Behavioural Counseling Techniques For Effective Counseling For School Counselors

By | July 24, 2014
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Terwase Chia

Department of Educational Psychology,

College of Education, Katsina-Ala



The author of this article contends that all human behaviours are learned and can as such be unlearned. A quick survey of some of the behavior manifestations of students in schools which need or require some form of modifications has been undertaken in the article. The consequences of such behaviours on both the individual and larger society have also been examined. This article is of the view that Behavioural counseling techniques are effective tools in curbing such prevalent behaviours in schools such as truancy, drunkenness, smoking, examination misconduct, lateness, poor study habits, drug abuse etc. It therefore identified and discussed some basic behavioural counseling techniques and approaches that could be utilized by counsellors in refining students in secondary schools.




Behaviour modification theorists posits that all human behaviours are learned and can as such be either modified or unlearned if discovered undesirable. This can be adequately handled because all human behaviour is influenced by its consequences, being susceptible to be strengthened when followed by rewarding consequences and to be extinguished when followed by negative consequences.

The assumption that all human beings by nature began life on a clean slate, on which nothing had been written, inheriting in effect as good or bad at the time of entering the world, the probability of falling in to undesirable behaviours could be traced to the basic nature of man as evident in some of the theories like the goodness theory, the natural evil theory, the evolving man theory etc. on man’s nature.

The natural goodness theory for example posits that man’s basic nature is godlike. Rousseau, one of the proponents of this theory according to Corey (2005) reasoned that if man was God’s creation, then he should be born as perfect as the creator himself. The theory therefore contends that children are born good, but that it’s the society or environment that influences each individual towards evil.

Therefore if the likelihood of badness in any individual is traced to society, it becomes invariably a duty for society to set forth programmes that are directed towards the promotion of life for every individual in that society. This the society can achieve through the work of corrective personnel such as guidance counsellors. To be able to do this effectively, they need to be inoculated with those behavioural counseling skills and strategies with which behavioural changes can be brought about. It is towards doing this that this article is directed.

Another theory on the nature of man which calls for behavioural modification efforts as stated by Corey (2005) is the natural evil theory. The major position of this theory is that each person is born with predisposition to do evil. It traces the innate sinfulness and badness of man to the fallen nature of Adam and Eve. It posits that since man’s first ancestors sinned against God, it follows naturally that their descendants must have inherited that fallen nature. The implication of this is that all men are born into this world in a state of natural proneness to do evil. Guidance counsellors therefore must be prepared to cope with such tendencies as well as help those with, get reformed and adjusted in line with societal expectations hence the need for a thorough knowledge and understanding of behavior modification strategies and approaches.

Then comes the evolving man theory. This theory (Corey, 2005) further says man, like every other biological being, is subject to environmental adaptations as he develops. Thus, what an individual becomes is not the result of innate predisposition but is the result of environmental experiences. In this view therefore, it means man, is born neither good nor bad, but environment determines what he will turn out to be. Environment therefore, constitutes the platform of learning where desirable and undesirable behaviour patterns are formed. Hence corrective personnel within the environment such as counselors can thus play useful roles in channeling people to desirable behavior norms. This, they can do if well equipped with behavioural counseling skills and approaches. This article helps in this regards.

Having provided the basis for prevalence of undesirable behaviours, some identifiable behaviour that are often exhibited by students especially at secondary school level which call for behavioural counseling efforts of school counselors are discussed.


  1. Drug Abuse

The use of drugs is known to have some socially undesirable effects hence each society through social norms and often by law or Agencies like National Agency for food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) regulate drug usage, specifying which drugs are acceptable, who may legitimately use them, how much of a given drug is permissible to be consumed and the circumstances under which drug use is appropriate. Failure to conform to these norms constitutes drugs abuse in the society in question.

According to Denga (1987) a research conducted on some secondary school students on use of such drugs as pills, alcohol, hemp and the like has within few decades assumed unprecedented dimensions. This assertion is further supported by Egbochuwku (2008) that, this of course has some concomitant effects on the overall academic and mental growth as well as health of such perpetrators. In fact even though there are school rules prohibiting such acts, deviants have continued to be recorded. The reason why students take drugs include among others personal irresponsibility, deferential association, peer influence, frustration etc.

