What makes the effective helper is, then, an interaction between inner grace, character and cultural influence.”

Heron (2001)

What is helping?

I found this idea of helping difficult to define.

We live in a social network. Conventional wisdom dictates that we acknowledge the power of helping for tightening the bonds of affection and effective group action (consequential behaviors). It is possible to live and survive in an unhelpful way, but it is strongly discouraged in our social world.

What defines help?

In order to help, I must be at least slightly more effective myself, otherwise I am retarding the other (like malign foreign aid programs). There is an indication that help must be effective or otherwise it is some other thing.

Why choose to help?

I do not choose to befriend socially mal-adaptive individuals. There is no quid pro quo. Somehow we learn it from very early myth and archetypes. Our moral guides are heroes and warriors. Stories tell us early on that the prizes of life go to the diligent and the good. The little red hen, the tortoise and the hare, the three little pigs all tell us that constructive optimism is a motto for life.

I have often tried to help in situations that I felt could do with me, but maybe that comes from my socialization in a small country where everybody knows each other, or of each other.. I have few friends that do not acknowledge reciprocal altruism as a congruent method.

Conversely, I would also be perceived by certain people as an easy target to hit up, an “easy mark” in the vernacular. Some panhandlers are good at reading non verbal cues. There is a continuum, it appears.

Can you really help anybody or are you just playing their game?

One man of my acquaintance had told me for a long time how he disliked Ireland as a capitalist hellhole and his true allegiance lay with socialism. I was going to teach English in China and offered my assistance to get him there, by paying for his ticket.

He was back in Ireland in less than a month, after his socialist brothers proved less than the ideal. In my desire to assist his progress I had achieved nothing. This man is the same now as then, still playing the same tune, rarely referring to his short holiday. In contrast, I enjoyed myself and came home with positive views and widened horizons.

This story illustrates a key point that you can only help those who want to help themselves. This is my introduction to counselling proper.

Nelson Jones (1993) asks; why do I “help”?

He gives a detailed list of reasons; “do gooding”, seeking intimacy, true “believerism” expediency and unresolved emotional pain. He lists these basic principles as negative reasons for helping. These situations address the abuse of a helping position as a cover for unresolved personal issues.

On the positive side he argues for altruism, humanism, people orientation, intellectual curiosity, worked through emotional pain and a commitment to competence as positive philosophies for helping. In these examples he confers the idea of genuine assistance.

I feel that often the nature of human behavior is transactional, maybe not tit for tat, but favor for favor, or future favor.

Is doing “good” innate?

Evolutionary psychologists would call it a simple genetic ploy to further genetic inheritance.

Robert Wright explains the popular” tit for tat” philosophy.

Tit for tat was the winning computer model for a political science project devised by Robert Axelrod. In an effort to define reciprocal altruism in Darwinian terms the model prevailed against other computer simulated models in this competition. Tit for tat stated that on the first meeting with another it would cooperate. Thereafter it would do what the other program had done on the first encounter, rewarding cooperation over multiple moves and punishing transgression.

If a program shows a tendency to cooperate the program strikes up a friendship and both enjoy the fruits of cooperation. If the other shows a tendency to cheat tit for tat cuts its losses and withholds cooperation. In the long run this straight forward positive conditional proves to serve the program best and the same logic follows for genes.

He (Wright) makes a point that we will give money to beggars if they look at us, but if we think they do not see us we will walk past, indicating the process of small group politics where you must be seen to help rather than actually want to. 

You may ”genuinely” not see someone. Many games follow these avoid-ant themes. I’ve related the “chugger” (charity mugger) game in a previous example. They request help. You avoid, to the point that they now often do big clipboard flailing cinematic leaps into your eyeline…the “chatty tigger gambit.”

How does helping differ form counselling?

A comprehensive definition of counselling is the rather verbose Feltham and Dryden one, but I will pick out a key point…getting paid.

A principled relationship characterized by the application of one or more psychological theories…modified by experience intuition and other interpersonal factors, to clients intimate concerns, problems or aspirations….” Feltham and Dryden (1993)

Nowadays the process of certification as a counselor offers a career and legitimate skills based approach. The bonus to the application of all this time and knowledge is you get paid hard cash for a “soft skill” which had previously been in the province of the religious community, your family lawyer, doctor or local barkeep, all of whom took payment in kind.

