A Person-Centred Take on Conflict Resolution

Click on the title for this Facebook picture and story.

Like one or two of the commentators, I am not necessarily sure of the factual accuracy of this – and like others of the commentators, I don’t think it matters in this context. The story resonates for its content, not its factual accuracy.

I like the idea, which makes sense from a person-centred perspective.

I believe – and we believe here at this service – that therapeutic growth arises in a relationship characterized by the core conditions: love, empathy and congruence, and by presence. Such a relationship is also characterized by respect for an internal locus of evaluation. In the therapist/client relationship, this means client-led, in that the therapist brings consistent attention/intention to:-

  • coming alongside, and meeting the client where he/she is, and
  • being present with him/herself, in awareness, in the service of the client.

It is this simultaneous looking outward and inward to other and to self – through the core conditions – that is the great art of therapy. It is learned not through application to theory, but through the therapist’s actualizing process and journey into their own fuller personhood.

We have around 10 applicants for each placement space at this service. The single most important factor is our sense of the applicant’s commitment to their own process development, and willingness/ability to be seen/engage as their full selves. We are more likely to take the applicant who engages with uncertainty, vulnerability and their own internal locus/felt sense; less likely to take the applicant who has impressive qualifications, but sits behind a metaphorical screen, demonstrates an external locus perspective (about rules and ‘getting it right’) and talks only of theory and clients.

We value, and have established relationships with, therapeutic training providers who bring a similar focus. There remains a shortage of high quality person-centered training, but we are lucky to have several training providers locally who offer real depth, and a commitment to fostering the personal growth and awareness of their training therapists – which shines through in the placement students they send us. Our experience tells us that the orientation of the training (for example, integrative) is less important than its approach to the questions outlined in this post – its over-arching ethos and spirit.

There’s a counter-cultural element in all of this, of course, because applicants usually come expecting an ‘interview’, with a perceived need to hide ‘weaknesses’ and present ‘strengths’. Our culture is characterized by external locus ways of seeing, and does not encourage or value vulnerability.  So it is a big thing to ask someone to lay all of that aside and risk being seen – but we do, and they do, and we all continue to work with these edges through our in house supervision processes (whether newly arrived placement student, or 10 year qualified therapist).

Our therapists offer their own commitment to their ‘way of being’ – as people and as therapists – in the service of their clients, both inside and outside our service. We see the power of that in the changes those clients experience in their lives.

It seems a nonsense to me for us as therapists to believe on the one hand that we serve our clients’ growth/actualizing through a relationship characterized by the core conditions, and on the other hand to support or endorse punitive, external locus structures for handling conflict. There is a profound and inherent contradiction in this. What serves our clients’ interests surely also serves our own? It increasingly seems to me a flawed idea that we can serve client ‘safety’, the profession or our cultures by seeking to address conflict in ways that shut down the human beings involved, and support self-concept structures rather than the actualizing process. This Facebook story touches on the possibilities of another approach – one that interests me far more (as it did Rogers in the last decades of his life).

Lindsey Talbott, Therapist

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

This entry was posted in actualizing tendency, conflict, core conditions, criminal justice model, cultural questions, external locus, human condition, internal locus of evaluation, Palace Gate Counselling Service, paradigm shift, person centred, relationship, therapeutic growth, therapeutic relationship, vulnerability and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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