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Opinion & Essays - Jun, 1997 Issue #46

Some Why’s and Wherefore’s as It Exists in Emotional Growth Schools
by: Linda Shaffer, Educational Consultant
Sandpoint, Idaho

(NOTE: This article is the third in a three-part series about the eclectic counseling style in emotional growth schools.)

KAREN HORNEY saw the primary task of the counselor as eliciting constructive forces in the patient’s life and helping the client mobilize these forces to resolve his or her problems. Searching within and rediscovering that which is positive and beautiful is the primary goal of emotional growth schools — unpeeling the layers of life experiences that cover one’s beautiful core. 

Abraham MASLOW believed that counseling should start by studying the normal healthy personality rather than the pathological, unadapted personality. Today, emotional growth schools divide the day into many compartments making time for the classroom, various counseling formats, the sportsfield, and for physical work. The struggles of teens, (or the “unadapted personality issues”), are addressed more intensely, as well, in group and individual counseling sessions and in personal growth workshops. 

Danish theologian and philosopher, SOREN KIERKEGAARD, laid down the concept of existentialism, namely that each person carves out his or her own destiny and that one’s essence or inner being is the product of one’s actions. And so the pursuit of one’s true self is investigated by teens via many creative avenues with an emphasis on responsibility and accountability. 

ROLLO MAY in his writing emphasized each person’s individuality and the need for counselors to separate themselves from preconceived diagnostic categories in efforts to understand and help their clients. So in many of these schools, counselors are encouraged to “get to know” a teen, and “build a relationship” via the many day to day interactions rather than only from preconceived ideas of the child from his or her psychological evaluations. 

Gestalt counseling, expounded by FRITZ PERLS during the 60’s and 70’s, was dynamic, dramatic, intensive and absorbing encouraging encounter group therapy, marathon groups, family counseling, school counseling, counseling of “delinquents” and prisoners and drug counseling. Gestalt counselors believe a healthy personality exists when a person’s experiences form a meaningful whole — when there is a smooth transition between the experiences immediately in focus and those in the background or past. The Gestalt client, or student, is asked to “experience” rather than simply to intellectualize. There is no beating around the bush, no sugar coating with words, no manipulating or tricking the counselor. 

PROVOCATION by the counselor is an integral part of the Gestalt repertoire of techniques for assisting the client’s search for a new level of awareness about himself or herself. Portions of personal growth workshops in emotional growth schools employ this creative technique. By being guided to emotionally relive painful experiences, students develop for themselves a very intense awareness of difficult times in the past, what worked for them, what did not, what they wanted to say at the time and did not. Resolution, acceptance, forgiveness and other new options can now be more clearly a part of the teen’s life. They have “moved on”, they are no longer “stuck”. 

Victor Frankl would see teens looking for the meaning of their own existence as he did in his book MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, which he wrote to stay alive while in Dachau and Auschwitz during WWII. “Who am I,” “Why am I here,” and “How will I make a difference” becomes the theme for an introspective adolescent searching for meaning. 

Eclectic counseling under the stars and on the trail is also an integral part of many emotional growth schools. KURT HAHN, who started OUTWARD BOUND in the 50’s, created a model that has become the basic wilderness program style of counseling in many schools — modified to meet each school’s objectives and creative style. Counselors forego offices and take to the hills. 

The eclectic counseling style incorporates lessons from others, as well. Emerson, Thoreau, Gibran, Plato, Buddha. And there were the lessons of Richard Bach’s Jonathon Livingston Seagull in the 70’s — the seagull who refused to let the flock determine his personal boundaries even though they laughed at him and mocked his efforts at soaring away from the flock on his own paths. Jonathon’s soaring, and many other inspirational readings are utilized to illustrate to the adolescent the ever present choices in the world to “go with the crowd” or to choose to risk ridicule while flying off to find one’s true self and “SOAR!” 

The eclectic counseling style and personal growth opportunity that lies ahead for the therapeutic school student and his or her family can be diverse, challenging, and rewarding. There is surely a sense of standing at the mountain top — GRADUATION IS ESSENTIAL, a MAJOR missing ingredient in the past. There are MANY invisible signatures on the diplomas .... Kurt Hahn, Carl Rogers, Erik Erikson, Karen Horney, Fritz Perls, Chuck Dederich, Kahlil Gibran, Richard Bach, etc, etc,.... And then each diploma would need many additional attachments for the signatures of all the brilliant musicians who wrote and performed WONDERFUL music and poetic lyrics used in personal growth workshops that so creatively help bring this eclectic counseling style home to the heart. 

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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