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Discovery and creation within the counseling process: reflections on the timeless nature of the helping encounter.

Discovery and creation are significant elements of experience within the counseling process. These terms can also serve as metaphors for modern and postmodern epistemologies. These dual meanings for discovery and creation are exploited to examine the intersection of counseling and philosophy, particularly in terms of the timeless nature of the helping encounter.


There are innumerable ways to conceptualize counseling processes. Over the past century, hundreds of theories have been proposed to understand the rich and complex interactions that occur within the counseling relationship (Corsini & Wedding, 2005).

Traditional theories of counseling generally presume a modernist epistemology, which posits that clients possess objective essences (Hansen, 2002; Speed, 1991). A counselor must correctly ascertain these essences for healing to occur. For example, humanism posits that counselors should strive toward "accurate" empathy of the experiences of their clients (Rogers, 1957). Similarly, for classical psychoanalysis, healing is dependent upon counselors ascertaining unconscious client conflicts (Gabbard, 2004; Hansen, 2000). Therefore, counseling theories that have modernism as their epistemological foundation presume that clients possess preexisting characteristics that counselors can come to know.

Recently, particularly within the past 20 years, alternative epistemological assumptions have begun to influence counseling theorizing (Sexton & Griffin, 1997). These assumptions have been called postmodern, as they represent challenges to the modernist version of knowing (Hansen, 2005b, 2006; Kvale, 1992; Rosenau, 1992). For example, one variant of postmodernism, social constructionism, begins with the assumption that experience is created by human interactions (Gergen, 1999). Rather than lying in wait to be discovered by a perspicacious counselor, as in modernism, client experience is constructed within the counseling dyad. All postmodernist perspectives reject the possibility of accurate knowledge and emphasize human construction as an inherent part of the knowing process (Held, 1995).

Both modernism and postmodernism have a rich set of traditions and assumptions, which have been overviewed by various counseling theorists (e.g., Mahoney, 1991; Sexton & Griffin, 1997). However, for purposes of this paper, these epistemological systems will be represented by the metaphors of discovery and creation. Although it may seem intellectually simplistic and overly reductive to collapse modernism and postmodernism into such abbreviated metaphoric expressions, creation and discovery are terms that adequately capture the spirit of these epistemologies, at least for the purposes of this discussion. That is, a core assumption of modernism, and the scientific method, is that there is a fundamental truth about the object of study to discover (Erwin, 1999). Alternatively, postmodern epistemology presumes that human knowing is an intrinsically constructive, or creative, act (Leary, 1994).

Aside from the fact that these metaphors accurately represent the epistemological spirit of modernism and postmodernism, creation and discovery are also reflective of vital components of counseling processes. That is, counseling is experientially contextualized by moments of self-discovery and longings to create anew. Therefore, creation and discovery are metaphors that can potentially create a bridge between the intellectual insights of philosophy and the rich, multi-layered experiences that unfold in the counseling room.

The purpose of this paper is to explore the implications of creation and discovery as epistemological metaphors for counseling process and to propose some novel ways of integrating these concepts, both philosophically, with the phenomenological concept of time, and as core experiences within the helping encounter. These goals will be accomplished within the following organizational structure: (1) Discovery Metaphor, (2) Creation Metaphor, (3) Reconciling Discovery and Creation with Phenomenology, and (4) Discussion and Conclusions.


Traditional counseling orientations have been founded upon the epistemological metaphor of discovery. To illustrate, consider the following counseling interaction:

Client: I hate my brother.

Counselor: From listening to you, it seems like your hate may be a result of your envy of him.

Client: You're right (crying). I envy him and that makes me hate him.

I have chosen this, rather typical, counseling interaction because the response of the counselor is conceivably consistent with a variety of traditional counseling orientations. That is, the vignette is consistent with the humanistic goal of accurate empathy, the psychoanalytic objective of identifying underlying feeling states or conflicts, and the cognitive aim of fleshing out experience to identify distorted cognitions. Thus, this example can serve as an illustration of the discovery metaphor across various orientations. With regard to this vignette, traditional counseling models would have presumed that the feeling of envy had been discovered, or accurately identified, by the counselor. Within the discovery metaphor, the client's affirmative response to the remark would have served as validation that the counselor had been correct.

