Is Person Centered Therapy Right for You
Author: Martina Roe
Published: 2011-12-28 : (Rev. 2013-06-14)
Even though Carl Rogers did not believe that a human centered counselor needed any specialist qualification he was aware that a counselor needs to be genuine and congruent.
Main DigestCarl Rogers developed the person-centered therapy in the 1950's after years of working as a psychotherapist. He wanted his clients to feel that they are being taken seriously, that someone cares about them and to talk freely about their feelings.
Person Centered Therapy - Taking the view that every individual has the internal resources they need for growth, person-centered counseling aims to provide three 'core conditions' (unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence) which help that growth to occur.
His principal aim was not to diagnose the client but to show unconditional positive regard . That means that the client would feel appreciated by the therapist without being judged. I believe that person-centered therapy offers the therapist many great tools to treat the client successfully, but at the same time am convinced that this approach on its own will not suit all clients but will work extremely well in combination with other types of therapy.
Rogers identified core conditions for changes in clients to happen, the first of these being that there needs to be a relationship between the client and therapist in which the client shows certain vulnerabilities or incongruence. The therapist on the other hand will show complete genuineness and will not hide behind the role of a professional. He should be real and able to express his feelings genuinely and act on their life's experiences with relevant self disclosures. The therapist should hide nothing and the client should be able to see through her. Clients often have a distorted view of themselves, they often act out wishes of others and because they were used to doing it all their lives they find it a challenge to find their real self and are undecided as to how to proceed in life, what they want or how to follow their dreams. Because the therapist accepts the client unconditionally, does not judge him, approve or disapprove, the client is able to explore more of his real self, become more real. If the client is being understood by the therapist then she might be able to start understand more of herself, discover parts of her which were so far undiscovered, not rely so much of approval of others but being able to accept herself and her own ideas more. It is also vital that the therapist feels empathy for the client which means that he puts himself into her shoes but without actually wearing them. This genuine empathy helps client believe that the therapist really feels unconditional positive regard, acceptance and love for them. One of Rogers's clients felt sorry that her own father was not feeling so much love for her as Rogers in a 30 minutes brief counseling session.
People who come to therapy have got a distorted view of their organismic self, the organismic self has been squashed out by what others wanted this person to do or become. That means that the person was living according to external locus of evaluation and the aim of therapy is to help the client find their own internal locus of evaluation, thus ensuring that the organismic self starts slowly to restore back to itself and the clouds of what other people molded this person to become will slowly disperse. By being able to gain respect and being valued by the counselor in a non judgmental way I believe that the person-centered therapy is offering the client all the necessary tools for growth. At the same time in today's society which is constricted by lack of time and in many instances by finances the therapy would appear too slow for a number of clients who would like to see results as quickly as possible. It might also cause puzzlement to those clients who come to therapy with an expectation that the counselor will provide answers to their problems. They might be disappointed to find out that the counselor is guiding them to find their own answers within themselves. Clients might also start finding flaws in the behavior of person-centered therapists and think it to be completely unnatural and different from everybody else's behavior.
The actualizing tendency, the willingness to strive and to grow is available not only to all human beings but to everything which is alive no matter what our backgrounds. Rogers gave an example of potatoes which were kept in his house in a box under a window. Despite the fact that their conditions for growth were not ideal and they would never reach full maturity those potatoes still started shooting up. They were striving to make most of their potential in life. I could compare his potato story to my own garden where I never had much success planting anything as it is very dark there. But several years ago I stopped cutting the grass and wild strawberries started growing there instead and they are very delicious. As the leaves of the trees have now fallen down there is more light at this time of year and so I have sown there some small salad leaves such as rocket which are doing very well and hopefully will flourish in the spring before the trees will have their leaves again.
For years I believed that our garden was unsuitable for growing anything. I was not able to spot that some plants such as wild strawberries actually strive in slightly darker places. When I discovered that wild strawberries did well in our shady garden I started to experiment with other plants. I think of person centered counseling in similar terms which means helping the client to discover the best conditions for their growth, without being prejudiced or judged. It took me several years to discover the potential our garden has and in the same time clients in their own time come to trust in their own abilities to help themselves feel better. This process cannot be forced or accelerated, in the same way as the opening of buds cannot be rushed. Unfortunately in our very materialistic era when everybody expects instant fixes this does not necessarily suit everyone or the NHS (National Health Service in the UK) who try to offer the cheapest and quickest form of therapy.
