Counselling Psychology: Aesthetics as a core frame of reference

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George H. Wills, PhD, MA, BA, Dip Psych, FAPS. Counselling Psychologist, Mountain Psychological Associates, Victoria, Australia



This article is a response to an assumption in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) theory that core beliefs are central to the existence of client distress and to the mitigation of it. The paper contains an analysis of the verbal content of a demonstration of CBT therapy in Module 1 of a course, “CBT Fundamentals” provided by the Australian Psychological Society, and a case is made supporting the proposition that the methods that privilege the search for, and manipulation of, core beliefs is too parsimonious a way of explaining both the processes and outcomes of otherwise high quality therapy. An alternative view is canvassed to the effect that the aesthetic qualities present in the work of Nick, the therapist who demonstrated CBT, are what better account for the successful work. Meta-analyses of research, supposed to give evidence of the superior effectiveness of CBT, are also reviewed and contextualised. The concept of the aesthetic is then placed within philosophical and humanist-existential frameworks claimed to be used by humanist/existential counselling psychologists. Finally, researchable questions are suggested as ways of exploring and validating the claims made in this paper.

Public Health Significance: The paper provides a challenge to scientism embedded in the theory and practice of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. The challenge is the author’s way of highlighting the distancing that arises from objectification of client problems. It is also intended as a challenge to the scientism that presently pervades psychology as a discipline.


Keywords: Disinterest, engagement, aesthetic engagement, core beliefs, humanist-existential, meta-analysis, process research. 


Address for correspondence:
George H. Wills
Email: georgewills@mountainpsych.com.au