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Received 02/28/12

Revised 09/20/12
Accepted 09/28/12
DOI: 10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00136.x

Theory
Developmental Relational Counseling:
Applications for Counseling Men
Thelma Duffey and Shane Haberstroh

Developmental relational counseling (DRC) is a conceptual model designed to help people gain a deeper awareness
of their relational functioning. DRC is informed by relational-cultural theory and influenced by the Enneagram personality typology and cognitive and narrative theories. This article outlines the DRC model in counseling practice with men.
Men involved in counseling services may use this approach to expand their personal awareness and promote mutual
understanding in their relationships.
Keywords: counseling men, developmental relational counseling, relational-cultural theory, Enneagram personality,
creativity in counseling

The male experience is framed by context, power, character,


personalities, and relationships, which are interwoven in
complex ways. Within these contexts, men navigate their
professional and personal relationships with varying levels of
awareness of their personal qualities and competencies, impact
on others, psychological limitations, and interpersonal power
and influence. This article applies the Developmental Relational
Counseling (DRC) model (Duffey & Haberstroh, 2012) with
men. Two de-identified case examples illustrate a counselors
work using DRC. Some details have been altered to protect client anonymity. As men develop the capacity to see others and
themselves more clearly, they may become better positioned
to participate in and enjoy their important relationships, using
feedback, self-reflection, and a balanced self-perception.
DRC is a conceptual model designed to help clients (a) perceive themselves and others more accurately, (b) gain awareness
of their degree of power and influence, and (c) deepen selfcompassion and compassion for others (Duffey & Haberstroh,
2012). DRC is significantly informed by relational-cultural
theory (RCT) and influenced by the Enneagram personality
typology, cognitive theories, and narrative theories. We provide
a review of RCT and a brief summary of how the other theories
influenced the development of DRC. These summaries give
context to the rationale and structure of DRC and its application
with male clients. For a more thorough review of each of these
theories, the reader is referred to Jordan (2010), Beck (2011),
White and Epston (1990), Daniels and Price (2000), Duffey and
Haberstroh (2011), Riso and Hudson (2000), and Palmer (1996).

Men in Counseling
Although men seek counseling services for myriad reasons,
they tend to be less inclined to attend counseling than are

women (Kakhnovets, 2011; Mahalik, Good, & Englar-Carlson, 2003). Given that some men are reluctant to seek help
when experiencing distress, they are more likely to experience
isolation, which may result in greater mortality and lower
quality of life (Bonhomme, 2007). Reasons for male help
seeking range from personal concerns; relationship issues;
family dynamics; career situations; and various developmental, transitional, and, at times, debilitating crises (Mahalik et
al., 2003). Although some men enter counseling voluntarily,
other men do so in response to partner or family urging, or
they are mandated by courts or human resource departments to
attend counseling. As men navigate these experiences, many
also negotiate relationships with partners, family members,
coworkers, and friends (Greif, 2006).
Societal expectations of masculine self-sufficiency can
complicate matters for some men (Mahalik et al., 2003),
making support seeking and sharing of personal experiences
challenging. At the same time, making oneself amenable to
support and appropriate self-disclosure is an important aspect of deepened intimacy and increasing well-being (Uysal,
Lin, Knee, & Bush, 2012). Developing these capacities is an
important relational skill to explore in the counseling setting.
Counseling work with men is unique in some aspects
(Good & Robertson, 2010). Counselors who effectively work
with men seek to understand the unique social and cultural
factors that influence masculinity (Englar-Carlson & Shepard,
2005). They work to clearly understand their male clients and
their experiences (Good & Robertson, 2010). Counselors also
appreciate the strengths of their male clients and the value
of many socially sanctioned masculine norms (Kiselica &
Englar-Carlson, 2010), while challenging male clients to
develop greater relational awareness and consideration of
themselves and others (Jordan, 2010). Counselor genuine-

Thelma Duffey and Shane Haberstroh, Department of Counseling, University of Texas at San Antonio. Correspondence concerning
this article should be addressed to Thelma Duffey, Department of Counseling, University of Texas at San Antonio, 501 West Cesar
Chavez Boulevard, San Antonio, TX 78207 (e-mail: thelma.duffey@utsa.edu).
2014 by the American Counseling Association. All rights reserved.

