Assessing Environmental Factors: The Process Of Implementing Psychotherapy And Counseling

If human behavior is the result of the formation of the surrounding environment, then it is a task for people who study human behavior to develop conceptual tools to study the environment. To learn about the environment, we need some theories about human interaction with the environment. These theories will help us conceptualize how people respond to and interact with their environment. 

  1. Barker's Theory of Human Interaction with Their Environment

Barker formulated an approach that assumes that the setting of behavior or things that occur naturally in an environmental unit will shape the behavior of humans who are in it.

  1. Characteristics of Behavioral Settings

Barker (1978) stated that there are some basic characteristics that must be possessed by behavioral settings or ecological units to help us understand human interactions with their environment. The behavioral setting that occurs naturally without the intervention of the experimenter has the following characteristics: 

  1. Have a place and time.
  2. Has limitations
  3. Have a physical and objective existence
  4. Has two pairs of components; (a)Behavior and (b)related to objects
  5. All existing units surround and surround their respective components.
  6. Humans and their activities are related to physical objects
  7. Patterns that are within limits can easily be distinguished from patterns that are outside of boundaries
  1. Principles of Behavior

Barker and his associates (1978) developed the principle of "optimal behavior". Basically this principle emerged along with an intensive study of student behavior in a number of schools with different student sizes. In this study, Barker and his colleagues found that the opportunity to participate in a given behavioral setting is largely determined by the activities that naturally occur in a given setting.

1). Concepts from Social Ecology

The concept of social ecology was developed by Rudolf Moos and colleagues. Basically this concept focuses on the relationship between environmental variables in an environment. Social ecology relates to six basic dimensions, namely; 

  • Ecological dimensions, including geographical, meteorological, and physical conditions of the environment
  • Dimensions of organizing structure include size, ratio or staff ratio, salary, etc. 
  • Personal characteristics of the social environment, including gender, age, economic status, ability, group membership, and background factors.
  • Behavior settings
  • Properties that function in the environment
  • Psychological characteristics and organizational change, this includes individual perceptions of their respective environments.

Moos and his associates have developed several specific instruments for assessing various perceptions of the environment. These three instruments have broad dimensions in the perception of the environment: (1) relationships, (2) personal orientation and goal orientation, (3) system change 

2). The Concept of Human Compatibility to the Environment

Pervin (1968) assumes that all individuals will show better, more satisfying performance and that the discrepancy will be slightly reduced when he is in the same situation with personal needs, aspirations that are needed by individuals to grow and develop. Pervin defines that there are two elements in the environment, namely interpersonal and non-interpersonal. In short, Pervin's theory states that people with low self-confidence feel more satisfied with the support or social support from their environment, while people who have high self-confidence tend to get more achievement when social interactions in their environment are more challenging.

The second assumption is that the models built by humans may have similarities, this is probably caused by human activities which can also be grouped into the same category. We can characterize the environment as we classify humans for example; realistic, investigative, astistic, social, enterprising, and general.

The third assumption relates to the model of human relations with the environment. Previn argues that a good interaction between humans and their environment will produce predictable and understandable outputs. These outputs include vocational choice, persistence and satisfaction. 

3). Environmental Pressure Concept

Another approach used to evaluate the influence of the environment on human behavior is the concept of environmental “pressure”. The concepts of individual needs and pressures in the environment have been applied by Stern (1970) to describe and categorize the environment. Henry Murray (1938) developed a framework based on a proposition. Murray describes an individual as a set of personal needs, while environmental pressures are described as pressures that have an influence on individuals who are in that environment.

Stern (1970) implemented Murray's system into 30 types of needs measured by the "activity index". Pressure in the environment is operationally defined into four instruments that are used to evaluate specific types of environments, including: (1) college characteristic index, (2) high school characteristic index, (3) night school characteristic index, (4) organizational atmosphere index. In research conducted by Stern at a number of colleges and universities, five main factors were found that clearly distinguish the "culture" of each of these institutions, namely: (a) self-expression, (b) intellectuality, (c) protective, (d) ) vocational, (e) matters related to higher education. 