This discovery metaphor is probably most vividly expressed in classical psychoanalysis by Freud's archeological model of the psyche (Gay, 1988), which implies that the counseling task is to sift through experience to unearth buried psychological relics. However, the goal of accurate discovery is also foundational to the cognitive metaphor of mind as computer (Gergen, 1988) and the humanistic metaphor of the holistic self and the authentic encounter (Rogers, 1951).

Because the discovery metaphor is foundational to traditional counseling orientations, it warrants further examination. Specifically, the metaphor dictates that healing is dependent upon accurate identification of particular pre-existing elements of a client's psyche. However, upon reflection, this assumption is somewhat counter-intuitive and perhaps even completely arbitrary. That is, given the evidence, why should it be presumed that human change is completely dependent upon accurate discovery?

Consider that human change is caused by a variety of circumstances and events that do not involve discovery (e.g., Frank & Frank, 1991; Keeney, 1983; Mahoney, 1991; Torrey, 1972). Rather, change is frequently due to sudden and inexplicable inspiration, a refusal to continue to engage in harmful ways of being, the acquisition of faith, pressure from loved ones, sudden flashes of insight, identification with a charismatic leader, commitment to a cause, or simply as an escape from boredom. Discovery of some hidden, intrapsychic essence, then, is clearly not a prerequisite to human change. Why, then, are all classical counseling models founded on the discovery metaphor?

The idea that accurate identification of an inner essence will somehow activate a dormant will to change has it origins in natural science models that were applied to the helping situation (Sexton, 1997). All classical counseling models were introduced during an age when the scientific method was idealized as a means to acquire truth and, ultimately, as a vehicle to jettison humankind into a utopian state (Rosenau, 1992). Incredible advances in the natural sciences during the twentieth century, and concomitant improvements in quality of life, fortified this idealized vision of science (Anderson, 1990). It is no wonder, then, that emergent theories of human change, such as psychoanalysis, humanism, and cognitivism, were all founded on the epistemological metaphor of discovery. That is, like a scientist, it was the role of the traditional counselor to objectively discover something about the client.

The discovery metaphor of helping, however, has not lived up to the idealized visions of its proponents. Critiques and problems have emerged that have increasingly called the utility of this epistemological metaphor into question. Three significant problems with the discovery metaphor, as applied to counseling, are contamination anxiety, the inherent limitations of a one-person psychology, and the subjugating effects of discovery.

Contamination Anxiety

The discovery metaphor, regardless of the realm in which it is applied, automatically creates a concern that the object of study will be unduly influenced, of even irreparably damaged, by the discovery process. This concern naturally follows from the fact that discovery is an inherently invasive process, which suggests that the object of study must be penetrated, isolated, of dislodged from a greater context to be understood, such as the unearthing of an archeological find. I will refer to concerns about the destructive aspects of the discovery metaphor as contamination anxiety.

Contamination anxiety is present in all scientific (i.e., discovery) practices. Sterilization procedures before surgery, efforts to ensure that compounds have not been tainted in chemistry, and double-blind studies in the social sciences are examples of responses to the fear that efforts to discover might destroy the object of study. However, contamination anxiety is not restricted to formal science.

Traditional counseling theories, because they are grounded in the discovery metaphor, also produce contamination anxiety. This anxiety is arguably more intense in counseling theories than in the natural sciences, because counselors endeavor to discover realms of experience, which, unlike scientific objects of study, are completely intangible. This makes the question of contamination a maddening predicament in counseling theories that are founded on an epistemology of discovery.

Symptoms of contamination anxiety can be seen throughout the history of counseling theorizing. For example, soon after Freud proposed a set of techniques designed to discover unconscious processes, he introduced the concept of countertransference (Hansen, 1997). As it was originally conceived, countertransference was a contaminatory influence that originated in the discoverer (i.e., psychoanalyst) (Freud, 1910a/1981; Rosenberger & Hayes, 2002). Psychoanalytic practitioners were cautioned to undergo a training psychoanalysis so that their countertransference would not contaminate the process of objective, psychoanalytic discovery. Furthermore, in response to contamination anxiety, Freud cautioned against "wild analysis" (i.e., not deviating too far from psychoanalytic principles when conceptualizing cases) (Freud, 1910b/1981). In a similar vein, recent psychoanalytic hermeneuticists have advocated for "tough" rather than "tender" minded hermeneutics (Spence, 1988).