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Developmental Relational Counseling: Applications for Counseling Men


ness, poise, and use of action-oriented strategies may help
men assuage their preconceptions of counseling (Good &
Robertson, 2010; Kiselica & Englar-Carlson, 2010).
Masculinity is clearly a facet of a mans development
and is a compelling influence in the counseling relationship (Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005; Shepard, 2005).
Traditional, and perhaps stereotypical, views of masculinity
characterize men as enduring, action oriented, and challenged
to express emotions and vulnerabilities (Shepard, 2005).
Although many men are encouraged through socialization
to meet these masculine norms, most men do not (Smiler,
2004). Thus, masculinity itself is a multifaceted concept, and
men vary in their responses to this socialization. Counselors
who seek to understand their male clients as unique human
beings while being aware of the multifaceted aspects of
masculinity can better conceptualize their clients needs and
respond with accurate and genuine empathy. Therefore, (a)
accurate empathic listening, (b) conceptualization of clients
as unique individuals, (c) discussion of the goals and process
of counseling, and (d) relating from a collaborative stance are
fundamental counseling practices that work well with men
(Good & Robertson, 2010; Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005;
Shepard, 2005). In addition, the following are principles,
distilled from the literature, that describe additional considerations for work with men (Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005;
Good & Robertson, 2010; Shepard, 2005):
1. Understand masculinity and societal expectations for men.
2. Recognize that some men may belong to a dominant
gender group and a disenfranchised group concurrently (e.g., a homeless man).
3. Normalize mens experiences, socialization, and the
counseling process.
In summary, men develop within diverse contexts. These
contexts are multidimensional and include social, historical,
familial, geographical, and socioeconomic factors. Thus,
mens needs, capacities, expectations of power, vulnerability, and relationships vary. It is important for professional
counselors to work from paradigms that support mens capacity to develop a balanced self-perception, incorporate
interpersonal feedback, and compassionately consider their
needs and the needs of others. The DRC model provides
a structure for counselors to conceptualize mens growth
through the self-awareness they derive from their interactions
and relationships.

DRC With Men


DRC considers how self-awareness and deepened understanding of others develop. It provides context for how relational
connections are formed and illustrates the role of feedback
and awareness in the connection and disconnection process.
Figure 1 provides a graphical overview of the DRC model.
DRC focuses on human growth across several spectrums. Key

concepts in the DRC continuum include awareness of oneself


and other people, connection and disconnection, perspective
taking, and integration of feedback (Duffey & Haberstroh,
2012). Connection is a fundamental concept in DRC. In the
DRC framework and within the context of this article, men
connect to one of three broad perspectives on the basis of
their level of personal awareness, relational maturity, and
understanding of others. These perspectives are identified as
(a) the self-denigrating perspective, (b) the clear and balanced
perspective, and (c) the self-aggrandizing perspective. When
a man is connected to a self-denigrating or self-aggrandizing
perspective, he loses connection to a clear and balanced
perspective of himself and others. As a result, he runs the
risk of disconnecting from authentic relationships and losing
opportunities for relational mutuality. Therefore, therapeutic
goals in DRC involve using feedback to help men connect to a
clear and balanced perspective of themselves and other people
and develop mutually empathic relationships (Jordan, 2010).

Theoretical Influences
DRC was founded on concepts from the Enneagram, cognitive
therapies, and narrative therapies and was based on RCT. This
integration of ideas illustrates the interplay between relational
contexts and the development of personal awareness and
deepened awareness of others. DRC integrates the intrapersonal and interpersonal components of self-understanding
to include the (a) accuracy of awareness, (b) perspectives to
which one connects, (c) integration of feedback, and (d) use
of power in relation to others.
RCT
RCT is a model of human development first introduced by
Jean Baker Miller (1976) and colleagues at the Jean Baker
Miller Training Institute at Wellesley College. RCT is a life
span model that discusses the role of context and how human
growth occurs in relationship with others. This model provides
a paradigm shift from the traditional models of development
that emphasize individuation and separation as central to human development (Jordan, 2010; Miller, 1976).
According to RCT, isolation is a painful source of human
disconnection (Comstock et al., 2008; Duffey & Somody,
2011; Jordan, 2010; Walker, 2004). Therefore, helping clients move out of a place of isolation is a primary counseling
goal. RCT also acknowledges the role of power and privilege and the diversity that exists within society, including
within-group and between-group factors related to gender,
race, ethnicity, socioeconomics, sexual orientation, and
religion (Comstock et al., 2008; Duffey & Somody, 2011;
Jordan, 2010). RCT counselors consider these and other
sociopolitical dynamics in their work. When working with
men, an RCT-focused counselor seeks to explore dynamics
such as power, privilege, connection, and mutual empathy
to guide counseling and other relationships in mens lives
(Vasquez, 2006).

