(In this series I use the terms coach, counselor, therapist synonymously. This is to create an ease of reading and to reach a wider audience; I do appreciate that there are differences within each profession. To create a common bridge I use the term helper to denote a coach, counselor, therapist, social worker and so on; and the word client to include patient or counselee. All quotes belong to Carl Rogers. Carl Rogers’s approach is known as Person Centered Therapy (PCT) and I retain this name while proposing that its tenets are equally applicable to coaching, counseling, teaching, social work and so on. )
For Rogers the nature of the relationship between the helper and client is pivotal to the success of therapy. According to him, the role of the helper is not to diagnose the issue that the client is grappling with and then provide tools and input to manage the treatment; it is essentially to create an atmosphere between the two, which is “permeated by warmth, understanding, safety from any type of attack – no matter how trivial, and basic acceptance of the person” as he or she is. This atmosphere leads the client to drop his/her natural defensiveness, open up, and communicate at a deeper level.
PCT sounds easy at the surface level and many of us feel that we practice it in our work with clients. However, in essence it is very difficult because it means that the helper has to let go reliance on his/her knowledge, skills, professional training, expertise to create change for the client. The helper must believe that the client has the “constructive strengths” to make the “constructive push” that is needed to move ahead. The helper has to be willing to accept this completely and therefore adapt the therapeutic process to reflect this change of ownership.
For us as helpers, letting go of this control and the need to share our insights and action plans is the destination we learn to move towards. Rogers affirms that “within the client reside constructive forces whose strength and uniformity have been either entirely unrecognized or grossly underestimated”. Therefore, for the relationship to be successful, the helper must have a “clearcut and disciplined reliance upon those forces within the client”.
Rather than focus on particular techniques or tools, the helper using a PCT must internalize its ethos and principles. Use these principles as a self-assessment to see how closely your practice (not your beliefs!) aligns to each principle.
(i) The helper must believe that the client “is basically responsible for him/herself, and is willing for the client to keep that responsibility.
(ii) The “client has a strong drive to become mature, socially adjusted, independent, productive, and relies on this force – not on his own powers – for therapeutic change”.
(iii) The helper creates a “warm and permissive atmosphere” in which the client can bring out any attitudes or feelings no matter how unconventional or contradictory these attitudes may be.
(iv) The helper accepts the client unconditionally, with neither approval nor disapproval. This is demonstrated by “sensitive reflection and clarification of the client’s attitudes”.
How did you do on the self-assessment above? Reviewing my own recent client conversations, I’ve found that I’m quite inadequate on nearly all of these principles. I trust you’ve done better!
Next articles focus on: Carl Rogers’s and the development of insight; and the therapeutic process.
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References: Rogers, C. (1946). Significant aspects of client-centered therapy. In D. Webb (Ed.), Psychology Classics: http://www.all-about-psychology. com.