Humanism also put constructs in place that are arguably reactive to contamination anxiety. For example, Rogers cautioned that empathy must be "accurate" and for practitioners to be "genuine" (Rogers, 1957). If empathic discovery was not accurate or if counselors did not practice from a real part of self, the activity of counseling would not contain the "necessary and sufficient conditions" for healing to occur (Rogers, 1957). Arguably, again, these constructs were a natural response to the contamination anxiety created by the discovery metaphor. Inaccurate empathy or ingenuiness would interfere with the process of discovering the contents of a client's psyche in their pristine form.

Contamination anxiety, then, is a natural epistemological byproduct of the discovery metaphor. This anxiety requires that traditional counseling theories incorporate constructs designed to prevent contamination by the investigator. In addition to the introduction of these constructs, contamination anxiety has also kept counseling theories locked into a one-person psychology.

One-Person Psychology

Traditional counseling theories rarely considered the impact of the counselor upon the counseling process. Except in unusual circumstances, such as countertransferential enactment (Freud, 1910a/1981), the psychological contribution of the counselor to the helping dyad was largely ignored (Gill, 1994; Hoffman, 1998). Contemporary theorizing, however, has increasingly recognized that the activity of counseling involves a relational field, wherein the psychologies of both parties inevitably make an ongoing contribution to the process. This recognition has been referred to as a shift from a one to a two-person psychology (Gill, 1994).

This history of ideas in the counseling profession begs an interesting question: Why did it take almost a century for counseling theories to acknowledge the fairly obvious fact that the client and the counselor mutually influence one another in the counseling room? The answer arguably lies with contamination anxiety. That is, if counseling theories recognized that the influence of the counselor was also present in sessions, this recognition, within the metaphor of discovery, would have automatically created tremendous contamination anxiety, as there could never be any guarantee of the purity of the discovered aspects of client psychology. The theoretical resolution to this contamination anxiety has been to defensively deny that counselors have personal psychologies that contribute to the helping dyad. Thus, another disadvantage of the discovery metaphor has been that it has had the effect of locking counseling theories into a one-person psychology.

Subjugating Effects of Discovery

Recall that the discovery metaphor presumes that accurate discovery is the first step toward freedom, growth, and psychological healing. The following quote from the philosopher Foucault reveals the complete arbitrariness of this assumption: "There are two meanings of the word subject: subject to someone else by control and dependence, and tied to his own identity by a conscience or self-knowledge. Both meanings suggest a form of power which subjugates and makes subject to" (Foucault, 1983, p. 212). This philosophical insight threatens to bring all traditional counseling theorizing to a screeching halt. That is, rather than being set free by discovery, it is just as reasonable, and perhaps more compelling, to presume that the task of defining the psyche imprisons it.

To illustrate, recall the above vignette when the true feeling of the client was determined to be envy. After this "discovery," the client is arguably far less free to be something other than envious. The client's true nature had been defined by the participants, thereby locking the client into an identity cell with linguistic bars that were dialogically forged within the counseling interaction. Therefore, a possible weakness of utilizing the discovery metaphor within the counseling process is that it may promote subjugation rather than liberation.


Recently, postmodern theorists have posed challenges to the possibility of objective discovery. The primary challenges are that all knowledge is actively constructed (Mahoney, 1991; White & Epston, 1990) and that language does not correspond to a reality beyond itself (Chessick, 1987; Gergen, 1999; Hansen, 2005a; Rorty, 1999). Therefore, all claims to truth are epistemologically untenable (Hansen, in press). To illustrate these objections, let us return to the counseling vignette.

Within the discovery metaphor, the counselor hypothesized that the client was actually envious. The counselor tested this hypothesis, and the fact that the client agreed provided verification that an accurate feeling had been discovered. However, consider the assumptions inherent in this paradigm. First, the discovery metaphor presumes that language accurately corresponds to experiential states that existed before they were linguistically labeled. However, if we consider that human experience does not have the same neat, definitional structure as language, the word could not possibly have had an exact correspondence to the experience that preceded it. That is, instead of having the same structure as language, perhaps raw experience is like a ball of play-dough. In order to be communicated, however, experience must be pushed through the mold of linguistic categories, which then gives it shape and form. Thus, in this scenario, language does not represent experience, it manufactures it. With regard to the clinical vignette, perhaps the act of naming the experience "envy" played some role in bringing it into being.

