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Symbolic Approaches

The foundational understanding of the symbolic approach to counseling is derived from Jungian analytic concepts of the collective unconscious and the shared archetypes counselor and client inherently share. In a lot of ways, the discovery of the numinous self, from a symbolic perspective, is the discovery of a greater connectedness to the community of shared meaning and thought. Through synchronistic experiences, clients develop feelings of connectedness that counter feelings of isolation and feelings of loneliness (Hogenson, 2005). The following tenets of the symbolic approach are the bases for effective use of this approach with clients:

1. Symbolic reshaping is the primary function of the counseling process. The counseling relationship provides clients with a conducive environment for change. Through the interaction of the counselor and clients, the clients become aware of their own definitions of the symbols in their lives. For example, clients working in session on trust will gradually become aware of those symbols (i.e., relationships and people) that they interpret as embodying trustworthiness. These relationships and people are symbols as they are subject to the definitions and meanings clients impose on them.

2. Clients experience their meaning through cognitive and emotive projection. Definition and perspective guide the clients' understanding of self and their lives. As clients experience the facets of life, they tend to externalize or project their reality on to the outside world. For example, the same client who is working on trust has learned to define relationships through internal process. Whether the client is having a good or bad day, the client will assign those attributes to people with whom she or he consistently shares those experiences. This is the same principle behind the lasting effect of first impressions.

3. Therapeutic change occurs when clients accept their ability to define their lives through symbols of transformation. Clients' growth is expedited through their awareness that they control the definitions and subsequent meaning in their lives. Similar to the narrative understanding, clients are seen as the author of their existence through the meaning they infuse into their roles, relationships, possessions, social attributes, and so on. The client working through trust issues in the previous examples will have to understand that even her or his interpretation of behaviors are symbolic and she or he controls the symbols of life.

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