Carl Rogers was convinced that given the right conditions every human being is able to flourish. He thought that the more instructions we have to follow the less motivated we become. He compares this to studies which were undertaken in the workplace. Those who were given firm instructions did not perform as well as those who were free to make up their own way of working. As children we are often trying to please the adults who care for us. We are very much dependent on them and disobeying them would mean that we would lose their favor. Because children do not want to displease their parents they are growing up doing the things their parents instruct them to do rather than what they would prefer themselves. When I was young I hated going to church on Sundays. One day I said outside the church that I rather not go today. My grandmother made a tremendous scene and I just had to go, there was no backing out. Like Rogers I was often questioning the term "good people" that those practicing religion often label themselves with. I knew a good many persons who did not practice any religion and were very kind. On top of everything else I grew up under the communist regime and attending church could in some instances mean persecution. Going back to myself I got very easily accustomed to doing what others in my family wanted me to do or become. My father chose all the schools for me, when it came to my opinions I always shared my parents attitudes without even questioning them. When I was a teenager my family did not want me to go out with boys so I just did not. It was easier that way but deep inside I was not very happy and so when I was 18 I decided I wanted to have my own life, follow my own heart and went to England to work as an au-pair. It was at that time that I stopped going to church and was able to enjoy the freedom I lacked as I was growing up.
It was at that time that an external locus of evaluation changed to internal in my case and throughout my adult life I have tried to follow my heart even though in some cases I was still following the same patterns of caring for others but not so much for myself. If people keep on following the wishes of those close to them well into their adult life they will realize at some stage that they are not happy and find it hard to change their patterns of behavior. It is at that time that they often gather the courage to seek counseling. The person centered counselor is able to offer such a client a space without being judged. The person will then be able to discover that there is someone who takes them seriously, who values them as a person, something which was denied to them. For the first time in their lives there will be someone who will understand what it feels like for them and accepting or valuing their experience. The counselor will be able to direct the client towards looking at himself from various angles and discover feelings previously unknown to him. The client might also discover for the first time that she is lovable and that it is OK to be kind to herself.
But most of all the client will know that he will be well listened to, taken seriously and that someone cares - a feature which is particularly relevant to person centered counseling. According to Carl Rogers anybody who is able to listen with empathy can become a counselor, there is no need for any extensive qualifications. This of course angered doctors, psychiatrists or psychotherapists. They have made various diagnosis or even highlighted feelings which one of their patients Ellen had. Ellen was never able to follow her own heart and the decisions she made were not hers but influenced by what her family wanted her to do. As her condition deteriorated she was kept in what today would have been a psychiatric hospital. Finally there was nothing that the doctors felt they could do and so they let her go free surely knowing that she would not be safe. She killed herself the next day after she was discharged. Carl Rogers was convinced that should she receive person centered style counseling she would have survived. I think Carl Rogers was right there as Ellen never felt that she was listened to, understood or taken seriously The doctors made various diagnosis of her including her feelings but were not able to offer her the only thing which could have saved her which would have been positive regard and being valued as a human being .
Even though Carl Rogers did not believe that a human centered counselor needed any specialist qualification, he was well aware that a counselor needs to be genuine and congruent. There is no need to make any diagnosis and dig up the past . At the end the client needs help now and the counselor should give the client the space she needs and not interrupt unnecessarily. What the counselor will be doing though is summarizing, reflecting and feeding back to the client. If there is to be equality between the two parties then the client will not be given any advice which could come as a surprise to some clients and they might feel slightly disappointed. The counselor should be able to look after their own needs in the first instance rather than using helping the client as something they depend on for their own growth.
It is very important that the counselor himself is genuine and has acquired an adequate level of personal growth. The counselor should never want to say that she reached an optimal wellness as we are learning all our lives and need to continually develop all the time. Despite the fact that I became much happier after I started to live my own independent life at the age of 18 I still carried on with the programming from childhood. I would always attend to everybody else's needs without caring for me. In recent years I learned how important it is to find this extra special time, because without me being happy and well balanced within myself I would find it difficult to help others. When visiting my family where I grew up I am still often criticized, for example when I do not force my children to eat what they do not like. My family also disapproved that I never taught my sons to speak Czech which is my mother tongue. But I do not let that worry me as I only remember too well how sick my grandmother let me feel when she force fed me when I was already full. My older son had great speech problems when he was young and I therefore stopped confusing him with Czech as it was more important for me that he was able to settle well at school. Despite all these criticisms I stand behind what I believe in and now that my son's speech improved he has actually taken the initiative to learn Czech.
The counselor should be non judgmental and should not be shocked by the clients' experiences. As a child I was always saddened by the racial hatred geared towards Roma people. I often reflected on the fact that I could have easily been born into a Roma family and that I would not like others hating me. I always tried to see the good in them and felt it wrong that others only saw faults in them. When my sister got divorced the whole family blamed her husband, but I always questioned this claim and thought that each party always plays a part in any conflict. Today I understand that my sister was not happy because she was following her external rather than internal locus of evaluation and my family was at fault in the sense that they never taught her to seek respect. And respecting the client is also a crucial ingredient for a successful counseling relationship.
If you feel that you want to become a person in your own right and follow your heart then I believe that the person-centered approach is right for you. Some criticize this approach as not being quick enough as they are not able to see results quickly. This might be true but then the quick therapies might only help in the short term and the benefits are only very superficial, deep down the person might continue to hurt.
Carl R. Rogers Client-Centered Therapy
Carl R. Rogers A Way of Being
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