Second, it is reasonable to assume that human interaction always entails mutual influence. Thus, instead of two closed psychic containers recklessly bumping into one another, perhaps the counseling interaction is more akin to rivers that collide, with each stream continually influencing the flow of the other. This idea that human knowing is a social, not individual, phenomenon, which has been called interactionism (Hanly, 1999) or social constructionism (Gergen, 1999), would suggest that the identification of envy in the clinical vignette was a relational construction. To make this point more obvious, consider that if the hypothetical client had visited another counselor, the relational participants may have arrived at a completely different, but equally agreeable, conclusion about the client's underlying emotional state.

Postmodern epistemologies, therefore, highlight the role of linguistic construction in human knowing. A fundamental assumption of these theories is that experience is created, not found. However, like the discovery metaphor, there are certain weaknesses inherent in utilizing creation as an epistemological template to understand counseling processes. Two of these weaknesses are foundation anxiety and a naivete about human change.

Foundation Anxiety

If knowledge, truth, and experience are always created, never found, this inevitably leads to the anxiety that all conclusions about life are completely relative, situational, and impermanent. Returning to the clinical vignette, if the creation metaphor is employed, the feeling of envy could only be considered a linguistic byproduct of a particular moment between the relational participants, not a discovered, enduring truth about the client. I will refer to this concern about the transitory nature of truth as foundation anxiety, as utilization of the creation metaphor entails the abolition of the epistemological foundations that have traditionally been relied upon to draw secure conclusions about truth.

A review of history reveals that creative enterprises have often had to contend with foundation anxiety. For example, during the course of art history, when artists began to produce works that were more abstract and less representational, debates ensued over whether these works qualified as art (Anderson, 1990). Because the art did not fit conventional definitions, or mirror a supposed objective reality, foundation anxiety over the true nature of art and reality naturally followed. This foundation anxiety is an inherent byproduct of operating within the creative realm, akin to walking on a trapeze with no net underneath.

Counseling, in the form of postmodernist theorizing, has increasingly employed a creation metaphor. The foundation anxiety that this metaphor generates within counseling theorizing is evidenced by attempts to soften postmodernist epistemologies, a tactic that generally decreases foundation anxiety but increases the level of logical inconsistency within the theories. For instance, radical constructivism, a variant of postmodernism, maintains that all knowledge is created within the minds of individuals (Mahoney, 1991). There is a logical appeal and internal consistency to this assertion. That is, if all incoming stimuli are filtered through the personal psychologies and perceptual apparatuses of perceivers, it follows that all representations of reality must be a product of human minds. While internally consistent, the logical byproduct of radical constructivism is solipsism and, ultimately, a crippling ontological doubt (i.e., no assurance that anything exists outside of the mind) (Gergen, 1989; Hansen, 2004). These side effects of radical constructivism represent a severe form of foundation anxiety. The theoretical solution to this anxiety has been to propose a critical constructivism, which acknowledges the existence of things in the world, but doubts the ability of the mind to know these things in their true form (Mahoney, 1991). This theoretical solution is also evident in social constructionist theorizing, when a "weak" social constructionism, which acknowledges a reality beyond social construction, rather than a "strong" social constructionism, which does not, is endorsed (Botschner, 1995; Osbeck, 1993, 1995).

Although these theoretical responses to foundation anxiety attempt to bring postmodernism "back to reality" (Held, 1995), it is somewhat paradoxical, and internally inconsistent, to shoehorn objective reality into an epistemological system that denies it. In other words, if is untenable to proclaim that all knowledge is created while simultaneously maintaining that objective discovery is possible. Thus, the side effect of resolving foundation anxiety by attempting to sneak reality into the back door of postmodernism is severe theoretical discordance.

Interestingly, the attempt to add a reality in response to foundation anxiety is directly analogous to the motive to subtract realities as a resolution to contamination anxiety. That is, if discovery is a goal, the contaminatory influences of the discoverer must be subtracted from the investigative process so the object of discovery is not damaged. With regard to counseling, this subtraction has taken the form of theoretical admonishments for counselors not to allow their own needs, or countertransference, to defile the pure, unfolding experience of their clients. Foundation anxiety, alternatively, creates a theoretical motive for adding realities, as pure creation entails the fear that what has been created has no grounding in anything real. Therefore, subtracting the influence of the counselor within the discovery metaphor, and adding realities within the creation metaphor, are directly analogous anxiety resolution strategies.

