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The Influence of Developmental Issues and Theories on Practice Rhonda D. Williams University of Calgary

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The Influence of Developmental Issues and Theories on Practice As an emerging school psychologist, it is important that I develop a strong understanding of my own ideas and beliefs around a cohesive personal theory about counselling. Having a clear conceptual approach to describe the human condition and the process of change provides a solid foundation for a robust counselling framework. Life span developmental issues and theories have had a huge impact on shaping my counselling practice. In this paper I will briefly describe several aspects of my personal counselling theory regarding my philosophical assumptions and perspective of the counselling experience. This will include my thoughts about the nature of humans, healthy and unhealthy functioning, nature of change, counselling process, and therapeutic relationship. In addition to my personal counselling theory, I will also discuss guiding developmental issues and theories that have impacted my counselling practice the most including four major developmental issues. Finally, I will highlight attachment theory, parental elements, and theories in cognitive development, and the implications of these developmental approaches on my current personal counselling theory. Personal Counselling Theory Nature of Humans I belief that at birth, the core nature of each human is good and there is a balance between the influence of both biological and environmental factors that help determine aspects of an individuals innate disposition (Beck & Weishaar, 2011; Hope, Burns, Hayes, Herbert, & Warner, 2010). Humans are the products of a complex interplay of our genetic endowment, learning history, sociocultural context, and physical environment regardless of the clients functional or dysfunctional nature (Norcross & Beutler, 2011, p. 511). I also believe that the majority of brain organization takes place in the first five years of life. Because of this, the brain makes the majority of its primary associations from early experiences and an individuals personality begins developing in infancy (Beck & Weishaar, 2011; Perry & Hambrick, 2008; Raskin, Rogers, & Witty, 2011).

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Nature of Healthy and Unhealthy Individuals Understanding the nature of healthy individuals provides guidance for therapists during the therapeutic process of change. I agree with the client-centered and cognitive approach that well-functioning individuals have positive self-concepts and are able to respond to environmental, cognitive, affective, motivational, and behavioural experiences congruently and efficiently (Beck, 2005; Beck & Weishaar, 2011; Raskin et al., 2011). Because of my foundations in neurodevelopmental psychology, I believe that positive childhood experiences have a huge impact on healthy developmental patterns. Children exposed to consistent, predictable, nurturing, and enriching attachment experiences develop neurobiological capabilities that increase their chance for healthy, creative, productive lives (Perry, 2009; Perry & Hambrick, 2008). As therapists, our first exposure to individuals in a therapeutic setting is often because they are experiencing problems and difficulties for an extended period of time that they are not able to resolve on their own. I believe that unhealthy functioning can be impacted by multiple factors such as biological, developmental, and environmental interactions. People may have a genetic predisposition for some forms of psychopathology, but it is also the individuals life experiences and interactions with their environment that can sometimes activate specific genetic factors (Beck & Weishaar, 2011; Perry, 2009). Nature of Change It is important for therapists to have a clear understanding of the nature of change so they can best support therapeutic progress for their clients. I am drawn to the integrative psychotherapy approach that emphasizes multiple pathways for change and focuses on the process of how clients change rather than placing emphasis on what clients need to change (Norcross & Beutler, 2011; Petrocelli, 2002). Integrative therapists commonly use five client characteristics (diagnosis, stages of change, coping style, reactance level, and patient preferences) to guide decisions regarding individualized treatment plans. As an emerging

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therapist, I would like to integrate this approach into my practice to bring some structure to the change process that has been empirically proven. The Counselling Experience Counselling should enhance the clients ability to adapt to existing realities, facilitating the development of greater competencies and satisfaction within his or her environment through the increase in self-esteem, competence, logical and accurate thinking abilities, positive coping strategies, and positive relationships with others. (Petrocelli, 2002). I am drawn to that the fact that instead of adhering to a specific theoretical perspective, integrative psychotherapy places great emphasis on clinical assessment and has a flexible and tailored client-centered approach that focuses on the mechanisms of change rather than descriptions of psychopathology and theories of personality (Norcross & Beutler, 2011). I also believe that the information gathered from various types of assessment is invaluable and allows for more effective interventions and therapeutic relationship styles to be adopted to best meet the clients individual strengths and needs (Norcross & Beutler, 2011). Counsellor Client Therapeutic Relationship The therapeutic relationship established between the therapist and the client is very important to the process of making positive changes. Because of the unique nature of each client, I believe that a therapist must be able to adapt the type of therapeutic relationship style to meet specific needs. Qualities such as empathy, unconditional positive regard, goal consensus, collaboration, collecting feedback from clients, moderate self-disclosure, and management of countertransference have all been found to contribute to a positive working alliance with clients (Norcross & Beutler, 2011). I would also add the ability to be attentive, attuned, present, and responsive during the session is also important. Guiding Developmental Issues and Theories The opportunity to learn and integrate various developmental issues and theories into my practice has brought depth to my existing knowledge of human behaviour. This process has

