The basic rationale for personal development can be understood from the necessity to understand one’s own human needs, together with spiritual, emotional and social development, because a failure to understand this about one’s own self is unthinkable if trying to understand and relate to other human beings in any meaningful way.

A person’s development can be perceived in many different ways; for instance as in Freud’s Psychosexual Development Theory (Marshall, 2004) which looks at stages of sexual development and the frustrations connected to each stage, or Havighurst’s Developmental Stages (Sugarman, 1986) and Tasks which identifies:

Tasks that arise from physical maturation

Tasks that arise from personal values

Tasks that have their source in the pressures of society

or through Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs(Maslow, 1998).

Or indeed through any of the other methods and theories that have been developed, and which may be studied and related to the needs of a counsellor in training,e.g.:

Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development Theory

Piaget’s Phases of Cognitive Development

Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development

Gilligan’s Theory of Moral Development

Which is to name but a few, and some of which will mean more to one person than to another.

What is really important is the core condition of recognising ourselves and others as human beings with developmental needs and developmental constructs, the understanding of which is paramount to enabling a real understanding of the human development processes and the requirements necessary in order to work towards living a contented and fulfilled existence for ourselves, and for engaging meaningfully with others working towards the same.

An individual’s decisions are often influenced by social construction, by adapting our personality to fit in with the expectations of friends, family and employers; whilst in relation to any other person we may act in response to our own unconscious and emotionally fuelled expectations. The person we are depends upon our life experiences and feedback from others about how we inter-relate with those people with whom we come into contact, as well as the physical, cultural and spiritual worlds in which we find ourselves. If we are to be able to relate to others whose personal construct and developmental processes that have led to what they have become with any real empathy and congruence, we must first understand our own construct. In taking responsibility for learning about our own emotional and social actions, understanding and development, we act authentically; but allowing our social construct to make choices for us could be seen as acting un-authentically.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs takes a premise that once the most basic human needs are met it becomes possible to progress through successively more advanced levels of need, to culminate in ‘self actualisation’. If we engage in exploring this process we allow ourselves the opportunity to develop a relationship with one’s self which leads to and enables the establishment of a more understanding relationship with others.

This hierarchy of needs is based on a ‘Humanistic’ approach and the concept of ‘self actualisation’ as described by Carl Rogers, who stressed that self-awareness of the person, on a conscious level, is the most important way to work in understanding behaviour by making reference to the internal framework (Rogers, 1961).

Looking at Kohlberg’s stages of moral development (Kegan, 1983) helps us to understand where a person might have difficulties if they have not undergone such moral development through lack of cultural or social contact, or through lack of understanding.

It is only by developing our own understanding of personal development theories and practices that we can develop the skills and practices to help others who are suffering from some lack of personal development or some misguided thinking developed during their upbringing.

Hazel Johns in her book on personal development in counsellor training (Johns, 1996) states what her minimum outline for development in counselling should include:

To learn and unlearn

To have enough sense of identity to survive and flourish in personal development and personal relationships

To love and be loved enough

To have sufficient self esteem and personal power to cope with dependence, independence and interdependence

To be resourceful and creative

To notice and oppose oppression in whatever form it comes

To be strong and vulnerable, tough and tender as needed

To understand and apply theory and skills relevantly to themselves and others

To grow in clarity about ethical standards and never be complacent

To be aware of their own and others need for support and challenge

To have a range of effective ways of being alone and in a group

To see and feel connections with a wider society and world; to be political and care about change, however they live that out.

I would take this further and state that these are things that every enlightened individual needs as an outline for their personal development in order to be a success in any form of relationship, no matter if that be personal or business based and I would add to this list:

To communicate clearly

To have an understanding of the spiritual

To understand basic mental health issues and how they affect themselves and others


To understand the linkages between physical, mental and spiritual needs

It would be easy for a non-spiritual person to ignore or overlook what may be a very strong support or conversely a very damaging practice for another person. Understanding the difference between on the one hand spirituality or spiritual practices and on the other hand religion and religious practices is essential, as the first can be extremely supportive and the latter decidedly destructive when teachings and practices are restrictive and/ or unnatural.

Everyone entering into a working relationship with you has the right to expect you as a professional, in any context, to be capable and well enough equipped to be able to attend to their specific needs, and this places great demands on the professional’s emotional resources.

Professionals obviously have needs of their own and those drawn into the ‘helping professions’ are often more comfortable giving than receiving, so it is essential that we recognise from the outset that self-awareness, self-motivation, choice and the capacity to consider alternatives are intrinsic to the human condition of identity and change; hence we need the opportunity to engage with and focus upon these things in order to be fully equipped for any role we are aiming to undertake.

Personal development is essential to the professional no matter what sector they work in, and the opportunity to engage not only in personal reflection but also in working on this personal development with someone having the understanding of the various developmental theories, at both a personal level and in relation to a group of people with various backgrounds, cultures and upbringing who are brought together through attending a developmental course is a vital opportunity.

The advantage of engaging in a personal development training course is that the course provides: A safe place to learn, the opportunity to explore different understanding and approaches to theories and explore the relational personalities of a diverse group of people willing to engage in the same subject matter along with the support of knowledgeable trainers to remedy incorrect understanding and practices and an opportunity to be introduced to theories that may not have previously been encountered.

It is therefore essential to commit to personal development at the outset of and throughout training and professional practice of any sort in order to be the best we can be. It is also important to actively seek and engage with such training after beginning a professional career by attending conferences and workshops dedicated to further personal development, and opportunities for this are available through Indulgence Un-limited as well as other professional organisations.


Johns, H. (1996). Personal development in counsellor training. London: Sage.

Kegan, R. (1983). The Evolving Self: Problem and Process in Human Development. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Marshall, S. (2004). Difference and Discrimination in Psychotherapy and Counselling. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Maslow, A. H. (1998). Maslow on Management. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons.

Sugarman, L. (1986). Life-span Development: Theories, Concepts and Interventions. Oxon: Routledge.

By Lela

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