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Self-Aggrandizing
Perspective
confident

confident

Other

Others

FiGurE 1
Developmental relational Counseling: The Spectrum of Self-understanding in relation to Others
Fundamental RCT Beliefs
According to RCT theorists, connection is an innate need
(Jordan, 2010). However, there are times when individuals
assume attitudes and engage in behaviors (also known as
strategies of disconnection) that distance them from others
and keep them from experiencing the connections they want
(Jordan, 2010). RCT refers to this experience as the central
relational paradox. For example, Brad, 23, and a recent college graduate, believes that his brother, who is starting a new
business, is receiving an unfair financial advantage from his
parents. Brad paid for college on his own and does not un106

derstand why his brother, who did not finish college and has
been unsuccessful in business, is receiving support. Feeling
uncomfortable and convincing himself he does not need this
uncomfortable situation in his life, Brad withdraws from his
family. In his withdrawal, he may communicate indifference
toward his family or a lack of care. In reality, the motivating factors behind Brads withdrawal have little to do with
feeling genuine indifference. Rather, Brad is uncomfortable
discussing his concerns with his family. He does not want
to appear petty or jealous and is upset with himself when he
experiences these feelings. Despite Brads often unspoken

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desire to feel connected to his family and to truly believe
that he matters, Brad withdraws further. Brads strategy of
disconnectionwithdrawalbecomes chronic, and in time,
Brad experiences a quiet and unspoken feeling of loneliness.
Unfortunately, when people do not represent themselves
genuinely in relationships, they often conceal salient parts of
their experiences (Jordan, 2010). In this case, Brad hid the
fact that he resented the financial support his brother enjoyed.
He also hid feeling taken for granted by his family. According
to RCT, when important aspects of peoples experiences are
habitually hidden, individuals may become increasingly disconnected from themselves and others. When these strategies
become chronic, people may enter into a state RCT refers to
as condemned isolation (Miller et al., 2004; Miller & Stiver,
1995). Conversely, as people more fully represent what they
think, need, and feel in important relationships, they become
increasingly authentic and move out of isolation (Miller &
Stiver, 1995). In Brads case, it was important for him to come
to terms with his expectations of his parents and to acknowledge his awkward feelings related to his brothers position as a
prodigal son. In counseling, he came to see that his feelings
were motivated not simply by his familys financial support of
his brother, but also by his perception that because Brad was
self-sufficient, he did not need their support or appreciation.
Brads socialization as a strong, independent man was in direct
conflict with these feelings. Sorting through his feelings in ways
that supported reentry into his family was an important step
in his work. Although the goal of RCT is mutual growth and
connection, this theory acknowledges that disconnections are a
natural part of the growth process. Such was the case with Brad.
According to RCT, prior relationship experiences often
serve as a relational template, leading people to expect current and future relationships to follow the template. Miller and
Stiver (1995) defined these expectations as relational images.
Relational images are schemas that create expectations of what
relationships will look like and how people in relationships
will respond. These expectations guide peoples interpretations of others behaviors and the interpersonal dynamics they
experience. Brads relational images involved seeing himself as
invulnerable and ultimately in control of situations that affect
him. Feeling vulnerable and jealous of his brother suggested
weakness and triggered feelings of shame. Brads pattern of
behaving when he experienced shame was to passively punish
the other person through his withdrawal and rejection. In time,
Brad would reframe his positive experiences and memories
into pejorative ones. This would help him remain disconnected
from the other person, feel justified in his decision, and appear
seemingly in control. This disconnection generally reinforced
Brads relational image that people would disappoint him. To
maintain his relational image of himself as a person who asserts
his power and has control in his relationships, Brad would have
to ultimately reject the conflicted relationship.
Counselors can use RCT principles to help men distinguish
their relational images from their actual experiences. Men then

