Book by Michael E. Illovsky, PhD.
Review by William E. Smith III, PhD.
Academic Advisor
College of Arts & Sciences
Indiana University—Bloomington

The titular term ‘foundations’ could go in at least two different directions when it comes to a work related to counseling. On the one hand, foundations could refer to the core techniques of the practice. On the other, it could mean the grounds upon which counseling is even possible. Illovsky chose the latter option when composing his book. In an effort to make his contribution distinct from other similar introductory works, Illovksy labors valiantly to incorporate cross-cultural perspectives into his account.   

Especially in the first half of the book, Illovsky seeks to explains, at a preliminary level, how it is that people are able to engage in counseling behaviors. He covers areas such as evolution—altruistic behaviors in animal species as well as how such behaviors may have aided ancient humans—genetics, neurology, and sociological aspects of human life (3-12).

Doing this multilayered work is necessary for Illovsky’s implicit argument that counseling—although a product of the modern West—can be useful to non-Western cultures as well as the West’s need to learn counseling habits from other cultures. To support this contention, Illovsky turns to cross-cultural comparisons throughout the text. These comparisons add value to Illovsky’s account by illustrating that counseling might work in any culture and how certain cultural differences in body language, speech habits, and cultural codes can interfere with effective counseling if not properly accounted for.

Getting back to the basics as the book progresses, Illovsky attempts to cover comprehensively the various types of theories that have emerged from modern psychology. These include personality types and emotions as well as how to counsel (e.g. psychoanalytic, cognitive-behavioral, etc.). The virtue of this approach is that the reader can quickly get a sense of the range of options available. The vice resides in Illovsky’s refusal to lend an authoritative voice with which to guide the reader to determine which options are better than others and why.

The book is first and foremost directed toward mental health counseling. Thus academic advisors will find only intermittent portions of immediate benefit. That said, Illovsky does remind us of several things advisors would do well to remember. One involves the Pygmalion effect (a.k.a. the expectancy advantage) wherein “if the client expects to be successful in therapy, the probability is increased that the client will succeed. If the client does not expect to be successful, the probability of success is decreased” (36). I strongly suspect this principle holds to true for students in their approach to academic counseling. Another point worth flagging pertains to advisors’ habit of referring students to mental health counselors for students in psychological distress. Illovsky points to studies that challenge our cultural assumption that such counseling is noticeably beneficial for people (124-25). If these findings are accurate, they raise ethical questions about our referral practice since we are encouraging students to devout time and financial resources toward these services. Lastly, and on a more encouraging note, Illovsky’s examples of how knowledge generated in non-Western cultures can have positive effects on people reminds advisors in Western cultures to pay close attention to the practices of their peers in non-Western locations when reflecting on how to improve services, especially as the student population on many campuses in western countries become increasing international in their composition.

Foundations of Counseling People: A Guide for the Counseling, Psychological, and Helping Professions (2013). Book by Michael E. Illovsky, PhD. Review by William E. Smith III, PhD. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas. ISBN #: 978-0-398-08863-7
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