Naivete About Human Change

The implication of the creation metaphor, as applied to human change, is that people are completely malleable, like big balls of narrative clay that show up at counselors' offices eagerly waiting to be linguistically molded into something new. However, it is common knowledge among counselors that clients are often stuck in old patterns, carry the weight of traumatic, growth stunting histories within them, and regularly fear the very changes they request. It seems extraordinarily naive, then, to presume that transforming a life merely requires shifts in the ways that experience is narrated (Churchill, 2002). Therefore, just as the discovery metaphor entails a risk that clients will be entrapped by identity definitions that emerge during the counseling process, strict utilization of the creation metaphor runs the risk that entrenched patterns of being, which clients bring to the helping encounter, will be ignored or severely minimized (Hanly, 1999; Leary, 1994).Philosophically, therefore, creation and discovery, as epistemological metaphors, each have strengths and limitations when applied to the counseling situation. If this topic were directed to professional philosophers, perhaps the discussion could end at this point. However, creation and discovery are not only intellectual metaphors for understanding counseling, they are also phenomenologically vital experiences that thoroughly animate the helping encounter. For instance, returning to the clinical vignette, the client may have experienced the identification of envy as an important psychological discovery. After acknowledging the envy, perhaps the client will decide to be proud instead of envious of the brother's accomplishments, a shift in attitude that might be experienced by the client as creating something new.

Therefore, counseling theorizing should not end once logical inconsistencies, strengths, weaknesses, possible integrations, and uses for the theories have been thoroughly debated. This way of approaching theory is arguably appropriate for certain professionals, such as architects, geologists, and astronomers, who theorize about non-sentient subject matter. However, counselors should not artificially segregate the act of theorizing from the experiential life of their clients. Indeed, why should counseling theory construction be guided exclusively by principles of logic and order when the subject the theories purport to illuminate is saturated with discord, contradictions, and ambivalence?

Discovery and creation were originally selected as metaphors because these terms are positioned at the intersection of human experience and contemporary philosophical tensions between modern and postmodern conceptualizations of counseling processes. Perhaps remaining at this intersection, and continuing to explore and incorporate both phenomenology and logic in conceptualizations of creation and discovery, will enrich theory construction while, simultaneously, generating deeper understandings of the counseling process.


As mentioned above, the foundational structure of counseling theories is quite different from the constitution of the inner experience the theories purport to illuminate. Theories are logical constructions, while human experience is replete with ambivalence, logical contradictions, and strong emotional currents. Discovery and creation, as philosophical constructs, are built upon a foundation of logic. However, discovery and creation, as elements of human phenomenology, do not follow the principles of logic and order that guide theory construction. How might discovery and creation as epistemological, philosophical constructs, then, be informed by a careful consideration of human phenomenology?

A return to the clinical vignette will provide some beginning answers to this question. Recall that the client concluded that envy was the underlying feeling that caused the hate for the brother. If the envy had existed within the client's psyche before the counselor's remark, discovery would be the proper term for the clinical event. Alternatively, the interaction would be an example of creation if the envy only came into being after, and as a result of, the counselor's comment. Therefore, the distinction between discovery and creation, at least within counseling processes, is completely dependent upon time (i.e., whether a psychological content existed before or after it was named). To say it another way, if time, as a conceptual variable, were artificially subtracted from the constructs of discovery and creation, there would no longer be a meaningful distinction between these constructs as they apply to counseling processes.

If time is the variable that distinguishes discovery from creation, it is worth considering the way time is conceptualized when discovery and creation are discussed. Within the theoretical literature, discourse regarding modernism (i.e., discovery) and postmodernism (i.e., creation) presumes a sequential concept of time. That is, modernism depends upon the assumption that pre-existing essences lie in wait to be discovered (Hansen, 2002; Speed, 1991). Postmodernism, alternatively, presumes anti-essentialism, which posits that realities are created only after observers name them (Hansen, 2005a). Therefore, epistemological theorizing within philosophy presumes a rigidly ordered, past-present-future notion of time

However, if discovery and creation are dislodged from philosophical discourse, and conceptually positioned at the intersection of human phenomenology and philosophy (as, arguably, counselors have a duty to do because they work with human beings) the concept of time that infuses these constructs would change. At this intersection, the constructs of discovery and creation would be determined by phenomenological time, not orderly, sequential time. How might phenomenological time alter the constructs of discovery and creation? To explore this question, psychological theorizing about the variable of time will be reviewed.

Phenomenology of Time

Time, as a psychological variable, has generally not received much attention in the history of counseling theorizing. However, if the evolution of counseling ideas is reviewed, some important observations about phenomenological time have been made. These observations date back to the origins of the profession.

In the early twentieth century, Freud made the startling proclamation that the vast majority of mental life operates beneath awareness in a realm he referred to as the system unconscious (Freud, 1900/1981). The Freudian unconscious had many properties that differentiated it from consciousness, such as the fact that logically opposite feelings (e.g., love and a wish to kill) could be directed at the same person (Freud, 1900/1981). One interesting property of the unconscious was that it experienced time differently from conscious mental life. Specifically, according to Freud, "The processes of the system Ucs. are timeless; i.e., they are not ordered temporally, are not altered by the passage of time; they have no reference to time at all" (Freud, 1915/1981, p. 187). If the unconscious is the principal determinant of psychic experience, as Freud argued, then human mental life is largely timeless, with only a small conscious portion of the psyche devoted to the socially constructed, past-present-future version of time. This notion of the psyche as timeless was also a key component of the concept of transference.

Transference, as it was originally conceptualized, refers to the observation that clients regularly mistake the present for the past (Gill, 1994; Hoffman, 1998). The essential timelessness of the psyche allowed Freud to postulate that feelings clients develop toward their counselors are based upon developmentally antiquated conflicts that have been transferred into the helping encounter. A fundamental technique of classical psychoanalysis is for counselors to interpret the transference as a psychic past that is pathologically intruding on the present (Gabbard, 2004). Therefore, transference, as a psychological construct, is dependent upon the essential timelessness of the psyche (Morris, 1983), making the Freudian client a profoundly timeless being who regularly disregards distinctions between past and present.

Freud had dissenters among his original followers who disagreed with particular aspects of psychoanalytic theory (Gay, 1988). Although disagreements over the conceptualization of time are not usually cited as a reason why many Freudian proteges abandoned, or were expelled from, the inner circle of psychoanalysis, Carl Jung, whom Freud originally regarded as the heir to the psychoanalytic throne (Gay, 1988), clearly had a different vision of psychological time than did Freud. Rather than adopting the Freudian notion of determinism (i.e., past determines the present), Jung favored a teleological view (Home, Sowa, & Isenman, 2000), which posits that people are determined by what they will become, not by what they have been. To say it another way, the seed does not determine the flower as in Freudian determinism, but the flower that is to become governs what the seed will do. In terms of phenomenological time, then, teleology posits that it is the future, not the past, which animates the psyche and drives it forward.

This teleological hypothesis also became foundational to other emergent counseling theories. For example, a central hypothesis of psychological humanism is that people have an inborn drive toward actualization (Maslow, 1968). Humanistic interventions are designed to provide a therapeutic environment that clears clients' psychological debris so the omnipresent drive toward becoming can resume its natural course (Rogers, 1957). Within humanistic ideology, then, the future has far greater phenomenological weight than the past. This is even truer of more recently developed counseling orientations, such as solution-focused therapies (deShazer, 1985). Solution-focused therapies are probably the most anti-deterministic counseling systems developed thus far, as they advocate the creation of futures and the outright dismissal of pasts.

In addition to counseling theorists, researchers have also made observations that are relevant to a discussion of phenomenological time. For instance, memory researchers have demonstrated that present experience can determine recollections of the past. In one classic study, adult subjects were told that they had been lost in a mall as children (Loftus & Ketcham, 1994). Researchers reported that they had learned of this incident from interviewing the subjects' parents, all of whom actually denied that their children had ever been lost in a mall. However, even though the event had never occurred, many of the subjects provided vivid "recollections" of being lost in a mall as children. Although the purpose of this research was to demonstrate that memories could be implanted, these results certainly have implications for phenomenological time. Specifically, rather than the past determining the present (i.e., determinism), or the future determining the present (i.e., teleology), this finding demonstrates that the present can determine the past.

This brief overview illustrates that a common observation among counseling theorists and researchers is that internal human time is not governed by the same orderly principles as sequential, past-present-future time. Unlike a clock on a nightstand, the phenomenological clock can abruptly reverse itself, going back 30 years in an instant. Alternatively, internal time can suddenly leap forward or come to a dead stop during a powerful moment. Indeed, according to the existentialists, humans, not infrequently, even deny finite time altogether to avoid encountering the unfathomable truth that each passing moment brings one ever closer to certain death (May, Angel & Ellenberger, 1958; Yalom, 1980).


Discovery and creation, as epistemological metaphors, are dependent upon a strictly sequential version of time. That is, the discovery paradigm of modernism presumes that essences exist before they are found, whereas the creation model of postmodernism posits that all truths are human constructions that only come into being after they are named. Traditional counseling theories have been built upon a paradigm of discovery, while more recent theories have operated within the creation metaphor. Each metaphor has strengths and limitations that have been overviewed.

In this paper, I have questioned the appropriateness of applying metaphors that depend on sequential time to the understanding of human experience and the helping encounter, which are determined by phenomenological time. Specifically, a review of counseling theory and research suggests that the internal human clock has very different settings than the sequential, before-during-after clock that determines the discovery and creation epistemologies. Humans live in an internal time warp that regularly creates pasts and discovers things that are yet to be. Nonetheless, discovery and creation are integral elements of human experience, particularly within the counseling relationship.

What would it mean, then, to substitute phenomenological time for sequential time in the discovery and creation metaphors? How would these epistemological constructs change if they were uprooted from their philosophical base and, instead, founded upon human time?

One consequence of subtracting sequential time from the epistemologies of discovery and creation is that the distinction between finding and creating would become meaningless. Without any meaningful distinction between discovery and creation, many of the intellectual divisions and debates between the modernist and postmodernist intellectual camps would be resolved, because, as I have argued, disagreements between these camps are largely a byproduct of sequential notions of time. With regard to the clinical vignette, the question of whether the client's envy had been discovered or created would become a meaningless distraction, not a meaningful issue to be settled.

Perhaps, then, by utilizing a timeless conceptual foundation, counselors would no longer be entrapped by the discovery and creation metaphors. Recall that each metaphor has significant limitations that determine the ways counseling processes are perceived. If the metaphors were abandoned entirely, understandings of the helping encounter would no longer be constrained by them. However, abandoning discovery and creation would entail a radical change in the language used to describe counseling activities.

For example, consider that a foundational directive for humanistic counselors is to employ accurate empathy when they attempt to help clients (Rogers, 1957). As soon as this phrase is uttered, however, the discovery metaphor envelops the counseling room. That is, because language determines perception (Hansen, 2005a; Russell & Wandrei, 1996), describing counseling as a task that involves accurate empathy creates perceptions that there are pre-existing psychic contents within the client to empathically discover. Therefore, the suggestion that counselors should strive toward accurate empathy automatically invokes the discovery metaphor and its concomitant limitations.

If counselors wish to escape the discovery and creation metaphors, then, the notion of time must be purged from the theoretical language of counseling. For example, perhaps "accurate empathy," which is a time dependent phrase, could be replaced by "resonance," a word that denotes a similar emotional experience but is not time bound (Hansen, 2005a). As applied to the counseling vignette, to claim that the experience of envy "resonated" with the client would communicate the significant relational and emotional elements of the experience without entrapping the interaction within either the discovery or creation metaphors. Similarly, with regard to psychoanalytic theory, the timeless phrase "shared opinion" might be substituted for "interpretation," which implies that there are pre-existing mental contents to be found. As another example, instead of "reframing," cognitive counselors might use the phrase "mutual cognitive conclusion." Again, returning to the counseling vignette, to say that the experience of envy was the result of "cognitive reframing" automatically invokes the discovery paradigm, as there must have been an accurately discovered frame that preceded the reframe. However, if the experience of envy were the result of a "mutual cognitive conclusion," a time neutral phrase, neither the discovery or creation metaphor, or their limitations, would determine the process.

Using these new, time-neutral phrases to describe counseling processes would not merely be a linguistic change. Because words determine perceptions and actions (Hansen, 2005a; Russell & Wandrei, 1996), subtracting sequential time from counseling language would have direct implications for counseling practice. Specifically, if the notion of time were not infused in the language used to describe counseling processes, counseling practice would no longer be entrapped by the discovery or creation metaphors. This would have several beneficial implications for counseling practice.

For example, recall that one of the side-effects of employing the epistemological metaphor of discovery is contamination anxiety, which is the reason, I have argued, why counseling theories based on the discovery metaphor include directives for counselors to maintain a neutral stance in the counseling relationship. However, if counselors were freed from the discovery metaphor, there would be no need to rigidly adhere to doctrines of neutrality. Counselors could respond to clients in a more genuine and spontaneous manner without worrying about whether the values or psychological interests of the counselor had contaminated the client. Of course, counselors would still be obligated to operate within professional boundaries and not allow their own needs to overtake the relationship. However, without the discovery metaphor, clinical energies would no longer be drained by non-productive worries about whether a counselor had been completely neutral with a particular client.