4). Functional Patterns of Reinforcement

In a complex environment, many reinforcements or punishments have different functions at any given time. Reinforcement can have a positive or neutral meaning for one person, but the reinforcement can also have a negative meaning or even be a punishment for another. The difference in response to the above reinforcement will be analyzed in a functional analysis of the overall environment. Therefore reinforcement in one environment is different from another. The reinforcement can be in the form of money, gifts, food and many other forms of reinforcement in the form of psychological or social reinforcement in the form of praise, special recognition, and attention.

5). Organizational Atmosphere

Atmosphere is a special condition or special feeling of a particular group or organization. Organizational atmosphere includes factors related to the involvement, motivation, and morale of members of a group. The college and university environment scale was developed by Pace (1969), this scale is used to measure changes that occur in higher education settings. This scale consists of five subscales, including: (1) community, described as a relationship of warmth, caring and attachment (2) caring, defined as concern about individual growth (3) undergraduate, described as concern for intellectual development (4) property , concern for decency (5) practicality, defined as concern for social status, material success, and activities in an organization.

Insel and Moos (1974) argue that in measuring organizational atmosphere generally evaluate three basic dimensions, namely: (1) relationship factors, (2) personal growth factors, (3) organizational management factors. These three dimensions or factors greatly influence the morality, motivation, and involvement of members of an organization.

  1. Organizational structure

Organizational structure basically refers to the way in which an organization provides for two basic aspects of humanitarian activities - the division of tasks and the distribution of power. The division of tasks refers to how tasks are divided, and each member gets his own task. When we evaluate the organizational structure, rationality for task specification is very important to understand, because it can be a departmental structure of an organization and it affects interpersonal relationships in a setting.

In a large organization maintaining a limited amount of control creates layers of hierarchy in authority. The vertical hierarchy will create many problems in communicating, the distance factor in the vertical hierarchy often creates a sense of 'distrust', damaged credibility of one's authority and damaged morale in an organization.

  1. Communication network

Lines and levels of authority also help us determine the natural communication network in an organization. One of the most important factors in understanding an organization or social environment is how information moves in a system. Cooperative attitude, ability to make decisions, and morale of members are highly dependent on the flow of communication. Meanwhile, the organizational structure determines the formal form of a communication network, the form of this communication network that ultimately shapes the behavior and feelings of an individual in an organization.

Katz and Kahn (1978) showed that the nature of communication networks in an environment can be studied and the effects of these communication networks on members can also be predicted. We can identify several forms of communication networks on page 192 (see figure 9-2). In a communication network in the form of a "circle", the format of the message being conveyed can be sent from various directions and various stations in the network, members have the freedom to send and receive messages according to their role in a particular situation.   

Centralization requires the intervention of several people or stations that must be used to send or receive messages to other members. Communication concentration also measures a person's proximity or isolation from all other members of a network. Concentration in communication also measures the ability of a person in important information. 

6). Measuring Stress in the Environment

One of the important reasons why counselors need to assess environmental factors is to understand the level and source of stress affecting the client and the client's system.

  1. Source of Physical Stress

Findings in a study show that the effects of stress are caused by physical factors in the environment such as density, noise, and air pollution (Sigel, 1980). 

Density, research shows that a very dense environment will cause high levels of stress, and low cognitive function and cause psychological changes.

Noise, excessive noise levels are also a trigger for stress (Glass & Singer, 1972). Basically, noise also produces stimuli that produce emotional, cognitive, and psychological effects that are almost the same as those caused by density. Excessive and continuous noise often causes various physical symptoms, such as dizziness, rapid heart rate, and chest pain. 

Pollution, the increasing number of existing populations causes a variety of chronic pollution that occurs in air, soil, dust, food, and other types of pollution. Several studies have shown that unpleasant odors that are often associated with air pollution can trigger stress as well as noise. Other causes of stress are extreme conditions, such as extreme heat and cold, lighting and humidity also have the same effect as noise, etc.

  1. Sources of Psychological Stress

There are many sources of stress in the environment that arise from state stimuli, namely; (1) pleasure, (2) intensity, (3) ambiguity, (4) complexity, (5) involvement.

When a counselor is able to recognize and identify important patterns in human interaction with their environment, the counselor will avoid the metaphysical "blaming others", and this will open up the possibility to intervene in the client's problems to be even greater. 


Donald H.Blocher (2007). The Professional Counselor. New York : Macmilan Publishing Company.Page 73-202)

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