Case Conceptualization Process

Case Conceptualization Process

Case conceptualization refers to the process in which one makes sense of a client’s presenting concerns in the context of a theoretical framework. In other words, it refers to how one explains or understands the pseudo-client’s symptoms, personality characteristics, cognitions, feelings, and behaviors in the light of a particular theory or integration of theories. Such understanding should lead to the formulation of counseling goals and intervention strategies.

At this stage, you will conceptualize the client’s case from 1 theoretical orientation at a time. The content of the conceptualization of the same case will differ according to the various theories depending on the aspect of human experiencing that each theory emphasizes.

In general, however, the case conceptualization process (as with the counseling process itself) starts with an understanding of the client’s presenting concerns (as presented in the case summary) from the perspective of the client.

Use the outline below to assist you in developing your Case Conceptualization according to the theory you choose to discuss.

Client’s Presenting Concerns:

This is derived from your Case Summary.

Case Conceptualization:

Present information used to generate hypothesis regarding the origins of the client’s current problems. Use outside sources and the Jones and Butman textbook to explain the concepts utilized in this section. Below offers an outline of how to discuss these issues.

Psychoanalysis or Object Relations Theory:

  1. Explore      current and early relationships as they relate to issues of attachment and      autonomy. This includes gaining an understanding of how the client      understands the world and his/her relationships with others (e.g., the client’s      mental representations based on internalized objects). Understanding the client’s      internal frame of reference will help the counselor understand the client’s      behaviors.
  2. Describe the      ideas and feelings about self that the client might have developed in the      context of these early relations (internalized objects).
  3. Establish a      relationship between the client’s sense of self and current problems, identify      conflictive patterns that the client may be repeating in current life, and      explore to what extent current experiences trigger the client’s emotional      reactions elicited by past experiences (reliving the trauma).
  4. Uncover      defense mechanisms embedded in the client’s presenting concerns and other      symptoms, and explain how they relate to the client’s current difficulties      and past experiences.
  5. Help the      client become aware of issues described above, and help the client process      and resolve early conflicts.


Individual Psychology: 

1. Identify how presenting concerns relate to client’s ability to successfully meet specific life tasks.

2. Explore family constellation to discover experiences that might have led the client to develop his/her specific faulty logic. Describe the content of this faulty logic and the sense of self the client developed in the context of these experiences.

3. Establish a connection between the content of the client’s faulty logic and (1) experiences in the family of origin, (2) problems in current life, and (3) the sense-of-self in relation to the world that the client developed.

4. Identify the underlining purpose of the client’s problematic behavior, and describe how it prevents the client from successfully meeting the life tasks.


1. While exploring the client’s presenting concerns, the counselor will assume that internalized conditions of worth have led the client to disconnect from parts of himself/herself. This disconnect, in turn, has resulted in feelings of incongruency and anxiety, which has impaired his/her internal locus of control as well as thwarted his/her self-actualizing tendency.

2. Examine the discrepancy between the client’s self-concept and ideal self-concept. Since the theory proposes that given the adequate facilitative conditions (empathy, positive regard, and congruence) in the counseling relation, clients will be able to reconnect with themselves and find their own way, the theory does not offer much in terms of a framework to explain the particular issues of each client. This is more a theory of the change process itself than a theory of personality development.


1. Identify how presenting concerns (problem behaviors/cognitions) relate to specific givens of existence.

2. Elucidate how these difficulties represent (as mechanisms of defense) or are the consequences of the client’s efforts to avoid facing the normal anxiety generated by specific givens of existence.

3. Describe how these defensive behaviors have led the client to experience of neurotic anxiety and/or neurotic guilt and further problems.


1. Relate the presenting concerns to faulty learning, irrational thoughts, and/or faulty cognitions.

2. Identify the client’s irrational thoughts (Ellis) and/or specific faulty cognitions or maladaptive thought patterns (Beck), and illustrate how these lead to the problematic behaviors.

3. Describe the antecedent behaviors and cognitions that trigger the client’s maladaptive behaviors and thoughts (this is called behavioral assessment).

Goal Setting and Interventions:

The information provided in the conceptualization process leads to specific counseling goals. Again, use outside sources to support your discussion of Goals and Interventions.

In the psychodynamic approaches (Object Relations and Individual Psychology), these will likely include:

· Resolving earlier conflicts

· Modifying negative aspects of the self

· Facilitating the development of positive aspects of the self in the context of the therapeutic relation

· Reconciling split-off aspects of the self,

· Changing aspects of the client’s sense of self (e.g., feeling unlovable)

· Identifying and modifying faulty logic

· Gaining encouragement to face life-tasks, and/or to develop social interest

· Identifying the underlining purposes of symptomatic behaviors

· Work through conflicts in attachment and autonomy

Interventions may include:

Psychoanalytic and Object Relations: 

· Free association

· Dream analysis

· Confrontation

· Interpretation

· Gaining insight

· Analysis of the transference

Individual Psychology:

· Lifestyle assessment

· Paradoxical Intention

· Spitting in the Soup

· Catching oneself

· “Acting as if”

· Task setting

· Motivational interviewing

In the Person-Centered approach, the goal is to create a safe, trusting relationship that will allow clients to explore the parts of themselves that they have denied or distorted. This will entail recognizing and giving up the internalized conditions of worth. Clients will likely then develop an internal locus of evaluation, become more open to experience, and achieve self-trust.


The Intervention is for the most part the relationship in itself, which must include 3 conditions:

· Congruence or genuineness

· Positive regard

· Accurate empathic understanding

Specific counselor’s behaviors to facilitate the relationship and to foster client change include:

· Reflection of feeling

· Paraphrasing, rephrasing

· Questions for clarification

In the Existential approach, goals may involve needing to:

· Help clients to gain awareness of the choices they are making in their lives.

· Encourage clients to face the givens of existence that they may be avoiding, and helping them to become aware of the defenses they are using to avoid the normal anxiety generated by the givens of existence.

· Help clients to become aware of the negative effects these defensive behaviors/cognitions have in their lives and to recognize how these defensive behaviors are related to their presenting concerns.

· Encourage clients to take responsibility for their lives and to make active choices regarding the life situations they are facing.

Interventions may include:

· Confrontation

· Process interpersonal dynamics of the counseling relationship, attending to the emotions generated by the counseling process in the context of the here and now relationship with the counselor

· Paradoxical intention

· Situational reconstruction

· Compensatory self improvement

In the Behavioral/Cognitive Behavioral/REBT approaches, counseling goals are likely to emphasize resolving the presenting concerns by learning new behaviors, changing environmental conditions, and replacing irrational thinking with more rational thoughts.


Interventions may include:

· Modeling

· Behavioral rehearsal

· Skills development training (e.g., assertiveness, social behavior)

· Self control or self-monitoring

· Stimulus control

· Contingency contracting

· Sys

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