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provided me with some theoretical underpinnings and increased sophistication to support concepts I have intuitively observed and experienced through my personal experiences. By gaining an understanding of the key developmental issues within the field, my practice can evolve to support the individualized needs of each client informed by their current level of functioning. Theoretical frameworks regarding attachment, parenting elements, and cognitive development have added to my personal counselling theory. Before I explore these theories in more detail, there are some key theoretical assumptions to be highlighted first. Developmental Issues Within developmental psychology, theoretical assumptions are used to guide our understanding and interpretation of facts and new findings. These assumptions tend to be consistent with our own cultural background and experience. There have also been four major issues in development identified within the field of life span development that have been often presented in an either/or manner. However, the concepts are not dualistic but rather can be conceptualized on a continuum. The major issues have been identified as nature and nurture, critical periods and plasticity, continuity and discontinuity, and activity and passivity. The core issue of nature and nurture has been a key concept informing my personal counselling theory. I find myself observing both the biological and environmental impacts on behaviour, emotions, and cognitions. Over the last few years I have been learning about neurodevelopment and how it is impacted by trauma during early years of development. Understanding brain development has shifted how I implement environmental interventions in order to bring about change in relational interactions of children with traumatized backgrounds. This has also enhanced my understanding of critical periods and plasticity. While I understand there are many aspects of our behavioural, perceptual, cognitive, and emotional capabilities that are powerfully shaped by experiences during sensitive or critical periods (e.g. development of the visual system; Knudsen, 2004), I am also inspired by the examples of life-long plasticity observed in a variety of everyday activities such as learning a new language later in life

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(Rosenzweig, 2003). In regards to continuity and discontinuity, I find myself gravitating more to stage-like theories such as Piagets cognitive development theory as a basis for knowledge. While this is a discontinuous perspective, I also think that boundaries between stages can be blurred and change can happen gradually over time. Finally, many of the developmental theories I am drawn to focus on both activity and passivity. For example, the strong influence in attachment theory tends to be more passive in that an individual is greatly impacted by outside environmental factors. However, I am also drawn to a constructivist approach, such as Piagets theoretical perspective, because it emphasizes the active construction of knowledge for an individual (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Each of these core issues has forced me to critically think about my own beliefs around human development across a life span. In the next few sections of the paper, I will present a few developmental theories that have informed and guided my practice. Attachment Theory One of the most important aspects of being human is our ability to form and maintain relationships. The implications of infant attachment are threaded throughout the life span. Emotional and cognitive development in humans stems from early interactions between infants and their primary caregivers. The system of attachment allows for infants to develop an internal working model, a guide for which they will use to evaluate future relationships (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Perry, 2001; Sable, 2004; Shumaker, Deursch, & Brenninkmeyer, 2009). Attachment theory proposes that attachment with primary caregivers happens in the first year of life. Bonding formulates during the first six months with a secure attachment developing around seven months (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Infants display innate genetically driven behaviours, such as smiling, snuggling, babbling, and crying, that elicit a response from the primary caregivers to take care of the infant. The primary caregiver experiences pleasure and satisfaction when the infant is responsive, reinforcing a reciprocal positive feedback loop which further strengthening the bond. If parents offer a consistent, warm, and nurturing response then

