Brian Thorne on power in person-centred therapy

In this passage, Brian is looking at a 1986 paper by Jerold Bozarth and Barbara Temaner Brodley, exploring what they saw as supporting assertions implicit in Carl Rogers’ 19 propositions – and which may therefore be included in a person centred therapist’s belief system:-

“The final assertion offered by Bozarth and Temaner Brodley is of such central importance to the whole practice of person-centred counselling that it requires separate discussion. Its implications furthermore go far beyond the therapeutic arena and extend into almost all domains of social and political life. They point to the person-centred counsellor’s belief in the importance of rejecting the pursuit of control or authority over other persons. Alongside this there is the corresponding commitment to share power and to exercise control co-operatively. In the counselling relationship this implies an ever-watchful attentiveness to any imbalance of power between counsellor and client and a constant seeking to equalise power through any procedures, whether verbal or otherwise, which remedy a power imbalance. This emphasis on the abdication from power seeking reinforces even more vigorously the person-centred value that authority about the client lives in the client and not in an outside expert. Bozarth and Temaner Brodley mention with much justification that this value is insufficiently internalised by many therapists who lay claim to be person-centred in their practices. As a result such people do not understand the implications of the value – namely that they are not free to intervene unilaterally or to direct when they are acting as counsellors. Furthermore, they cannot expect to escape feelings of conflict or tension if they are obliged or drawn to adopt therapeutic procedures culled from other schools of thought where the belief in abdicating power in order to empower is not a central tenet.”

Person-Centred Counselling: Therapeutic and Spiritual Dimensions – Brian Thorne

We would agree that many therapists – who self-describe as person-centred, or apply some of the language/conceptual structures in their work – have in reality failed to internalise this value at any depth. One endemic example of this, perhaps more so now than in 1986, is the ‘person-centred’ therapist who simultaneously uses the language of, or works within, a medicalised context – for example, the ‘mental health’ system or social work. Even the private practice therapist who talks of ‘professionalism’ or ‘best practice’, or who supports regulation, is essentially working within an external locus model that is incompatible with ‘the person-centred value that authority about the client lives in the client and not in an outside expert’.

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994

 

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