Counselling Clients With Approval Issues

Approval is sometimes defined as an official approbation, a sanction of behaviour and a favourable opinion or regard. In counselling terms the two other words we might use are acceptance and affirmation. Just how important is acceptance? 

Approval by parents, peers or siblings is a crucial element in a child’s development, particularly with regard to their self esteem and self worth. It should also be remembered that it is a form of control. Studies show that children who receive little or no approval will often go to extraordinary lengths to obtain it in adulthood. Conflict often exists because the ‘critical parent’ element of their super-ego makes them feel they aren’t good enough to gain the approval they crave. 

So in counselling terms what is approval? “It is the recognition that confirms our unique identity, and does not try to make us someone we are not. It is acceptance of what we have to offer, without any preconceived ideas of what we should be or ought to be” (Stewart, 2005). Approval is also associated with feelings of security, of not fearing rejection and of achieving a sense of status. Approval gives us permission to take control of our lives and fulfil our potential. It also gives us a sense of responsibility for our actions.

The opposite of approval is rejection, or in counselling terms ‘conditional approval’. Parents who adopt a conditional approach to approval will pass judgement, constantly putting the child down emotionally and saying things such as “I will love you if….” Feelings of self esteem will struggle to flourish in these conditions. Conditional approval is characterised by feelings of dependency on parents and life partners. Adults who experienced these feelings during childhood will develop a ‘push-pull’ coping style in intimate relationships. Part of them seeks intimacy (pulling towards), the other seeks to push their partner away because they can never satisfy them emotionally. They will seek to achieve in life, but often doubt that they ever can achieve anything.

Counselling approval hungry clients involves recognising their need. Within a counselling relationship that involves acceptance (Carl Rogers’s ‘unconditional positive regard’), empathy, warmth and genuineness the client can achieve insight. The client can begin to recognise where these limiting behaviours originated and then work towards change.


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