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the outcome will likely be a secure bond (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Perry 2001; Scott, Briskman, Woolgar, Humayun, & OConnor, 2011). On the other hand, should the child receive inconsistent, inadequate, or negative responses from their primary caregiver, the bond will be unhealthy and an insecure attachment will develop (Atwool, 2006; Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Scott et al., 2011). As a clinician, it is extremely important to understand the implications and impact of both secure and insecure attachment styles. Children and adolescents with secure attachments are able to form trusting relationships, are willing to explore new situations and have positive attitudes towards themselves and others. Insecure attachment styles in childhood can lead to low self-esteem, oppositional behaviours, and poor friendship skills (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Scott et al., 2011). Children with an insecure or avoidant attachment style also have a higher likelihood of difficulties in regulating their emotions. Their internal working model becomes the filter in which they develop their core beliefs. A counsellor must consider that a childs presenting concerns may be a result of early internal representations about their self-worth, created in response to their caregivers behaviour toward them (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Shumaker et al., 2009). Early attachment styles remain to be a factor in adolescence and well into adulthood. Although it is understood that attachment can be influenced by life experiences, research indicates that elements of the working models formed during infancy and early childhood remain stable over time (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Shumaker et al., 2009). The formation and impact of attachment style for adolescents and adults extends past their parental relationships and can be influenced by relationships with peers and romantic partners (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Scott et al., 2011). As a counsellor, it is important to explore a clients internal working model of attachment to help support relational growth and the development of effective coping strategies for emotional regulation, problem solving, and stress management (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Scott et al., 2011).

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Parenting Elements Although the previous discussion regarding attachment briefly discussed parenting qualities that help formulate the attachment style of an individual in infancy and early childhood, a deeper look into parenting qualities and styles is valuable for clinicians. Inherent with the nature of humans, babies are born with their own set of temperament traits. These various characteristics categorize babies as difficult, easy, or slow to warm up (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). An infants temperament impacts the style of response required by the caregivers. Thomas and Chess (1977) emphasized a number of implications for caregivers to match their sensitivity to the temperament of the baby (as cited in Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). For example, mothers of easily frustrated infants have been found to be more intrusive (e.g. forcing toys on an infant) but less effective with physically stimulating behaviours (Calkins, Hungerford, & Dedmon, 2004). This goodness of fit model emphasizes that it is the caregivers responsibility to adjust their style to meet the needs of the baby. Counsellors need to be aware that making these modifications will enhance the quality of the attachment between the caregiver as well as impact later development of the child. When infants and children are securely attached to a caregiver, they have better social skills, self-confidence, academic skills, and increased resiliency (Atwool, 2006; Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Stright, Gallagher, & Kelley, 2008). A critical factor that further develops these aspects is parenting styles. Parallel to what is necessary for babies to thrive; children and adolescents also need parental responsiveness (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Maccoby and Martin (1983) described four basic parenting styles (authoritative, authoritarian, permissive and neglecting-uninvolved) based on factors of demandingness (level of expectations and discipline) and responsiveness (parental warmth and attentiveness) components (as cited in Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). An authoritative parent is child-centered and highly involved, while at the same time maintaining high expectations of their children. They are active listeners and encourage

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their children to communicate their feelings, needs, and wants while providing them appropriate levels of affection (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). The authoritarian style of parenting is parent-centered with low responsiveness to their child. They have high expectations without the investment to teach in a child-friendly manner. Permissive parents show high responsiveness to their children but provide low expectations. They do not demand an appropriate level of maturity in respect to age appropriate expectations (e.g. expressions of feelings). They are affectionate and nurturing, however, not to the same extent as an authoritative parent. Neglecting-uninvolved parents are low with both their demandingness and responsiveness. They are parent-centered and spend little time paying attention to their children. The level of socialization and affection offered by these parents is lacking and they are not likely to respond to their basic needs. Children of authoritarian, permissive, and neglecting-uninvolved parents tend to be more irritable and anxious, struggle with emotional regulation, have low self-esteem, lower levels of autonomy and social agency, impulsive, and demonstrate higher levels of aggression (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Walton & Flouri, 2010). Identifying and understanding parenting styles may help a clinician gain insight into the clients current level of functioning and help identify treatment goals and intervention plans. Cognitive Development In addition to attachment theory and theories on parenting elements, cognitive development models are highly influential in understanding the stage and functioning level of the clients current developmental stage (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Piagets cognitive development theory has had a huge impact on how clinicians conceptualize cognitive development across a life span. His identified stages of development provide a basic guideline and understanding of the cognitive abilities children, adolescents, and adults possess at various points during development (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). By identifying a clients current level of functioning, a clinician is able to provide learning experiences consistent with the clients ability

