DR: In respect to client-centered therapy, I thought I would start with a series of questions on the terminology you devised for your theories. When did you decide to use the term client, rather than patient?
CR: I don’t remember specific events, but I remember why. I had never been satisfied with the term patient. I wasn’t dealing with patients. For one thing, I was not a doctor. I didn’t want to get accused of practicing medicine without a license. I was working with children or with parents. But when we had to generalize, we were not dealing with patients. And I know I quite consciously tried to find a more suitable term. I didn’t find any that was completely suitable, but the term client seemed to fill a number of aspects of what I wanted. A client is self-responsible, going to someone else for help but still containing the locus of evaluation within himself, the locus of decision. And he’s not putting himself in the hands of someone else. He still retains his judgment. It seemed like the best term I could find….’
Carl Rogers & David Russell: The Quiet Revolutionary, An Oral History
We think this is extremely important. It relates to equality, empowerment, the perception that – whilst the therapist brings all kinds of qualities and experiences to sessions – the client is the expert on their own experience (beyond anything any therapist can aspire to), and only the client can find their own healing/growthful path and deeper wisdom, be that through therapy or another way. Internal locus.
‘I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.’
Invictus: William Ernest Henley
We are equals in therapeutic relationship, two human beings in it together, engaging in collaborative process – for all our diverse life experiences, qualities and skills. And it is critical that we as therapists see it that way, and communicate this to our clients in our ways of being, our actions and, where needed, in words (albeit the client may initially bring expectations or assumptions around the ‘expert’, hierarchy and power structures).
This can be a complex and challenging place for both therapist and client to hold. However, our experience tells us it is never helpful to bring (or collude in) a perception of the client as helpless, or unable, or a victim, or unable to make their own decisions – as opposed to empathy with those experiences in the moment. It is ethically and therapeutically imperative the therapist is respectful at a fundamental level of the client’s agency, sovereignty and personhood – even where they may themselves experience these attributes as obscured, impaired or non-existent.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter