Counseling is both art and science, relationship and action. Academic programs want to focus on both aspects, but the nature of academics leads to a greater emphasis on knowledge and less on interpersonal process. Frankly, its easier to grade tests of knowledge and harder to grade interpersonal process. Further, we outsource the practice part of the program to supervisors that may not be capable of providing the same kind of detailed assessment that we do in our classes.
Most students seeking to learn the art of counseling focus on knowledge and interventions. It makes sense to do so: If I know more then won’t I be able to understand my clients and their problems? (Probably.) If I understand how these problems develop, won’t I be able to help at risk individuals avoid bigger problems? (Probably.) If I learn and practice tried and true interventions won’t I be a more successful counselor?
But the art of counseling trumps knowledge and intervention. Knowing what to do is of little value if trust hasn’t been fully formed. There’s no substitute from having repeated interactions with another and getting detailed feedback related to one’s relational habits and idiosyncrasies. Jay Adams once told me that teaching counseling should be like teaching art. You don’t have a lecture on colors and shades and expect them to know how to use them well. Instead, you give them a brush and you expect them to do trial and error while providing good feedback. This means we really have to focus not just on what we counselors intend to communicate when respond to client content, but what they actually hear and take away from us.