Counselling for personal development

Many people think that counselling is only useful when things have gone wrong in someone’s life, eg. depression, bereavement, anxiety. However, this is not the whole story.


In the same way that it’s healthy to go to the gym or do yoga to give us stamina and reduce stress, counselling can actually pre-empt difficulties in our mental and emotional well-being by encouraging personal growth.

Psychotherapist and writer Lynne Grodzki has identified a five-stage model of personal growth:

  1. survival
  2. recovery
  3. progress
  4. pleasure
  5. awareness

The first ‘survival’ stage is when someone is in crisis and is not really coping. This is when the NHS in the UK usually offers medication and CBT, using a medical model. The next two stages are then seen as leading to the end of ‘treatment’ when the patient is functioning better and can cope better with the ups and downs of life.

The fourth stage is about functioning well and finding opportunities which are fulfilling and enjoyable, and the fifth has to do with achieving our goals and living a meaningful life, while still learning and looking for further possibilities.

Grodzki’s fourth and fifth stages can also be mapped against the highest stages in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs model, which are termed ‘esteem’ and ‘self-actualisation’. Maslow suggested that, when humans’ more basic needs (physical, safety and belonging) were met, we could move towards developing confidence and respect (from ourselves and others) and towards becoming everything we are capable of becoming. The process of self-actualisation is ‘growth-motivated’ rather than ‘deficiency-motivated’. 

In today’s world, where resources and opportunities are limited for so many people, perhaps it may seem selfish to be focussing on our own growth potential. However, since self-actualisation deals with aspects of human experience such as creativity, problem-solving and morality, developing in this way as a person can benefit not just the individual but those around them and also wider society. 

A client working with a counsellor on personal development can expect to find the process challenging at times, as it deals with the meaning of their life, but it has the potential to bring great rewards. These can include being more spontaneous, having peak experiences, feeling a sense of purpose, and experiencing gratitude and acceptance. 

We may think of spontaneity and peak experiences as belonging to people in younger age groups, and it’s true that increasing age may bring a tendency to be more rigid and closed in outlook. Counselling for personal development can help older people retain flexibility and openness to new experiences.

For those who are younger and wanting to find a way forward through life which is meaningful and also enjoyable, working with a counsellor can help them focus on meeting these needs successfully. 

In a world where humans are living longer and longer, paying attention to these ‘higher’ stages throughout the lifespan is important for people’s well-being. This means that no one is too old to benefit from counselling as it can always help them fulfil their potential and find deeper meaning and satisfaction in life, from mid-life through to old age.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S10 2SE
Written by Virginia Sherborne, MBACP (Accred.)
Sheffield, South Yorkshire, S10 2SE

I am a qualified counsellor and accredited member of the BACP, seeing clients at The Practice Rooms near the centre of Sheffield and online. I have specialist training in bereavement, rape/sexual abuse, trauma and parenting. My clients include young people as well as adults.I can help you to: find...

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