In this essay I will look at the person-centred approach to counselling that stems from the work of Carl Rogers (1902-1987). I will briefly outline three of the six conditions Rogers proposed were necessary for change to take place. I will then move on to analyse from a critical viewpoint a taped recording of my counselling practice with a client, whom is a student from my course.
The person-centred counselling is based on an approach rather than a theory. Rogers believed that people who were experiencing conflicts and difficulties had the resources within themselves to resolve these conflicts and difficulties. The counselor’s role was simply to facilitate this process and help the client to become what he or she is capable of becoming. The following quote sums it up nicely.
“the task of the counseling is to give the client an opportunity to explore , discover and calcify ways of living more satisfyingly and resourcefully”. (BAC, 1994)
Rogers proposed six conditions that he felt were both necessary and sufficient for change to occur. However, most attention has been given to the three that have become known as the ‘core conditions’, that need to be offered by the counsellor, which are essential in a successful counsellor/ client relationship:
1. Empathy (the ability to understand another persons perceptions and feelings).
2. Unconditional positive regard (acceptance and caring given to a person as a human being, without imposing conditions on how a person behaves).
3. Genuineness or congruence (the therapist is open, he is totally being who he is with no holding back or cover up).
You will notice that I do not refer to person as a patient but as a client. This gives the idea that the person has an active role in the relationship.
“Rogers took the view that the people who came to him for help were not sick like patients in hospital” (Merry,1999, pg 63)
The first of the conditions Rogers believed was necessary is empathy. Empathy is to not only walk in the shoes of another person but to feel how they pinch, it is learning how to perceive the world the way the client perceives it, to feel what it is like to be in the clients skin. To be understood in this way for many people is very rare. This on it’s own could be therapeutic itself. (Mearns and Thorne,1988). Empathy is not only about having experiences similar to the clients but understanding that the client may have very different feelings and responses to a similar experience.
The second condition is unconditional positive regard also called respect, warmth or acceptance. The counsellor fully accepts the client believing he is a unique and valued human being who he will not judge in any way. This environment will allow the client to explore his conflicts/ difficulties without fear of rejection or criticism. (Mearns and Thorne,1988). However this does not mean the counsellor has to approve everything their client does or says it means the counsellor understands and accepts in a non- judgemental way.(Merry1999)
“The counsellor who holds this attitude deeply values the humanity of her client and is not deflected in that valuing by any particular client behaviours. (Mearns, and Thorne, 1999, pg64).
It is crucial to point out that Rogers did only ever said “if” you can unconditionally accept your client., therapeutic change is likely to occur. He did not say it was possible to do so in all circumstances.(course handout 2003)
The third and final core condition is congruence or genuineness as quoted by Mearns and Thorne.
“congruence is the state of being of the counsellor when her outward responses to her client consistently match the inner feelings and sensations which she has in relation to the client. (Mearns, and Thorne,1999, pg 75)
Congruence or genuineness is not easy to outline but in simplistic terms means the counsellor is true to himself and his feelings match his words. He is able to relate to the client from a place of self-awareness and self-acceptance, to be in touch with himself.
The person centred approach to counselling believes the counsellor has the skills and qualities to develop a relationship that allows the client the see the counsellor as a companion, who will create an environment which allows all the above to take place. Whilst I can see the core conditions are central to person centred counselling, I also think that such skills would take many years to develop. My lack of these developed skills showed not only very clearly in my practice session, but also very early in the session. My client had arrived in an extremely giddy mood, and once I had ‘set the scene’ by letting her know how much time we had (this is known as contracting), I responded to her open giddiness by saying:
“something has made you feel very happy this week” (Holland practice tape 2003).
On reflection I can now see this was a very directional statement and could have possibly lead the way the conversation went for the rest of the session. (this meant the session was counsellor lead and not client lead) However my client went on to tell me she was in fact not ‘happy’, she was feeling extremely apprehensive about a situation. Had I also miss read the client’s actions and body language? Determined not to let my lack of skills hinder the flow of the session I responded with empathy by saying ” am I right in thinking things are very difficult at the moment”. In response to this my client went on to tell my why she was in fact, finding things difficult at the moment and asked what she should do about it. Whilst we were in our session I genuinely believed we had spent time exploring ways in which my client felt she could make things less difficult, by coming to her own solution of how to manage her time better.
How ever once I listened to the tape recording I now realised that in fact I made quite a few suggestions to my client and in Rogers eyes this would be sending the client the message that she is unable to find her own solutions and could give negative reinforcement to her conditions of worth (Merry 1999).
Although this was a very short practice session I feel it gave me an insight into counselling from a person centred approach. I am able to see how there is a need for a contract between the counsellor and the client this allows both the client and the counsellor to have a clear idea of things like: the length of sessions, the frequency of sessions, the cost of sessions, (I will make reference to this later in me essay) and also the limits / confidentially, for example the counsellor would want the client to understand that he is not there to give him solutions to problems the client may feel he has. You could call it “setting the scene’. The counsellor would have paid personal attention to the room were he was to conduct sessions. He would want the room to feel very welcoming (may be pastel wall covering), with no obvious barriers for example a table or the chairs that are different heights, he would certainly require quiet surrounds without phones or noisy offices next door.
One of the criticisms of person centred counselling is that we now live in a very diverse multicultural society. One where they are some people who enjoy more power than others. Seeing as counsellor usually involves paying fees, and there is very little therapy available through the National Health Service. It would seam this type of therapy would mainly be available to the more privileged in society, and those who are otherwise disadvantaged and often very disturbed are less likely to benefit.(Merry1999)
In conclusion Rogers believes there needs to be three core conditions in place for change to happen. These are empathy (the ability to understand another persons perceptions and feelings), unconditional positive regard (acceptance and caring given to a person, no matter how a person behaves) and genuineness or congruence (the therapist is being who he is with no holding back). I have critically analysed a taped recording learning how this approach could be of great benefit to people, but it takes a person to fully except himself or herself and possibly years to feel fully confident. I can say that in all the reading I have done in for this essay, I have become to realise that the core conditions are not only a wonderful skill but also a part of a persons own system of values and be of great value to me as a human being.
“If a counsellor is still learning from her clients, then the likelihood is that she is being fully present with them” (Mearns and Thorne, 1999, pg 148)