If Counselling Is Learning, What Kind of Learning?

Counselling may be a kind of learning process — of learning to live differently. But what kind of learning is this? The kind of learning we do in school? Or some other kind?

In an earlier post I asked, “Is Counselling Learning?” (see “Is Counselling Learning?”). In the comments (which are great, please read them if you have the time), Sarah Luczaj raised the question: What kind of learning? She pointed out that most of the learning we do is outside schools.

I think Sarah has made an excellent point. This post is my response to Sarah’s question.

Firstly, the kind of learning that counselling is about involves personal change — living differently to a lesser or greater extent. This is wildly different to memorising content in one place (e.g., a classroom) and reproducing it another place (e.g., an exam room).

It is closer to vocational education and professional development, which are (or perhaps should be) concerned with learning how to do things — and learning how to improve the way we do them. [It is my conviction that vocational education needs radical modification so that it is ethically informed and oriented to making the future — but that is a subject for another post.]

It is also closer to learning a sport or a hobby. This is usually not structured in the academic way but rather as a graduated series of tasks that are to be done — for example, in learning the piano a set of progressively more difficult pieces, or in the martial arts a series of movements or opponents.

But these kinds of education have an external curriculum which the student learns. In counselling this is usually not the way it is done. In an important sense I think in counselling, the client sets ‘the curriculum’.

So my second answer to Sarah’s question is that counselling is about learning in the way children learn, before formal education. In this situation there is some sense of what the child should be doing or who they should become (e.g., learning to walk, speak, eat and so on). In an important sense, the care-givers (usually) follow the development of the child. There is no rigid timetable, no formal exams. In an important sense, the child sets ‘curriculum’.

Another similarity with children’s education before schooling is that it is the development of the child that is the aim. Care-givers are usually keen to see the child’s individuality. This is celebrated. The aim of this kind of education is the development of the child: the goal is that the person becomes who they are.

There is a difference, though: children are experiencing things for the first time. The adults who come to counselling usually have established ways of feeling, thinking and behaving. Unlearning is likely to be a part of counselling that has no parallel in the early learning of children.

The education of children before schooling involves a huge investment of time and energy by individuals. This is my problem with this as a model of education for counselling: it would be very expensive.

So I’d like to ask you. Would you like to see counselling done in an educational way? Do you think this could be done in a way that was affordable for most people?

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