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Opinion & Essays - Feb, 1997 Issue #44


By: Linda Shaffer-Educational Consultant 
Sandpoint, Idaho 83864 - 208-263-8394 

(NOTE: This article is the first in a two-part series about the eclectic counseling style in emotional growth schools. Article #1 here will cover “Why the need” and some general examples of eclectic counseling. Article #2 (next issue) will focus on the groundwork, the underlying theories, and “Who created what” to be used today in various innovative processes in emotional growth schools). 


Many in the counseling field will generally refer to eclectic counseling as the various and sundry styles, methods and approaches used by counselors to “reach” a client and thus enhance the possibilities for GREATER INSIGHTS and positive change. Eclectic styles are usually called upon when traditional counseling in an office has reached a standstill or created a counseling-savvy adolescent who has learned what to say -- or is not showing up for the session to say anything at all! 

So, what specifically do today’s struggling, angry, hurt, blaming, acting out adolescents “NEED” in order to “HEAR” the concern. What do any adults, for that matter, need in order to be open to “getting a message” from another human being. Let us consider honesty surrounded by genuine care for starters? If a medication existed that could GUARANTEE A CHANGE of heart, feelings, thinking and choices, a lot of exhausted, desperate- feeling parents in these times might be tempted to go for the quick-fix and make the hasty dash to the psychiatrist and pharmacist. Unfortunately, the “MAGIC PILL” does not exist. So what to do. What is the carrot or process to encourage and support LASTING CHANGE and a genuine interest in social responsibility. Fear? threat of jail? The promise of a car from a frightened, desperate dad....”if you do this program, son...”? Nurturing, boundary-setting love? What works? How do you get someone’s attention who says he or she is NOT INTERESTED? 

Some adolescents will respond or “buy-in” more quickly than others to the more traditional counseling approaches without the need for counselors to STAND ON THEIR CREATIVE, ECLECTIC HEADS to reach them. For this teen the road is bumpy, but quite hopeful. But what about the teenager everyone calls the ‘HARD- HEADED- gang-like, posturing “I don’t care and I never will, so just stay out of my face, I just plan to DO MY TIME, finish my credits and I’m out of here” kid. Or the quiet, passive- aggressive kid who adamantly refuses to trust anyone and “open up”. How do we reach them? Are they really a “harder” kid than the others? Could they be, for whatever reasons, more hurt, sensitive, self-protecting, and A THOUSAND MILES AWAY FROM TRUSTING others and themselves as compared to their peers’ one hundred miles shortfall from Trust? Here enters the eclectic counseling style of emotional growth schools whose role it is to assist adolescents in getting “unstuck” from either fairly recent or old, entrenched UNPRODUCTIVE patterns and to see themselves in a new way as their self-esteem builds.

And what does this mean, exactly?

*Opportunity to be around HORSES in a corral. 
*DIGGING in the earth and growing the largest pumpkin in the county. 
*Being in GROUP SESSIONS out under the stars, as well as indoors. 
*Participating in interactive emotional growth WORK SHOPS. *Being given a LEADERSHIP role before it’s comfortable. *CROCHETING a scarf for a grandmother. 
*Reviewing with a doctor body CHEMISTRY and medication questions. 
*Retracing Lewis and Clark’s Northwest explorations in a canoe with a journal for a history class while at the same time learning about courage, perseverance, and the search for one’s LIFE PASSIONS. 
*Taking a “new kid” under one’s WING. 
*Starting a rollerblade HOCKEY team at school. 
*Building a campfire with a BOW DRILL. 
*Looking up at the STARS. 
*Standing on a MOUNTAIN top. 
*Watching a SUNSET. 
*Playing cards with residents at a NURSING HOME. 
*Catching a FISH. 
*Sleeping in a TENT. 
*SPLITTING wood and CARRYING water. 
*CARVING an eating utensil. 
*Writing a POEM for mom or dad. 
*Dancing and SINGING before one’s classmates. 
*Going on a wilderness “SOLO” (with a staff “shadow”). *COOKING for everybody. 
*Keeping a JOURNAL. 
*Baking a birthday cake for someone you first thought you would NEVER WANT for a friend. 
*Discovering what “a change of HEART” really means 
*PLANTING a tree or clearing a mountain trail. 
*Learning to CRY again and knowing it’s okay -- EVEN healthy 
*And on goes the list...... 