have an opportunity to deepen and clarify their perspectives,


which can support their relational resiliency. According to RCT,
resilience is more than a quality of personal strength; it is a relational dynamic. Relational resiliency involves the capacity to
form connections, [make] reconnections, and resist disconnection (Jordan, 2005, p. 83) in the face of adversity and involves
both maturity and mutuality. According to Jordan (2010), mutuality and maturity are critical to growth-fostering relationships. In
Brads case, he was able to connect with his feelings of rejection,
anger, and disappointment within his family. Although his family
did not easily understand Brads concerns, they were eventually
able to do so. Brad was also able to deepen his understanding of
the various contexts and experiences of others. The therapeutic
connection provided an avenue for Brad to reconnect, not only
with his experience but also with his family.
RCT and Men
RCT scholars first examined the complexities of womens
development and the experiences of subjugated groups (Jordan, 2010). Although RCT was designed to explore womens
growth in relationships, RCT also discusses the role of
growth-fostering relationships in the developing male (Dooley
& Fedele, 2004; Duffey & Somody, 2011; Jordan, 2010;
Lombardi, 2012). Shepard (2005) discussed the contradictory
messages men receive as young boys, and the consequences
many incur as a result. According to Shepard,
the old rules defining masculinity have created profound disconnections for men, which involve: (a) disconnection from
vulnerable feelings like sadness and fear, which are normal
and appropriate parts of life; (b) disconnection from nurturing,
soothing, and caregiving capacities; (c) disconnection from
the vocabulary of emotions, which many men have never
adequately learned; (d) disconnection from ones children,
despite desires for close relationships; and (e) disconnection
from capacities for intimacy, and concomitantly, disconnection from those whom men love. (p. 135)

Men develop their relational skills in various contexts.


They experience a broad range of professional and personal
relationships, which may reinforce or challenge their relational templates. Men function in many roles (e.g., son,
sibling, friend, romantic partner, father, employee, employer).
Within each of these roles, men relate to others using various
strategies of connection and disconnection. Male-to-male
friendship is one notable example of how men experience
relational life. In a study involving 386 men, most participants
described honesty, trust, and dependability as important manto-man relational qualities (Greif, 2006). In another study
involving men and their female romantic partners, attempts
at what RCT would describe as mutual empathy were critical
to relational satisfaction (Cohen, Schulz, Weiss, & Waldinger,
2012). RCT is clearly an applicable framework for conceptualizing the male relational experience.

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How RCT Influences DRC
DRC is based on the premise that context and relational
connections form the foundation by which men gain personal awareness and deepen their understanding of others.
That is, when men relate to others authentically and with
consideration, they see themselves more clearly and increase
their openness to feedback. When engaged in bidirectional
empathy, men can receive and be open to feedback about
their impact on others. From a relational context, DRC considers feedback as information given from another persons
range of experience and awareness. Although the intent of
some feedback can be to hurt, shame, or dismiss another,
DRC feedback is given to help individuals in a relationship
better understand each other and develop their connection
to a clear and balanced perspective of themselves and each
other. Opening oneself to feedback, within the DRC context,
is considered a caring act.
The appropriate use of relational power is central to RCT and
DRC. RCT addresses power regarding diverse relational, social,
and cultural contexts. It also describes the nuanced way people
use power with others (Jordan, 2010). According to DRC, men
demonstrate various ways of relating and using their relational
power. In a grounded theory study on relational competencies and
creativity in counseling involving 21 men (Duffey, Haberstroh,
& Trepal, 2009), participants described the responsible use of
power as deepening personal and relational growth. Participants
described responsible uses of power as attending to and interacting with others authentically, providing and receiving constructive feedback, and sharing mutual support.
Thus, the ways that men use power demonstrate their connections with others and to the DRC perspectives. DRC purports
that when men disconnect from others and instead connect to
self-aggrandizing or self-denigrating perspectives, they lose
opportunities for relational mutuality and growth. In the first
instance, men use their power in harmful ways to exploit, dismiss,
or control other people. In the second instance, men yield their
power and responsibility to others. In each extreme, this kind of
disconnection can lead to increased isolation, emotional numbness, and feelings of depression. Conversely, DRC suggests that
when men are connected to a clear and balanced perspective,
they can use their power to empower those with less power, relate
with respect, consider the influence of their actions, and seek to
create relationships that are mutually beneficial.
The Enneagram Personality Typology
The Enneagram personality typology is a system of self-discovery and personal growth with roots in ancient Eastern spiritual
teachings. Diverse scholars have studied and developed Enneagram theory, particularly within the past 3 decades (Daniels
& Price, 2000; Palmer, 1996; Riso & Hudson, 2000). The Enneagram is used as a tool to understand the diverse expressions
of human nature by describing nine fundamental worldviews.
This model provides a framework for observing peoples automatic responses to lifes experiences and illustrates productive
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road maps for personal growth for each type. According to the
Enneagram, each type has a unique focus of attention and a
corresponding strategy for managing life experiences (Daniels
& Price, 2000; Palmer, 1996; Riso & Hudson, 2000). It can
help individuals increase their level of self-awareness and their
understanding of others by discovering the motivations behind
their behaviors (Daniels & Price, 2000; Palmer, 1996; Riso &
Hudson, 2000). The Enneagram also provides a framework
for increasing compassion and empathy (Duffey, Comstock,
& Reynolds, 2004). These motivations become unconsciously
driven patterns of behavior. Broadly speaking, people of the
same type have similar motivations and worldviews. However,
the Enneagram allows room for variation on the basis of individual talents, abilities, experiences, and maturity. Furthermore,
Riso and Hudson (2000) identified a continuum of nine levels
of development within each type, making the structure of the
Enneagram a popular diagnostic tool for counselors and life
coaches working with clients motivated to deepen their selfawareness and relational capacities.
How the Enneagram Influences DRC
As previously stated, the Enneagram personality typology
is a dynamic personality theory and speaks to core worldviews, fears, and pathways for growth (Daniels & Price,
2000; Palmer, 1996; Riso & Hudson, 2000). Specifically,
the Enneagram informed the development of the spectrum of
self-awareness in the DRC model. This spectrum corresponds
with the Enneagram levels of development. The principles of
the Enneagram also informed the notion that the development
of a clear and balanced perspective is a multidimensional
process unique to each person. Furthermore, the Enneagram
personality typology provided a nonpathological framework
for understanding dysfunction, development, and growth.
Cognitive and Narrative Approaches
Generally speaking, cognitive and narrative therapies both
address the beliefs and stories that clients use to organize
their worlds (Beck, 2011). Contemporary cognitive therapy
involves helping clients assess their automatic thoughts, the
accuracy of their beliefs, and broader cognitive schemas that
have developed over time (Beck, 2011). In addition, cognitive
work can help men expand restrictive notions about masculinity (Mahalik & Morrison, 2006). Cognitive and narrative
theories differ, however, in key fundamental ways. Whereas
cognitive theorists conceptualize clients concerns as consisting of faulty thinking, narrative therapists consider problems
as socially constructed and best approached by externalizing
them through restorying (White & Epston, 1990).
How Narrative and Cognitive Approaches
Influence DRC
The self-denigrating and self-aggrandizing perspectives mirror the extremes of distorted thinking proposed by cognitive
therapists (Beck, 2011). Similarly, cognitive therapies discuss