However, drug abuse is generally a social problem and it has wide rays of social cost or dysfunctions, some obvious and measurable, some hidden and difficult to quantify. To the secondary school students, drug abuse has proximate and remote effects like vulnerability to crime committance, disrespect for the law, school dropouts etc. These therefore call for behavioural counseling.
The behavioural modification techniques used for these undesirable behaviours are aversive techniques. These techniques involve the creation of conditions that would make people behave the way they should.  Sometimes, negative reinforcement could also be applied to deal with it. It signifies a situation of increasing the frequency of a given response or behaviour following a removal of aversive stimulus that could cause obstacle to the repeated occurrence of the response or behaviour in question (Hohenshil, 2010).


  1. Poor study habits/skills

One of the serious problems that have continued to linger around secondary students has been that of developing and sustaining effective study habits and skills required for better academic performance. Such problem and difficulty stems from poor reading strategies, inability to develop effective skills in note taking, wrongful identification of study environment and places. Complete absence of poorly drown out study schedules, inability to link present and previously acquired knowledge and skills, inability to practice continually what one learns and a host of other circumstances.


The result of course is high examination phobia and eventual poor performances. Counselors are required to inject into students identified with such difficulties, relevant adjustment skills to be able to progress normally along school work, hence the need for behavioural counseling. They can do this by the use of systematic desensitization technique.


Systematic Desensitization

This is a useful technique in treating phobic and also a variety of anxiety producing situations. It is a technique that involves the breaking down of anxiety-response behaviours and exposing the client to the imagery of these behaviours while he/she is in a state of deep physical relaxation. To use this technique, the counsellor must:

(1) Take a behavioural analysis of the stimuli producing anxiety and phobic feeling in the client; (2) construct a hierarchy of the anxiety producing stimuli beginning from the lowest to the highest anxiety producing stimuli; (3) relax the client physically beginning with muscle relaxation. This aspect is very necessary before going into the desensitization. (4) Systematic desensitization then follows using the hierarchy of anxiety earlier produced starting from the least anxiety to the most anxiety producing situations. To practice this technique the counsellor needs a comfortable chair that supports all body muscles for the clients. Instructions are to be clear and sometime given to allow the client carry out the instructions.

3. Truancy

This is the art of consistent inconsistency in school attendance on the part of the student.  As is the case with other social phenomena truancy is an effect of some causal variables. Whether at the primary or secondary school level, truancy is caused by a host of interrelated school and home based circumstances.

Nielson and Gerber (1979) found that the school environment plays a critical role in creating and aggravating truancy. They identified two model types of truants, the peer phobia and the authority defying; while Rhodes and Reiss (1969) suggested that the truant serves as a reminder of the inadequacies in the school environment.  Omoni & Ijeh (2012) found poor physical home conditions, relationship between children and parents, use of corporal punishment in the home and lack of interest in the child’s welfare to be closely associated with truancy.

Whatever reason that could be associated with truancy, it is a fact that the act is accompanied by a host of negative consequences. For instance, truancy is often cited as one of the factors which contribute to indiscipline in secondary schools, (Kpara 1985 and Mgbodile 1985). Additionally Mgbodile (1985) reported that his students mentioned truancy and wandering as one of the reasons why they were punished at home. As Mogbo (2005) pointed out, a child who is not in class is more likely to engage in some form of anti-social behaviour than would be the case if the child were safely under control in school. The loneliness, idleness, isolation and boredom associated with truancy set the scene for petty thefts and other diversions. There is need for some form of intervention strategies to be applied on students identified to be truants.

The technique to be applied in this case is negative reinforcement. This signifies the situation of increasing the frequency of a given response or behaviour following removal of an aversive stimulus that could cause obstacle to the repeated occurrence of the response or behaviour in question (Nwoye 1990). It is a punishment for exhibiting certain behaviour.  Negative reinforcement which is here synonymously used with punishment ranges from painful physical stimulus and deprivation to weaker reinforcers such as verbal criticism, hostility or simple expression of dislike.

The shorter the delay in delivering a negative reinforcement, the greater the drop in the frequency of the behaviour. Behaviour tends to be repeated less frequently after it is negatively reinforced, as students are less likely to repeat behaviour for which they have been punished.

4. Lateness

This is a situation where a student reports to school or classes well after a time scheduled that he or she ought to have attended to the school or class.

