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Explain the inherent power differences and perceptions of power between a counselor and their client.

Quick answer:

A power differential exists when a professional role gives actual, organizational authority over another or creates the perception in the client or layperson of such authority. Understanding both the benefits and implications of the power dynamic is at the core of the ethical standards that bind the helping professions. Those seeking help are expected to trust the knowledge and submit to the guidance of their counselor or therapist, who in turn should foster a safe, client-empowering environment.

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The "inherent power difference" between roles you ask about refers to the power and influence endowed to helping professionals compared to their clients. This dynamic results in the client's increased vulnerability to some negative consequence through the counselor's misuse of their power, which could result from either over-using or under-using their unusual authority.

Let's define the key term more closely and look at two the distinct forms of power that comprise this inherent difference. The first is personal power, which has to do with our free will and individual agency to affect events and influence people. The second form is role power, which is not universal, but is an accessory to a position of particular significance or responsibility.


In other words, the client's perception of the counselor's elevated power must be "owned" by the client so they understand that this power ascribed to the counselor's authority accrues only to their professional role , not their inherent humanity. This feeling of level equality between the roles is essential for maximal success in reaching shared goals as it facilitates the trust that is the foundation for the client-counselor relationship.

Yet many people do take comfort believing that their counselor or therapist has some special, benevolent aura, like a guardian angel or loving parent. There is no doubt that the inherent power difference between these roles has great value in creating a safe, helping space with well-defined boundaries. In the end, however, counselors and therapists are not endowed with any transcendent powers but are instead just well-trained and credentialed specialists, which makes them neither better nor greater.

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What are the percieved power differences between counselor and client within the counselling relationship?

Some of the perceived power differences between counselor and client with a counseling relationship stem from race, gender, education, ethnicity. The power differences may be perceived and not factual or they may be factual whether perceived or not; this is sometimes noted as the difference between felt and real differences and needs. The power differences may complement or undermine the counseling relationship.

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