“Genuineness, empathy and unconditional positive regard – these, then, are the three attributes that Rogers thought necessary to a successful clinical relationship. I’m sure it has occurred to you that if any of us could always be fully genuine, empathic, and warmly accepting, we would be in a state of Nirvana or in heaven and not available to earthly clients. It had occurred to Rogers, too. He did not think that any mortal would ever be perfect in any of the three. Rather, he saw each of these attributes as a continuum and believed that the art of becoming a therapist consisted entirely in developing one’s capacity to move farther and farther along each of these three continua. The father along one was, the better therapist one would be….
The implications of this view are extraordinarily radical. Note the word ‘entirely’ in the above paragraph. One implication of Rogers’ view is that no special intellectual or professional knowledge is required of therapists or will do them the slightest good. Studying theories and techniques, however interesting they may be, is of no value to the therapist. Training could be helpful, in fact very helpful, but that training would not consist of the acquisition of knowledge. It would be experiential training, the sort of training that would help therapists increase their self-awareness so that they might become more genuine in all aspects of their lives, sensitive to all the people they deal with, so that they might be more empathic with clients. And it would be a training that would enable them to come to terms with their buried prejudices and resentments so that they might be free to prize their clients.
As I’ve said, Rogers did not consider himself an encounter therapist; he didn’t see it as appropriate to share every passing feeling with his clients. Yet in the early 1960s, he began to spend more and more time leading encounter groups and sensitivity training groups. He saw these groups as offering the sort of training that developed the attributes he thought essential to a therapist. He greatly regretted that almost nowhere was such sensitivity enhancement a part of the formal training of therapists.
Another radical implication of Rogers’ view is that there is no therapeutic value in diagnosis. That is, finding a category into which the client may be fitted adds nothing to the therapist’s effectiveness. It doesn’t make any difference whether you think your client is borderline or narcissistic or schizophrenic or mildly depressed. If you can be genuine, if you can communicate that you are managing to grasp your clients’ experiences, and if you can let them know of your unshakable regard for their worth as human beings – if you can do all that to a significant degree, then your clients will grow and change, whatever label might be applied to them.”
Between Therapist and Client – The New Relationship: Michael Kahn
This is a good description of how we see therapy at this service. It underlies all aspects of how we operate, from how we work with those who come here, to how we choose our therapists from those who apply and our in house supervision arrangements.
We think Michael is accurate in describing this way of seeing as ‘extraordinarily radical’. It is indeed a ‘way of being’, and not a way of working. It was radical when Carl Rogers proposed it, and remains so. It seems to the writer and some of her colleagues that the therapy world – or at least those therapists who self-describe as ‘person-centred’ – had at one point a deeper grasp of these ideas and willingness/ability to live them through, than is often the case now. In therapists and in therapist training, we notice a surface use of person-centred language, incongruously accompanied by an increasing preoccupation with ‘professional knowledge’, ‘clinical standards’, ‘mental health’ labels and referrals, regulatory frameworks, and the like.
This preoccupation appears to go hand in hand with a decreasing emphasis on the therapist’s own personal process work and ‘sensitivity enhancement’- the writer has experienced a depressing number of therapists commenting that the only therapy they have personally experienced is their college’s compulsory requirement of 10 or 20 hours. She has also encountered trainings with no such requirement. Many trainings now seem to have an overwhelming emphasis on imparting theory, with at best only a small element of personal process work/personal therapy. From a psychiatric model perspective, there is of course no issue with this – it’s about ‘best practice’ and ‘clinical standards’. From the perspective Michael describes, it is nothing short of a disaster.
The writer had the good fortune to train on a course offering the reverse emphasis. It was centred around experiential work; small and large encounter groups; observed practice; and close attention to personal process – with a substantial and on-going commitment to personal therapy. There was a theory strand, and plenty of reading material, as well as assignments to complete – but theory work amounted only to around 25% of the contact time, and was essentially seen by tutors and students alike as interesting, and yet far less important than the process work.
It was a challenging training, and a number of people did not complete it. Certainly it would not have worked for anyone with a preference for hiding in theory and donning the ‘professional’ mask, rather than taking the irreversible, unpredictable and oftentimes scary rollercoaster ride into the depths of our own being.
Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter
Counselling Exeter since 1994