As a trained and qualified Rogerian Therapist, I am aware of the concept of person-centred therapy. Carl Rogers, an American Psychologist, believed given the right conditions, a client can reach their full potential and become their true self. This is known as ‘self-actualisation’.
When working with people to achieve self-actualisation, my aim is to offer three main elements to the therapy process. These are:
- Unconditional positive regard
We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know. Carl Rogers
Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional positive regard (UPR), is the unconditional acceptance of the issues and lifestyle of each individual client. This unconditional positive regard requires me to be warm and accepting of all the people coming for therapy. Even if they have done something questionable or something which may be frowned upon by others.
Many therapists like myself, advocate giving their clients unconditional positive regard as part of the therapeutic process. This is because it can encourage a person to share their thoughts, feelings, and actions without fear of causing any offence or be rejected by their therapist. I will likely ask a client to expand on their actions, motivations or behaviours, rather than condemning them. This is one part of a process which encourages honesty, openness and trust between me and my client.
Congruence is about being genuine, about being oneself as a counsellor. That does not mean my clients know all about me or my life. They are not here for that, as they are here to express all they wish about themselves and how their life has been or how they view it presently. Congruence is the genuineness I express as one human being to another. It is about me being authentic and real. Not a therapeutic text book robot, but a real honest down to earth human being, who just happens to be a therapist.
Carl Rogers believed a counsellor should be warm, genuine and understanding. That the relationship is key to the therapeutic process. The genuineness of the counsellor will enable that relationship to develop, in such a way, that the client gradually feels more safe and therefore more likely to open up and express their thoughts and feelings.
Empathy is about me understanding the experiences, thoughts and feelings of each one of my clients. Regardless of how similar some life stories may be or how often I have heard people express the universal emotions we all share; I always have to bear in mind they all come from an individual’s unique perspective.
For me to be able to empathise with a client I need to gain a clear understanding of their feelings. That means clarifying what certain feelings mean for them. Not assuming how a feeling affects a client or how that feeling is perceived by the client, but to get a more precise understanding, from the client’s point of view, what each individual feeling means to them. So I am never in doubt what they mean when they tell me they are angry with their father or feel lonely in their relationship. Being able to see the world as they see it, experience the world as they experience it and truly grasp the essence of the feelings which come as a result.
Working with the client
The aim of person-centred therapy is to facilitate the belief that a client can and will fulfil their potential. Enabling personal growth and relationships of a client by allowing them to explore and utilise their own strengths and personal identity. As the counsellor, my role is to facilitate this process offering support to the client as they take themselves on this journey of growth and change.
There are of course things which can get in the way of change or the clients ability to flourish. This often includes low self-esteem, low self-worth, lack of confidence which can get in the way and lessen their chance to being open to making changes or new experiences. Therefore, The person-centred therapist recognises that a clients’ social environment and personal relationships can greatly impact these, so therapy is offered in a neutral, comfortable and relaxed setting.
As a therapist my aim is to help the client to feel at ease, be themselves and be open to self-analysis and new learning. By offering this safe neutral environment, the client is able to understand their past experiences which got them to this point. Experiences that have impacted the way they feel or what may get in the way or stop them toward positive change.
I need to be conscious of my own self in this process in order to help others. I need to step outside any of my own limiting beliefs and prejudices. This will enable me to see life through a client’s eyes. Help me understand fully how they see and experience the world. Truly get to grips with how a client feels and understand those feelings, from their perspective. That means not assuming that their anger is the same anger I feel. Or their sadness is not equivalent to the sad thoughts I may get from time to time. We all experience these natural emotions quite differently, and in various degrees. So, I need to be mindful of that, and ensure I know exactly what they mean, when they tell me how they feel.
My aim in therapy is to give people the opportunity to be themselves, express themselves and learn about the person they are now. I want them to discover hidden strengths and abilities, to then utilise them in order to effect change. Then and only then, will it allow the possibility that my client can start to blossom, grow and develop into the person they desire to become.
Sixty years of research has shown, empathy has consistently proved to be the most potent factor in client progress in therapy Professor Jeanne Watson, University of Toronto