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how new evidence and feedback inform a mans understanding of himself and others (Beck, 2011). In the DRC model,
feedback is considered evidence of ones relational functioning. Thus, this evidence, when integrated, will expand
a mans awareness. Unlike cognitive therapies, DRC places
irrationality in a relational sense and externalizes (White &
Epston, 1990) these thoughts and schemas as perspectives.
This model expands on traditional cognitive approaches
because it considers self-perspective in the context of disconnection from and connection with others. In addition, rational
self-understanding is not the final goal of DRC. Rather than
viewing a man as consumed by irrational thoughts or unmet
needs, DRC considers how a man connects in his relationships and to the various perspectives that frame his personal
awareness and understanding of others.
Similar to narrative therapy, DRC externalizes many
relational and personal issues (White & Epston, 1990) as
connections to specific distorted perspectives. Unlike narrative therapy, where clients are asked to name their problem,
DRC names these relational problems as connections to
self-aggrandizing or self-denigrating perspectives. In Brads
case, he was upset by the extra support his brother received
and was somewhat jealous. On the one hand, he felt capable
of earning his own living and seemed to be connected to
a clear and balanced perspective of his earning power and
professional competency. However, Brad also appeared to be
connected to a self-denigrating perspective with respect to the
power or influence he held within his family. Brad ignored
his feelings of resentment and disappointment. Then, he passively related to his family members by seemingly supporting
the plan to again help his brother financially. By connecting
to this perspective and by withdrawing from his family, he
lost a genuine connection with them and the opportunity for
mutual empathy. In time, Brads family became perplexed
and confused by his absence.
Alternatively, when a man is connected to a clear and balanced perspective, he is better poised to connect with others
dependably. There is little need for manipulation, passivity,
aggression, or indifference. A man connected to a clear and
balanced perspective demonstrates genuine compassion,
consistency, courage, and confidence. An important DRC
goal is to help men connect to this perspective. As observed
in Brads case, once he was able to identify his resentment
and articulate it, he was better able to come to terms with the
situation. Brad did not like the facts, but he was able to accept
them by seeing the situation more clearly and thus act with
compassion toward himself and his family. He learned to be
compassionate toward himself by connecting relationally and
breaking the connection to the self-denigrating perspective.
Brad could then say what was important to him and give
his family an opportunity to respond. He also learned that
compassion toward others involved frank communication.
This allowed Brad to maintain clarity and presence rather
than retreat and withdraw.