Part of the eclectic approach, or creative whole-child education, involves SPIRITUAL growth. It may be seen in many forms including learning about the heritage of native Americans, reflection time, meditation, and attendance at a church, mass or synagogue. 

The 12-step concepts are employed in some of these schools, as well, either very directly as 12-STEP or 12-step-like concepts only presented in a different format. 

Sometimes the building of self-esteem is first issue therapeutically tackled through taking on day to day responsible LIVING SKILLS-- one of the alternative methods for “finding oneself” -- as opposed to the more formal group sessions and personal growth workshops. 

It is well known in these schools that the basis for bringing all these therapeutic styles together and making it work is A STAFF WHO CAN CONNECT with teens through genuine care, humor, boundary-setting, direct honesty, stretching beyond one’s comfort zone, side by side experiences getting rained and snowed upon, and sharing personal stories. Relationships. Friendship. 

Staff credentials and experiences will be diverse. One will see, however, if around these schools and programs long enough, that training and experience are CRITICAL. But, as in any counseling, it is the personal qualities of the individual and the process that can either connect or not connect with the adolescent. CHILDREN VOTE WITH THEIR FEET, it has been said. And consistent running away is an indicator that children are not getting what they need. Plan B. Staff meetings. Discussions. Regrouping. 

The eclectic/non-clinical-seeming counseling style is especially needed for the difficult to reach teen. Many of these children need REASSURANCES THEY ARE NOT A PATIENT OR A DIAGNOSIS. What they seek to have affirmed is that they are special, important, and “normal” even in their struggles. They are needing in their counselors honest, personal, human connections such as one might have with a good uncle who can SAY THE HARD THINGS WITH LOVE -- and hold to it. 

In considering a school with an eclectic counseling style, some parents may say -- “but WE’VE DONE A LOT of that sort of thing, the hiking and camping and gardening, etc. We have horses at home and Jimmy never wants to take care of them!” 

The main differences between home and the residential school, as I have seen and experienced them, is that there can be a time in a teen’s life when no 2 or 4 parents can provide the 24 hour a day eclectic structure that a SLIPPING-OUT-THE-WINDOW- AT-NIGHT adolescent may need. 

Another major difference in successfully implementing an eclectic counseling program is that these schools DO NOT HAVE MTV as an entertainment choice! They also do not have Nintendo or virtual reality. There is no negative rap music, probably no rap music at all. And DRUGS and ALCOHOL are not on the premises tugging at the teenage brain and desires to take a risk, “fit in”, or self-medicate. 

Adolescent struggles for some families these days can be SO WEARING that for a time a teen may need a place where a therapeutically creative staff, teamed up with parents, can just keep on sending in TWO MORE....and two more....and two more. stops and creating others,” having an understanding of who is “really in there,” being creative and NOT JUST CONTROLLING, and persevering knowing all this is surely not a game. The reality is that some of our children do not “make it.” I’ve seen that many CAN “make it,” however. These schools and counseling styles are the closest it gets, in my experience, to the written guarantee that every parent wants but knows does not exist. 

Eventually, positive changes can come from within the child if the therapeutic school and parents form a TEAM -- and parents have been counseled to resist urges to rescue. What it is all about with eclectic counseling is saving lives and needing EXTRA ORDINARY care and creativity to meet head on EXTRA ORDINARY struggles. 

(END NOTE: Who were the innovative therapists, psychologist, and counselors whose work laid the groundwork for emotional growth schools’ eclectic styles? More about them and their philosophies and processes will follow in Article 2 in this two-part series. Watch for the contributions of Kurt Hahn, Erik Erikson, Carl Rogers, Carl Jung, Alfred Adler, Sigmund Freud, Karen Horney, Abraham Maslow, Soren Kierkegaard, Fritz Perls, Rollo May, Victor Frankl, and others. Also look for Synanon, Lifespring, est, Esalen, Emerson, Thoreau, Gibran, Plato, Buddha, and Jonathon (Livingston Seagull). 

Copyright © 1997, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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