As you may notice, your friends can only listen to your problems for so long before they develop other hobbies, so consider the “value” proposition of a paid listener.

Who started all this?

There have always been wise elders or oracles in the tribe. Most of our political leaders show the acculturation of helping or “leadership”skills. We live in hierarchical societies where most value is put on efficient mental functioning. High office is the signifier of service to others. True politics is helping in a secular way. In our own social conventions we believe in life, liberty and the freedom to choose.

With modern societies promoting individualism, there is less belief in old models of duty to country or allegiance to the king. Wider scope social helpfulness is based on education (common values), access to good water and food supplies (lack of want) and common humanity (extending to other creatures in many cases). There are many and varied reasons for “helping” behavior, probably with high evolutionary utility over time, hence the hero archetype.

Maslow in his hierarchy offered “self actualization” as an activity, only after basic needs are fulfilled. Times change and the mores and modalities change too. In Shakespearean drama the wise man was often the fool of the piece. In modern times the “trade in lunacy” as it could be known has developed from the increasing unnaturalness of our society. Repression of impulse characterizes the civilized man.

In 300 B.C. Aristotle spoke about a “golden mean” between excess and deficiency. Do we strive for the same today?

This is my key difficulty with the helping models. Their definition is broad and abstract. The models presuppose a certain honesty and decency in the practitioner, but we are animals and ambitious enough to get to college to begin with. Where is the presumption that expensive education is good training for compassion?

Churches for centuries used their power against the common man, to their own benefit. Why is there any “belief” in the counselor, seeing as s/he is doing a similar job but with a different collar?

In considering the question I have to ask whether in the entire history of humanity that the fate that befalls the congruent is death by the hand of another. Consider Socrates, Ghandi, Jesus, M.L.K., J.F.K. and John Lennon.

What is the key?

We return to the golden mean. Between self and society is the area of expertise. The objective is to live a “fulfilled” life. Realize innate potential. Be a fully functioning person, able to assert, associate and emote effectively.

Wisdom (learning from mistakes) as applied knowledge is the tool.


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Bibliography and Web references

Where did the study of psychology, as distinct from biology and philosophy begin? Freud is popularly, though inaccurately, considered the father of psychology. He, and Darwin, produced ideas that changed the world, and it is difficult, nowadays, to appreciate their courage in doing so.




Biog. of Rogers


Biog. of Freud


This is an electronic textbook (“e-text”) created for undergraduate and graduate courses in Personality Theories


Adler’s theory of inferiority

http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/hstein/theoprac.htm Over the half century since Alfred Adler articulated his theory of personality and system of psychotherapy, Adler was “hailed by certain psychoanalysts as a precursor of the later developments of psychoanalysis.


Introduction to the Psychodynamic Approach

http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/simplepsych/204.html Psychodynamic therapy (or Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy as it is sometimes called) is a general name for therapeutic approaches which try to get the patient to bring to the surface their true feelings, so that they can experience them and understand them.

http://allpsych.com/psychology101/ego.html Sigmund Freud’s Theory is quite complex and although his writings on psychosexual development set the groundwork for how our personalities developed, it was only one of five parts to his overall theory of personality.

http://www.itaa-net.org/ta/bernehist.htmEric Berne was born May 10, 1910 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, as Leonard Bernstein, the son of David Hiller Bernstein, MD

http://www.ship.edu/~cgboeree/skinner.html Burrhus Frederic Skinnerwas born March 20, 1904, in the small Pennsylvania town of Susquehanna

http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals/journals.asp?subcategory=PS600000 U.k. journals of psychology by Taylor and Francis

http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/ethics.htm The field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior.

http://www.husserlpage.com/ Husserl

http://www.freudfile.org/ This site is dedicated to the life and work of Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis.

http://www.sageofasheville.com/pub_downloads/CARL_ROGERS_AND_HUMANISTIC_EDUCATION.pdf good Rogers page in pdf.