve his/her problems or make important change in his/her life with the counsellor’s help. The counselee pretends only to wish such changes in order to pass for a “cool” or “up‑to‑date” person; and the service‑providing counsellor merely listens to the client’s outpourings, possibly helping him/her out and making him/her feel comfortable and content by offering “ready‑made” identities (e.g. a macho, a new sensitive guy, a business woman, etc.).

This happens without the counselee investing any effort and without the counsellor fathoming the counselee’s emotions and experiences. The counsellor might therein resort to  various “intermediaries,” e.g. technical devices, statistical data or ready‑ made patterns. The buying of friendship does not necessarily mean that the coun‑ selee cynically purchases the counsellor’s attention and manifestations of amity. The act might as well be enticed by the counselee’s acute loneliness in the unkindly envi‑ ronment (Kargulowa, 1996).

In psychological terms, and particularly after the „Rogerian turn” (cf. Glad‑ ding, 1992, pp. 12‑13), counselling tends to  be identified with the counsellorcounselee relationship as such. It is even sometimes regarded as a so‑called “pure 3 For example, in Mały słownik języka polskiego PWN [The Small Polish Language Dictionary ] from 1968, the “counselling” entry on page 604 reads: ”providing guidance, instructions and information within a certain defined scope; the activity of counselling services.” 4 The term “counsellor” as a rule refers to individuals who are professional counselling practitioners bound to adhere to the code of professional ethics. “Advice‑givers” are not constrained by any for‑ mal obligations or regulations: advice provision may be their own initiative driven either by a desire to help the advisee or by their own self‑interest.

5 According to  Jeremy Rifkin, the term “services” usually denotes activities whose outcomes are shot‑lasting and are consumed while being produced and have no material value: Services do not qualify as property. They are immaterial and intangible. They are performed not produced. They exist only at the moment they are rendered. They cannot be held, accumulated or inherited (Rifkin, 2000, pp. 83‑84).

262 Journal of Counsellogy 2013 relationship,” i.e. one which is sustained because both partners derive pleasure from the mere fact of being part of it and offering each other psychological support, understanding, kindness, tolerance, and security while they jointly seek solutions to the problem (Kargulowa, 2004, pp. 47‑50). The counselling relationship which they enter, create and construct is produced in a situation which is specific and de‑ marcated enough to  actualise at all, to  be separable and distinguishable from all other situations and, at the same time, open enough to simply “be” and “become,” to  give opportunities for the participants’ expressive actions, candid displays of feelings, deep reflection, intellectual analyses and emotive experiences. This refers to the situations which take place in counselling facilities, to the situations which take place in unstructured, incidental, random circumstances of real life (cf. Siar‑ kiewicz, 2010) and to  the situations in the virtual reality created at the interface with the media (cf. Zielińska‑Pękał, 2009; Zierkiewicz, 2004). Whatever happens in a counselling situation, which comes into being because such a dyad produces a space of cooperation, is called counselling. And the site in which the relationship is being made and the time and circumstances in which it develops add up to its context. In this sense, counselling is often identified with delving into existential problems, with partnership‑based “Buberian” dialogue, with empathetic commu‑ nication and transmission of sincere, usually supportive and positive messages (cf.

Czerkawska, 2009; Drabik‑Podgórna, 2009).

The performative character of the interaction space can be indeed indicated;

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