This is is the first of an occasional series we are launching, refreshing some basics of person-centred theory. We are beginning with Janet Tolan, on the importance of affording the core conditions to self-structure.
‘Listening to the whole person
One danger is to listen more to the organismic experiencing than to the self-structure…..
“I can’t cry”, says one client. The counsellor hears this as a plea for help. According to her theoretical understanding, her client’s inability to express his distress is caused by his conditions of worth. It is entirely logical, therefore, for her to accept the task of helping her client to overcome this barrier to true expression of his feelings.
She comes to supervision and reports being “stuck” with this client. He seems to be going round in circles and she cannot seem to help him to release his tears. Without realising it, she has fallen into the judgmental trap of valuing his distress more highly than his apprehension.The client knows better. He is of a family, of a workplace and of a society which see men who cry as weak. Realistically, if he were to cry in front of his family members, he, and they, would suffer considerable embarrassment. If he were to cry in front of his colleagues, he would jeopardise his prospects of promotion. Instead of receiving acceptance and understanding from his therapist, he has received the subtle message that he should learn how to cry. His self-structure is under threat and it has marshalled its defences.
The self-structure is fulfilling its function admirably in ensuring that this client does not receive censor or disapprobation from others. However, the actualising tendency is at work. His uncomfortable feelings are its signal that there is an important matter that needs to be symbolised in awareness and incorporated into his self-structure. By failing to empathise with the self-structure and accept its validity, the counsellor is failing to provide the climate in which the self-structure can loosen and integrate the distorted or denied material. If this climate were to be provided, “I can’t cry” could become “I can sometimes cry, but not in front of….’
In practice, it can be very difficult to record equal unconditional positive regard to every aspect of a client’s self-structure: an anorexic who perceives herself as fat; an abused young woman who is convinced that she is worthless; a convicted criminal who “knows” that no one gives a shit, so why should he? How tempting it is to “show” such clients that they are wrong! But any attempt to do so, however subtle, is an attack upon the self-structure and it will respond by defending itself and becoming more rigid.’
Skills in Person-Centred Counselling & Psychotherapy: Janet Tolan
Here’s the book link. This is a sensible and comprehensive walk through the PCA.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994