Perspectives and the Accuracy of


Personal and Other Awareness
DRC defines self-awareness as the capacity to perceive oneself realistically, compassionately, and in relation to others.
On the basis of this capacity, male clients may connect to
self-perspectives that range in accuracy. The self-denigrating
and self-aggrandizing perspectives are based on inaccurate
self-awareness, incongruence with facts and feedback, and
distortions of ones worth and the worth of other people.
Notably, when a man connects to either of these perspectives,
DRC suggests that he disconnect from others. Alternatively,
according to DRC, when men connect to their clear and
balanced self-perspectives, they incorporate feedback to
both deepen and broaden their understanding of themselves
and others. DRC contends that this growth, which results in
relationship, fosters greater confidence, reliability, compassion, and courage.
The Clear and Balanced Perspective
One aim of DRC is to help men develop clarity and balance
in their understanding of themselves and others. Seeking connection to a balanced perspective increases their capacity for
relational objectivity. In addition, it demonstrates realness,
vulnerability, strength, and compassion. A man connected to a
clear and balanced perspective of himself and his partner will
listen to feedback and attempt to respond in a mutually supportive
manner. He recognizes both his strengths and vulnerabilities and
considers more productive ways of managing a stated concern.
However, DRC recognizes that men are complex and
multidimensional and their connections to perspectives are
often fluid. Clear and compassionate feedback from respected
others may help them reconnect to a balanced self-perspective
and understanding of others. Mens groups may offer a context
for them to explore sharing power, developing intimacy with
other men, and gaining greater awareness (Garfield, 2010). Alternatively, when men engage or collaborate in contexts (e.g.,
bullying, hazing, classist) that are ridiculing, denigrating, or
abusive to themselves or others, their self-perspectives may
move toward dehumanizing extremes. When a man spends
time with friends who ridicule others who are different from
them, or who make sexist or racist comments, he may begin to
connect to a self-aggrandizing perspective. Then again, when
a man is connected to a self-denigrating perspective, he may
be disturbed by his friends comments but remain quiet. This
may create conflict for him and keep him from experiencing
balance or clarity. In each of these cases, mens perspectives
position them to experience dehumanizing extremes.
The Self-Aggrandizing Perspective
Men who connect to the self-aggrandizing perspective
dehumanize themselves and others by denying personal
vulnerabilities and exploiting weakness in others. Men who
organize their lives from this perspective do so on the basis

