Development of Insight in a Helping Relationship

(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 holding that its tenets are equally applicable to coaching, counseling, teaching, social work and so on. )

The essential question that Carl Rogers asks in the development of insight for a client is “How may this individual come to an effective understanding of him(her)self?”

He explains insight as the “understanding of self”.

It has the following elements:

(i) accepting one’s impulses and attitudes – good, bad or previously repressed;

(ii) understanding the pattern of one’s behavior and seeing its connections and consequences

(iii) looking at a new reality based on a fresh understanding and acceptance of oneself

(iv) planning new or more adaptive behaviors and actions to cope with reality.

When client issues are not too deep rooted, insights can come quickly; in other cases insights are “more involved, and the achievement of them is a more gradual process”. Facilitating client insight occurs best when the process is non-directive, as in PCT, with the helper “reflecting, in an understanding fashion, the attitudes and feelings expressed”. As helpers we need to let go our responsibility and effort to bring about insight because “the understanding of self springs from the client, not from the counselor”. This is a statement that most of us will probably struggle to accept! Yet, this is a crucial part of our own journey towards maturity as helpers.

Explaining how insight comes about, Rogers states that it often follows after negative emotions have been poured out, and the client has given voice to his/her hostility, self-criticism, and hopelessness. But this happens only if the helper’s responses are of simple acceptance of these outpourings without interpretation, persuasion or any other directive statement.

As the client gains insight, his/her self-concept is reorganized and the person sees the self in more positive terms. This can lead to the presenting problem or issue dropping out of the conversation! It can also lead to newer action plans or behavior change. Insight formation is especially critical in the closing part of any helping conversation.

Rogers asks the question that is in our minds now, “Under what circumstances is this spontaneous insight most likely to be achieved?” Based on his experience and research, he provides the answer: spontaneous insight is facilitated when the client is free from the need of being defensive; when he or she can talk through problems in an atmosphere of being genuinely understood and accepted, and in which there is no need for him/her to protect the self.

This seems to be the ethos and therapeutic approach for a mature helper! One of the things that I’m realizing is that while it is easy to agree, it’s much more difficult to put it in practice – with each client! Trusting that the client is resourceful is hard! Letting go – and letting be is even harder for us helpers!

What insights have YOU had lately? Connect with us on if you’d like coaching or coaching supervision for yourself!

Reference: Rogers, C. (circa 1940s). The development of insight in a counseling relationship. In D. Webb (Ed.), Psychology Classics:


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s