Operating outside of the discovery metaphor has other concrete implications for clinical practice. For example, without the clinical charge to discover, there is no reason to remain ideologically locked into a one-person psychology. Therefore, when operating outside of the discovery metaphor, counselors can freely consider the impact of their own psychological motivations on the counseling process, thereby enriching their understanding of the dynamics of the relational interchange. Moreover, abandoning discovery as an epistemological paradigm means that it is no longer necessary or desirable to maintain a fixed, true version of clients. Once accurate discovery is taken out of the relational equation, counselors are relieved of the epistemological obligation to settle upon particular conceptualizations of their clients. Clients and counselors, together, can negotiate truths and avoid the subjugating effects of the final and fixed version of truth that is generated by the discovery model.

Abandoning the creation metaphor would also have practical benefits for counselors. Recall that operating within the epistemological metaphor of creation causes foundation anxiety, which is the reason, I have argued, why theories grounded in the creation metaphor often evolve to include objective foundations. Counselors, who utilize theories based on the epistemological metaphor of creation, then, may, as a side-effect of utilizing this metaphor, experience anxiety about whether their counseling interventions are grounded in objective foundations, such as established theories or research. If the creation metaphor is abandoned, however, foundation anxiety would no longer be an issue. Without foundation anxiety, the success of an intervention would be judged solely on the basis of whether it had helped a client, not by whether the intervention had been grounded in some objective foundation. Ironically, then, abandoning the creation metaphor would allow counselors to be more freely creative in the helping process, as the allegiance of the counselor would be to the pragmatic impact of the intervention and not to a supposed objective foundation (see Hansen, in press for a more extended discussion of pragmatism and the counseling process).

Most importantly, however, the abandonment of these epistemological metaphors would encourage counselors to conduct counseling in a more humanized way. That is, the goals of discovery and creation, as noted above, often disrupt the relational factors in counseling, such as regard for the client over counselor theoretical preference, emotional authenticity, and counselor attentiveness to the evolving counseling relationship. Decades of outcome research has demonstrated that these relational factors account for the majority of the variance in treatment outcomes (Wampold, 2001). Therefore, using time-neutral counseling phrases as a way to escape the discovery and creation metaphors may free counselors to establish the type of counseling relationship that has proven to be clinically beneficial.

Although it is interesting to experiment with the idea of subtracting time from counseling theories to avoid being entrapped by the discovery and creation metaphors, time is an undeniably vital element of human experience. Clients could not story their lives, and counselors could not comment on these stories, without using terms like before, after, and past. Time is a crucial component of the narration that unfolds within the counseling dialogue (Gergen, 1999). Rather than being constrained by epistemological metaphors, though, counselors and clients should dialogically construct time metaphors that are pragmatically useful in meeting the goals of the encounter, using the metaphor of time in any way that suits their purposes. Counseling theories should not be allowed to autocratically impose the way that time is narrated within counseling processes. In short, time should be subtracted from theoretical language, so that it can be freely added, in any way that is meaningful, to the construction of narratives that emerge within the counseling encounter.

Notably, this entire discussion has resulted from the repositioning of philosophical concepts within human phenomenology. This repositioning was justified by the supposition that the activity of counseling theory construction should not be banished to the realm of cold, calculated reasoning, because the subject the theories purport to illuminate is brimming with emotionality and logical contradictions. Perhaps, because this repositioning has resulted in some novel ideas, a new intellectual discipline should be pursued, one that resides squarely at the intersection of counseling and philosophy. This discipline would not be counseling or philosophy, but would be both. This type of disciplinary pursuit makes intuitive sense, as all philosophy emanates from beings who are constrained by human phenomenology, and all counselors are philosophers, searching for the meanings that will set their clients free.


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Correspondence relating to this article should be addressed to James T. Hansen, Associate Professor, Oakland University, Department of Counseling. 450E Pawley Hall, Rochester, MI 48309; Phone: (248) 370-3071; Fax: (248) 370-4141; E-mail
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Author:Hansen, James T.
Publication:Journal of Mental Health Counseling
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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