Sunday, March 13, 2016

Hope boosts counseling results

Hope Shines a Light

Hope Wins

Have you ever look forward to an event and found it to be even better than expected? Hope is about expectations. High levels of hope represent a combination of plans and motivation directed at reaching a goal.

A group of us are looking at the effectiveness of Christian counseling from the perspective of people who have recently attended counseling sessions. As we continue to collect data, one finding stands out­­—those with high levels of hope appear healthier on a variety of measures.

What is hope?

Hope is a positive motivational action schema. The two components of hope work in tandem to help people achieve goals. According to hope theory developed by C.R. Snyder and his colleagues at the University of Kansas, hope consists of two components: agency and pathways. Pathways are the routes or ways people develop to achieve their goals. For example, a person may enroll in college to obtain a degree on the path to a career in counseling, which in turn allows them to reach their goal of helping others.

The second component of hope is agency. Agency refers to how motivated people feel about carrying out their plans toward their goals. An 8-item hope scale has been effective in many studies and appears to measure hope quite well. The importance of hope is why we included it in our study.

What about Christian hope?

Since we are studying Christian counseling, you might wonder why we didn’t focus on Christian hope. One reason is that hope is part of being human and is not unique to being a Christian. Most healthy people have goals. And most people think of ways to achieve their goals. Of course, we all vary in motivation.

Christian hope can mean different things. It can include motivations to reach goals that a person believes God wants them to achieve. Christian hope may also be directed at the blessed hope of salvation culminating in eternal life. In the latter case, hope is focused on Jesus as the pathway to life and the source of motivation. Because we were focused on recent outcomes of counseling we measured hope in the more general sense.

What about hope and counseling outcomes?

We considered a list of several factors that could account for how Christians viewed the result of counseling. Some were more helpful than others. Some were better predictors of different outcomes than others. But the thing about hope is that hope predicted all outcomes at a significant level.

What outcomes were measured?

We measured three outcomes in one study and four in another. Both studies included a general scale dealing with well being developed by Schwartz and others. We also asked people to rate their satisfaction with counseling and their likelihood of returning to counseling. The fourth measure included in one study specifically looked at spiritual well-being (Richards and others, 2005).

What does this mean for counseling?

It might mean that motivated people do better in counseling than others. That makes sense. But it probably means counselors and clients need to be on the same path pursuing a client’s goals if a client is to derive benefit from counseling.

Those of us not in counseling may consider that we are more likely to achieve our personal goals if we have a clear pathway or plan and feel motivated to reach that goal. Having support from friends or family may give us that extra boost to stay on the path and stay focused on our goals.

Who is the "we?" 

Several colleagues joined me in this study: Heather Lake Kelly, Brandon J. Griffin, Ev L. Worthington Jr., Chris Dinwiddie. The study includes more than just hope. I hope we can complete our study and send an article to a journal later this year.

For more details on this study.

Contact Information

Facebook  Page:      Geoff W. Sutton

Twitter                   @GeoffWSutton 

Website: Geoff W. Sutton

Amazon Author Page


Richards, P.S., Smith, T.B., Schowalter, M., Richard, M., Berrett, M.E., & Hardman, R.K. (2005). Psychotherapy Research, 15, 457-469.

Snyder, C. R., Harris, C., Anderson, J. R., Holleran, S. A., Irving, L. M., Sigmon, S. T., Yoshinoba, L., Gibb, J., Langelle, C., &  Harney, P. (1991). The will and the ways: Development and validation of an individual-differences measure of hope. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 570-585. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.60.4.570

Young, J.L., Waehler, C. A., Laux, J. M., McDaniel, P.S., & Hilsenroth, M. J. (2003). Four studies extending the utility of the Schwartz outcome scale (SOS-10). Journal of Personality Assessment, 80, 130-138.

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