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of inaccurate awareness. By connecting to a basic mind-set of
preeminence and entitlement, they abuse their power, which
results in a disconnection from growth-fostering relationships
(Jordan, 2010). In this case, a man may perceive vulnerability
as weakness and view control and exploitation as strength.
Understanding himself from this perspective may create an
avoidance or active resistance to feedback from others, especially from those perceived as weaker or threatening. A man
connected to a self-aggrandizing perspective may discount
another persons concerns and act without consideration for
how his behaviors affect the other person. Counseling goals
for men connected to this perspective are for them to gain a
realistic appreciation for their limitations and to value others
as human beings who have unique strengths and flaws. A man
may also grow by using power compassionately to promote
and support the well-being of others.
The Self-Denigrating Perspective
Men connected to a self-denigrating perspective may question their worth and fail to give their own value credence.
They may experience profound loneliness because they see
themselves as disconnected and different from the rest of
humanity. A man connected to this perspective may dismiss
or denounce his own worth. He may be unaware of his worth
or fail to consider how his presence would be missed. Authenticity and compassion as expressed by others provide
a context that challenges the self-denigrating perspective.
When men discover that they are not alone in their flaws
and mistakes, they may move toward connecting to a more
flexible and balanced self-perspective. The task for men who
have a self-denigrating worldview is to develop balanced
and compassionate beliefs of their worth and recognize their
importance and influence in their relationships. RCT would
say that these beliefs are balanced through an individuals
growth-fostering relationships with others (Jordan, 2010).
Aspects
There are many aspects to a mans life. These are defined as
a mans individualized personal, professional, and romantic
relationships; competencies; skills; and talents that occur in
the contexts of his life. For men, masculinity can be seen as
an important aspect of their lives (Good & Robertson, 2010;
Englar-Carlson & Shepard, 2005; Shepard, 2005). In DRC,
connections to the self-aggrandizing, self-denigrating, and
clear and balanced perspectives can vary with regard to specific aspects and contexts. Therefore, although a man may be
connected to a self-denigrating perspective related to one aspect, he may be connected to a clear and balanced perspective
about other aspects of his life. For example, a man connected
to a clear and balanced perspective of his family dynamics
may also be connected to a self-aggrandizing perspective
with respect to his work relationships and performance. This
component of DRC captures the complexity of connections
and disconnection in a mans life. Furthermore, this idea can
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be used to help plan for change. That is, a counselor and male
client may (a) seek aspects where the client is connected
to a clear and balanced perspective of himself and other
people, (b) assess his connections to self-aggrandizing or
self-denigrating perspectives involving other aspects, and (c)
draw on the strength of his connection to clear and balanced
perspectives as they exist.
Feedback
DRC purports that authentic feedback is essential to relational
growth and for developing a balanced perspective of self, others, and life situations. Relationally competent men take risks
to provide others with productive feedback. They are also open
to feedback. In the DRC model, receptivity and incorporation
of feedback are central to self-awareness and authentic connection with others. Still, DRC recognizes that feedback can
trigger a number of reactions. A man who seeks balance and
clarity may first experience a mix of embarrassment, anger,
and defensiveness upon receiving feedback. However, he will
ultimately try to incorporate this feedback with compassion
for himself and others. From this perspective, feedback is
seen as a caring act.
In contrast, when a man is connected to an underconfident
state but seeks a balanced perspective, he may initially feel
discouraged because the feedback may seem to support his
perceived flaws. Seeking a balanced perspective allows him
to reconsider that position. Alternatively, an overconfident
man who seeks a connection to clarity and balance may first
be surprised and angry to hear others feedback. However, he
may use this feedback to rebalance his perspective. In each
case, compassionate, authentic, and honest feedback supports
and reinforces the development of flexible, accurate, and balanced self-perspectives.
Men connected to either extreme of the continuum are
challenged to achieve balance. Men connected to self-aggrandizing perspectives may experience brief moments of accurate
self-awareness during authentic feedback, moments of reflection, or loss. They may react to this accurate self-appraisal
by first denigrating themselves. Later, they may defend their
self-perceptions, dismiss the feedback, and strike out. If they
dismiss the feedback, they may then more rigidly adhere to
their aggrandized self-perspective. Confident humility may
appear, to them, as weakness. Some may choose to remain in
denial of their behaviors to avoid adjusting their behaviors and
may characterize their dismissiveness, degradation of others,
control, and exploitation as strength.
Conversely, men who connect to self-denigrating perspectives may focus only on the negative aspects of the
feedback and minimize supportive messages. They may
become defensive and strike out passive-aggressively if they
perceive the feedback to be purposely harmful. Some men
also succumb to shame because the feedback may buttress
the idea that they are fundamentally flawed. Sometimes men
connected to a self-denigrating perspective misperceive their

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Developmental Relational Counseling: Applications for Counseling Men


power and misuse it with others. Hence, feedback involves
a delicate balance and must come from a place of care or it
can be unproductive. If feedback is delivered by someone the
man respects, and if he seeks self-understanding, integration
of feedback is more likely to move him toward connection to
a balanced perspective.
Counselors using DRC principles provide feedback from
(a) a clear understanding of their role; (b) a compassionate
understanding of themselves and their clients; (c) a place of
genuine confidence; and (d) a sincere desire to know, understand, and connect with their male clients. This is in contrast
to the expert, who can be detached, relationally disconnected, and superior in his or her authority. DRC purports that
counseling, when experienced in a direct, albeit restorative,
context, can be a forum for examination, reflection, connection, feedback, and integration of new learning.

DRC in Action: A Case Example


In the following section, we apply DRC in counseling work
with a male client with the pseudonym George. This case
discussion includes a conceptualization of DRC principles,
the counselors role, and the process of change.
George
George came to counseling because he had been laid off for
failure to attend work. He gave a number of reasons for his
absences, and after several discussions, his supervisor recommended termination. George knew he had missed work,
acknowledged not liking his job, and expressed indifference
toward the termination.
George continued counseling as he sought employment.
Eventually, he was hired as a telephone marketer with a
large company. Known for his larger than life personality
and quick wit, George was surprised that his new peers and
supervisors did not appreciate his personality and expressed
concern about his work. George remarked, Im the best
person there, and they all have to know it. Too bad my group
is full of douche bags.
George was upset and angered by the feedback he
received and described how diplomatic he generally was
during meetings. He added that his psychology major was
a tremendous asset to him in his work and relationships.
Still, George was amazed by his supervisors and coworkers inability to understand him. George spoke rapidly as he
communicated his misfortune in working with such stale,
unhelpful, and ignorant coworkers who failed to see his
desirable qualities. Truly perplexed, George was disturbed
when the counselor interjected thoughts or questions into
the discussion.
DRC Conceptualization of George
George was connected to the self-aggrandizing perspective
related to his professional performance and resisted feedback