To deal with this undesirable behaviour the counselor could apply positive reinforcement technique. The counselor takes note of early arrivals at school or class and rewards such behaviour in the presence of all the students to encourage others to also do the same. He could do this by verbal praise, offer of material gifts etc.

Apart from using positive reinforcement technique, the counselor can also apply the response cost technique to handle lateness. This is another form of negative reinforcement utilized to deter the students from engaging in socially undesirable behaviours. It involves making a student to lose or forfeit something of value to him. Both Low (2009) and Nwoye (1990) believe that this technique is a popular technique  used in libraries to prevent the users from keeping or losing borrowed books as well as promote punctuality and promptness among students. This view was supported by Oniyoma, Omoni & Ijeh (2009). Both however expressed caution in the application of this technique. That the Counsellor needs to ensure that what is to be forfeited by the defaulter/student is something that is of high value to him but not things that are essential necessities of life such as food.

5. Drunkenness or alcoholism and cigarette smoking

The aversive technique according to Mogbo (2005) can be used in these behavioural disorders. The counselor uses chemical aversive to deal with alcoholism by the use of drugs to deter alcoholism through vomiting.

6. Destructive tendencies

The counseling technique used in this case is over correction. Durosaro (2005) opined that the individual who has disrupted or destroyed or damaged the environment or property is asked to restore it to the condition such an environment was before destruction. When this is done, the additional punishment is given for exhibiting that disruptive behaviour. Durosaro (2005) further posits that if a student is disruptive in class, a time-out technique can be applied. The opportunity to receive positive reinforcement that encourages a deviant behaviour is removed. When he or she doesn’t interact with other students who reinforce his disruptive behaviour, he or she is likely to reduce or change his/her behaviour. However, caution should be taken  in applying this technique, not in a subject that the student dislikes. For if it is a subject he/she doesn’t like and you apply time-out it may not give you the full result you would expect. Furthermore, the environment in which the offender is to be kept does not contain any materials that may attract the attention of the offender within the duration of the time-out.

7. Others

Human behaviour problems which are typically amendable to treatment under behavioural counseling model apart from those discussed includes:

i.        Fear of making public speeches.

ii.        Lack of effective social and communication skills.

iii.        Bad hand-writing, bad elocution and spelling mistakes.

iv.        Lack of effective skills for dancing, dressing, cooking and general grooming.

v.        The problem of enuresis or bed-wetting.

vi.        Difficulty in making contribution at class discussion.

vii.        The problem of over-eating and overweight.

Okpede et al (1999), opined that the above problems could be handled if school guidance counselors are exposed to behavioural techniques. Kolo (1997) identified several other techniques that could be applied in treating the above mentioned disorders. However each is particularly used based on the manifestation of such a disorder.

This has to be so, because behavioural techniques of counselling are products of learning theories which focus on specific, observable behaviours as against feelings and thoughts. The purpose underlying all behavioural techniques is to alter inappropriate behaviours and modify them. To be able to use the behavioural techniques in counselling effectively, the counsellor must have acquired some pre-requisite skills. These skills according to Okon (1982) are:

  1. Understanding the concepts and principles of reinforcement, extinction, discrimination, shaping, successive approximation, and schedules of reinforcement;
  2. Ability to identify specific target behaviours that the helper wishes to change;
  3. Ability to identify and assess the conditions preceding the helper’s target behaviour;
  4. Ability to collect baseline data on the frequency and severity of target behaviour;
  5. Ability to identify and assess those conditions that result from the target behaviour and maintain (reinforce) them;
  6. Ability to determine reinforcements that are meaningful for the .helper;
  7. Ability to determine feasible and meaningful schedules of the reinforcement;
  8. Sufficient knowledge of theoretical framework, design, and application of different behavioural techniques;
  9. Ability to evaluate outcomes of behavioural techniques.


The Nigerian school system is plagued with a lot of problems. These problems range from drug abuse, truancy, lateness, to poor study habits and skills etc. These students require assistance to get adjusted and reformed. Such assistance can be given by trained Guidance Counsellors who can utilize different techniques to effect behavioural changes and modifications in the students. This article has in effect afforded Guidance Counsellors the opportunity of knowing some of those techniques that are open to them to bring about behaviour changes in their students.




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