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and maximize change and growth. Cognitive developments of logical thinking in both concrete and abstract constructs evolve over time. Piaget identified four stages of development known as sensorimotor, preoperational, operational, and formal operational thought (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Understanding the sequential nature of development also supports the clinician in building on a childs previous knowledge that is strength-based regardless of chronological age. For example, it is important for a clinician to identify a childs delayed development to individualize interventions according to the childs reasoning abilities. In addition to Piagets cognitive stages of development, it has also been impactful to understand his conceptualization of the process of acquiring knowledge. According to Piaget, the human mind constructs its knowledge through the process of adaptation starting at an early age. Adaptation occurs when infants and children interpret their new knowledge through what they currently know. This process of assimilation sometimes results in some distortions of the interpretation to fit with existing scripts or schemas. Once the information is assimilated, modifications to the childs existing knowledge base occur through accommodation (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). Although Piagets theoretical perspectives have greatly impacted my understanding of cognitive development across a life span, Vygotskys perspective of a historically situated and culturally determined development of metacognition and self-regulation challenged my thinking about cognitive development. His emphasis on mediated learning that takes place within the context of the collective experience varies from a stage-like process of development. Vygotsky emphasized the importance of environmental and cultural influences on cognitive development (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Fox & Riconscente, 2008). Another paramount construct of Vygotskys theory is the concept of scaffolding. Scaffolding is a temporary prop in which a childs thinking is supported by a higher functioning individual in an effort to potential achieve higher levels of thinking. Scaffolding also further provides support to understand a concept or perform a task that the individual would not be able to achieve on their own. In supporting this

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zone of proximal development, a clinician would be able to move the clients development forward in a productive and positive manner (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Kim & Baylor, 2006). Implications of Developmental Issues and Theories There have been many implications associated with integrating various developmental issues and theories into my counselling practice. By integrating attachment theory, parenting elements, Piagets cognitive development model, and Vygotskys sociocultural theory into my practice, I am also incorporating theoretical assumptions from each theory. The implications, strengths, and weaknesses of this integration will be explored in this next section of the paper. Attachment Theory Attachment theory has shown me that parent-child relationships are a crucial element of both early and later cognitive schema development. Experiences are filtered through their internal working model lens and the individual engages in behaviours that elicits expected responses. They are also drawn to individuals who treat them in a way that is familiar and understandable, often replicating relational patterns experienced in early development with primary caregivers (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Genuis, 1994; Sable, 2004; Shumaker et al., 2009). Experiencing adverse events in early childhood can have a tremendous negative impact on social and emotional development, influencing interpersonal relationships later in life. Children who have developed insecure attachments struggle regulating emotions and view relationships with other humans as unpredictable and a source of fear, chaos, pain, and loss (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Ludy-Dobson & Perry, 2010). In my personal counselling experience with at-risk students, I have seen firsthand the negative impact of insecure attachments. By having a deeper understanding of the concept, I have been able to implement more effective treatment plans that help promote more secure attachments over time (e.g. awareness of a students intimacy barrier and allowing them to engage in the relationship rather than trying to initiate bonding that I think is important). Furthermore, it also allows me to gain some insight into how this relational template can impact current formation and maintenance of relationships

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within the clients life. New significant relationships with peers or a romantic partner will trigger their internal working model (Perry, 2001; Sable, 2004; Shumaker et al., 2009). Pre-existing core beliefs around concepts such as love, security, trust, and self-worth will come to the forefront of their relationship and individuals without a secure attachment style will struggle with maintaining a healthy reciprocal relationship (Sable, 2004). Threaded through my personal counselling theory is the emphasis of understanding attachment styles and striving to develop secure attachments as a way to promote healthy functioning within multiple domains (e.g. cognitive, emotional, relational). Early identification of problematic parent-child relationships may also allow me to provide support in shifting thoughts and behaviours towards the formation of a secure attachment style. I would be able to provide parents with knowledge about child development and support them within a therapeutic relationship by demonstrating empathy, active listening, and a nonjudgemental approach (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). By incorporating attachment theory into my practice, I am making some theoretical assumptions about human development. While attachment theory recognizes the biological need for attachment as a survival mechanism, the theory has a strong nurture perspective. In addition, attachment theory also has a more passive focus in that much of the research stresses the impact of parental qualities on the development of the child. One of the limitations of this approach is that it does not take into account the bidirectional influence the child has on the parent-child relationship. Parenting Elements While attachment theory has had such an overarching influence on my counselling practice, understanding the influence of infant temperament and parenting styles also has implications for my practice. These theoretical perspectives have also had a deep personal impact on me as a new parent. Understanding the influence of infant temperament on parenting styles and attachment supports my beliefs in the importance of primary associations formulated from early experiences (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Ludy-Dobson & Perry, 2010). While infant

