Therapy for Todays Complex Lives - Person-Centred Counselling
Carl Rogers (1902-1987), father of the person-centred approach, called his way of working ‘non-directive counselling’. He viewed the counsellor as a ‘non-coercive companion’ rather than a guide or expert on another’s life.
Person-centred counselling relies upon true perception and intuition over theory, which Rogers believed could distort the reality of the client’s world. The objective of therapy is not to direct or advise but to strengthen the client’s inner resources to enable them to find their own solutions to psychological / emotional problems.
The approach rests on an overwhelmingly optimistic view of human nature – that we are all born good, with the ability to achieve our full potential. ‘Environmental’ factors (upbringing, relationships – other peoples’ expectations of us) may cause us to deviate from that path, to become ‘lost to ourselves’; but it is always possible to return.
Indeed, this applies to all living things. A daffodil bulb contains all the ingredients necessary to produce a perfect daffodil; but if it hits a rock on its way up, it may grow crooked; if starved of water, it may shrivel and wilt; too much shade will make it leggy and unstable. It can only do its best with what it is given. And it will. Even if it is planted upside down, it will turn itself the right way!
Person Centred counselling aims to give people an environment in which they can flourish. To continue the botanical metaphor – it offers the right soil and plenty of sun, nourishment and shelter; to allow healthy, thriving growth.
In our increasingly open and diverse society with instant communication between different ‘worlds’ and ever-more intrusive and proscriptive media intervention, the propensity for confusion and becoming ‘lost to ourselves’ grows.
We are bombarded with demands that we must/should: LOOK PERFECT, STAY YOUNG, BE PHILANTHROPIC, GET RICH, BE ’GREEN’, KEEP A STIFF UPPER LIP, SHOW OUR FEELINGS, DRINK AND SMOKE, KEEP FIT, EAT FAST FOOD, GET A*’s, WORK HARDER, BE THERE FOR OUR CHILDREN, BE FAMOUS.
In less ‘developed’ societies, there is far less confusion. Compare Rogers’ example of the life of an early Puritan (who although “he had unwittingly given up his deepest self, at least he had taken `on a consistent, respected, approved self by which he could live”, surrounded only by people who approved of and shared his choices) with the life of a young British Asian woman today: whose parents want her to be well educated whilst her traditionalist grandparents want her to marry and have children; her Muslim faith advocates purity whilst her school friends boast of their thrilling sexual experiences; she is exposed to a beauty ideal of barely clothed, provocative women yet she is expected to dress and behave modestly; her ‘British society’ expects her to integrate, her ’Asian society’ wishes to retain its separateness and authenticity. Which facade does she choose? How can she possibly hope to appease all those who are precious to her?
Rogers refers to the conflict and confusion this brings about, as loneliness “When there is no relationship in which we are able to communicate both aspects of our divided self – our conscious facade and our deeper level of experiencing – then we feel the loneliness of not being in real touch with any other human being” which can lead to stress, anxiety and depression.
The more complex and diverse a person’s life, the more valuable this model of therapy is. It is its fluidity and focus on the changing state of the person’s being which I believe makes it so appropriate for society today.
Elaine Michael is a Personal Centred Counsellor working at Brightstone Clinic. Brightstone Clinic offers low cost counselling to individuals in the North West. For further inofrmation visit www.brightstonecic.org
Carl Rogers. A Way of Being (1995): Houghton-Mifflin
Mearnes D and Thorpe B. Person Centred Couselling in Action (2007): Sage Publications