from his supervisors, coworkers, and counselor. He was challenged to integrate feedback into his awareness or consider
why he sabotaged his opportunities for successful work. As
a result, he disconnected from a perspective where he could
perceive himself and others at work with accuracy and consideration. From the self-aggrandizing perspective, George
did not consider what it might be like for his coworkers to
carry his load when he would regularly call in sick. George
could not entertain the idea that his performance, when he
was present, was under par in some respects. The counselor
conceptualized that, at his core, George defended against
feeling shamed, experienced a lack of belonging, and carried a fear that acknowledging limitation or weakness could
increase his vulnerability to attack and rejection.
For George to establish a connection to a clear and balanced perspective, his goals involved (a) acknowledging
his legitimate strengths, (b) recognizing the personal value
of realistic feedback, (c) diffusing his resistance to hearing
feedback that contradicts his self-perception, (d) considering
the aspects of his life to which he connects from a clear and
balanced perspective, and (e) considering alternative perspectives to his current issue and to others.
DRC recognizes that feedback can be threatening to selfperception, pride, and a persons sense of self. To accept
feedback such as DRC proposes, clients must want to develop
their capacities to relate reliably with others, have confidence
in the counselor, and trust the counselors intentions. In this
case, the counselor reflected Georges strengths and skills and
normalized the challenge and concrete value of self-reflection
and personal awareness. For example, George had learned to
relate genuinely with his partner and children and to speak
directly about unsettling situations. Speaking in clear, nonjargon language, the counselor and George discussed Georges
current state and clarified his goals. Using Figure 1, George
reflected on the various aspects and contexts of his life and
identified the spectrum of his understanding of himself and
other people. As he moved toward the center of the spectrum,
George increased his potential for self-compassion and respect for others.
Growth for George involved stepping back from his selfprotective patterns and allowing himself to listen to and receive feedback. Not surprisingly, George was at first resistant
to seeing a perspective that collided with his self-perception
and his perspective on the situation. However, he trusted
the counselor, who attempted to strike the balance between
providing support for George while also offering perspective
shifting as a potentially freeing and illuminating act. Through
practice, George learned to consider other peoples feedback
and genuinely reflect on the impact of his behaviors on others.
Moreover, he became more able to identify the self-protective
motivations to his actions. George had an opportunity to gain
more clarity, greater self-compassion and understanding, and
a more sustainable connection and camaraderie with his peers.
This was a desire he had often voiced.

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Duffey & Haberstroh

Discussion

References

Men come from a rich variety of backgrounds and experiences and vary in their accuracy of self-understanding and
perspective on others. We believe that counseling can serve
as a forum for men to develop and deepen these important
relational competencies. Counselors practicing from a
DRC framework strive to help men become more realistic
about their situations and identify feedback as central to
this work. At the same time, DRC recognizes that feedback
can be threatening in the best of contexts. However, DRC
posits that, when given within a trusting relationship where
mutual respect exists, feedback can be received, explored,
and integrated.
This model recognizes that some men connect to a clear and
balanced perspective of themselves and others and exemplify
the best of masculinity with their compassion and courage.
However, DRC also recognizes that other men are challenged
in their perspectives. Men entrenched in the furthest extremes
of these perspectives may not integrate feedback or value the
mutual benefits involved in egalitarian relationships.

Limitations
Men connected to a self-aggrandizing perspective in their
overall management of life may be particularly challenged in
using this approach. In addition, men who connect to a selfdenigrating perspective may be equally challenged. Furthermore, some men may not want to see a concrete and visual
depiction of their relational connections and disconnections
or hear candid feedback. Finally, although there is available
research on the contributing models, this approach has emerged
from our clinical practices and has yet to develop a distinct research base. Future research could explore and report on DRC
training, and clinical outcomes of DRC are needed.

Conclusion
The DRC model, as used with men, outlines a method to
conceptualize self-understanding and relationships in an
integrated fashion while considering the intersection of masculinity and clients personal development. Men participating
in DRC-focused counseling are made aware that counseling
will involve looking at the presenting problem; considering contributing factors, including their role; receiving and
responding to feedback; exploring their perspectives; sifting
through potential scenarios; and taking action. The DRC
model encourages men to connect to a clear and balanced
perspective of their own functioning while considering how
their perspective both shapes and is shaped by their important
relationships. To help clients connect to a clear and balanced
perspective, counselors who are cognizant of these factors
may help men evaluate the reciprocity and respect within
their relationships and deepen their accurate awareness of
themselves and those around them.
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