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temperament appears to be biologically based, the goodness of fit model suggests that both temperament and caregiving style are strong determinants of a childs attachment relationships. This multidimensional view supports a bidirectional perspective and makes the theoretical assumption focused more on activity than passivity because the relationship is actively created by both individuals involved. This also emphasizes both the nature and nurture aspects of parenting styles and attachment. However, one of the limitations of this approach is that other influential factors are not taken into consideration as much such as socioeconomic status and lower levels of social support (Calkins et al., 2004). Another limitation is that the extent to which a childs temperament remains stable is not known and other factors, such as the development of regulatory skills, could potentially alter this early profile (Calkins et al., 2004). In addition to impact of infant temperaments and goodness of fit of parenting has on child development; parenting styles also play a role. Understanding the importance of an authoritative parenting style on child development has implications regarding healthy functioning. Early identification of parenting styles could change the developmental trajectory of a child (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). As a counsellor, emulating the qualities of an authoritative style can provide a way to role model a highly demanding and highly responsive relationship that can be replicated in the clients personal life. This is a key component to my personal counselling theory and helps facilitate positive change within the counselling process. This approach emphasizes more of nurturing and active theoretical assumptions around development. Cognitive Development The importance of having a strong working knowledge of theories of cognitive development is crucial to effective counselling. A huge portion of our work as clinicians is to bring about change in thought patterns that are more effective and adaptive for the client. Having a deeper understanding of Piagets cognitive development theory and qualities associated with each sequential stage of development has allowed me adapt my counselling

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practice to better meet the needs of each client to increase positive growth. By incorporating Piagets cognitive development theory into my theoretical approach, I accept several assumptions. One of the key assumptions grounded within this constructivist approach emphasizes that an individual is an active participant in the learning process by constantly exploring and making sense of new knowledge. The individual is also intrinsically motivated to learn (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). While this does fit with my personal counselling theory that embraces the client-centered approach towards self-actualization, it also brings about challenges. This approach makes the assumption that the individual is self-aware and selfdirected, initiating much of his or her own learning (Green & Gredler, 2002). This may be a difficult task for individuals who struggle with executive functioning skills such as self-reflection. Another major theoretical assumption within Piagets cognitive development theory I have incorporated the idea that development is both continuous and discontinuous. Piagets model recognizes the small gradual changes that occur during development (continuous), but also identifies specific times in development in which all childrens mental structures are similarly organized and distinguished by stages (discontinuous; Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). However, a weakness to this assumption lies within recent research blurring the boundaries of Piagets stages of development. This has been shown when younger children demonstrate more complex thought when presented with different tasks (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010). While Piaget focused on stages of development, Vygotskys sociocultural theory offers a different perspective on cognitive development. Although his theory makes the assumption that self-directedness in learning must be taught (Green & Gredler, 2002), his concepts of scaffolding and zone of proximal development do fit within my personal theory of counselling. By incorporating these concepts, it provides me with some guidance on how to support individuals struggling with self-reflection and self-directed learning. By accepting the assumption of the zone of proximal development concept, as a clinician I am able to help learners grow intellectually beyond the current limit of their capabilities (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Kim &

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Baylor, 2006). I can also implement scaffolding as a temporary tool during sessions to extend the cognitive range of the client in a supportive manner to accomplish tasks not possible otherwise (Broderick & Blewitt, 2010; Kim & Baylor, 2006). Vygotskys sociocultural theory provides my personal counselling theory with support in areas where Piagets model falls short. Summary and Self Reflection Life span developmental approaches have had a significant impact on my personal counselling theory. I have gained depth and breadth to my understanding of human development across a life span and will use this knowledge to inform my intervention planning to better meet the currently developmental needs for each client. Attachment and cognitive development have especially been pivotal in my work with at-risk youth at a special needs school. Many of the students struggle with social skills and building relationships due to an insecure attachment style. They often are also several grade levels behind academically. Being able to accurately assess a students cognitive level will help me build skills in a sequential manner using techniques such as scaffolding. I could also inform teaching practice to support learning. Although I discussed the four core developmental issues, attachment theory, parental elements, and the cognitive theories of Piaget and Vygotsky, there are still so many areas of my practice that have been impacted by developmental theories that I was not able to address in the scope of this paper such as moral development and the formation of self. These are very important domains that also address issues that clients may bring forward in my counselling practice. As I move forward, I hope to continue learning and integrating developmental approaches into my personal counselling theory.

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