Dave Mearns on the counsellor’s practice of self-care

Our view at this service is that by far the most important attribute of any therapist (and what we look for when therapists seek to volunteer here) is a strong, consistent commitment to their own self-care, awareness and personal growth.

We take ourselves into the room with the people we work with – in their service. The relationship itself is the healing agent. This is a great and sacred responsibility. How we live it through in our working relationships can make a very significant difference – for good or ill – in the lives of those who come to us. It is absolutely essential we give our attention as therapists to becoming people who can offer an effective healing relationship.

Any focus on training or qualifications or techniques or skills or theory misses the point, if it ignores or makes secondary the fundamental requirement that a therapist attends to their own personal growth. That means attending to our own holistic well-being, and affording ourselves presence and the core conditions in how we live our lives/relate to ourselves and others. Unless we can do this, at depth, we will offer our clients no more than the presentation of a ‘therapist’ and a more superficial engagement.

Here is Dave Mearns, on what work looks like for him. The writer’s version is, of course, different, because she is not Dave. However, her list would include her own version of all these elements, and Dave’s list feels like a helpful benchmark for an exploration of this theme.

‘In my own life the practice of self-exploration and self-acceptance comprises a number of different elements and I shall discuss these briefly in a moment. I am sure, however, that each practitioner must discover for himself or herself the practice with which he or she feels most comfortable. There can be no blueprint which is universally applicable. It goes without saying, too, that the discipline I am describing supplements and greatly extends the benefits of the traditional supervision relationship but in no way replaces it. The discipline I have worked out for myself has five elements and involves consideration of my current response to various aspects of my experiencing. The task in each case is to conduct an exploration and to arrive, if at all possible, at a position where I am able to accept myself for what I am. The discipline lends itself to a variety of settings – to periods alone in my study, to the walk home after a long day in the counselling room, to a journey by train. What matters for me is that it should be done systematically and regularly. The first element concerns my relationship with my body. I reflect on my thoughts and feelings about my physical being and try to face those areas where I am self-rejecting or self-deprecatory. I attempt to be as compassionately disposed towards my body as possible and ask myself how I am treating it through what I eat and drink, through the clothes I wear, through the rest I give it and the activities I pursue. Where it seems I am lacking in compassion I resolve to become more caring of the body which has the awesome task of carrying me through the world. The second element concerns my relationship with others and here I deliberately exclude my clients (they have their turn later!). I ask myself how cherished I feel and how cherishing in turn I am to others. Sometimes I discover that I am making do on starvation rations. I am not putting myself in the way of love and appreciation and I am even failing to smile at the postman. Self-acceptance is scarcely nurtured by such closedness and I want to open myself again to loving and being loved. The third element focuses on my use of time. I ask myself what I am doing in my work and with my leisure. Whatever I discover I am resolved to move to a position where I can feel as acceptant as possible of the time structures in which I find myself and of the activities to which I am committed. The fourth element concerns my awareness of the created order of which I am part. By this I do not mean simply the natural environment of trees, flowers, animals, sun and rain but also the creations of humankind: buildings, works of art, music, poetry, beauty in all its forms. Reflection on this element sometimes reduces me to tears when I am forced to acknowledge that I have not read a poem for a month or allowed my eyes to linger on a tree all week. Such deprivation is a sign of self-neglect rather than self-acceptance. Finally, and most important of all, I put myself in the presence of my God. If I were an atheist or a humanist I would, I suspect, give myself over to the meaning of my life or to whatever higher power or influence irradiated my destiny. This is an exercise in total surrender so that I am immersed in God and allow myself to experience my unique and absolute value without hindrance or self-recrimination.

The discipline I have so far described has as its sole objective the cultivation and the maintenance of a loving disposition towards myself. The self-acceptance of the person-centred counsellor is a necessary cornerstone of person-centred practice and it is my contention that a discipline of this kind, regularly and systematically practised, leads to an enduring self-love which releases the counsellor from all self-preoccupation and greatly increases the possibility of a transcendental encounter with clients which is powerfully healing and releasing.’

Developing Person-Centred Counselling – Dave Mearns    

Here is the book link:-


Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994


This entry was posted in acceptance, accountability, compassion, core conditions, Dave Mearns, Disconnection, embodiment, encounter, ethics, growth, healing, interconnection & belonging, meaning, natural world, non-directive counselling, Palace Gate Counselling Service, person centred, person centred theory, physical being, poetry, presence, relationship, resilience, spirituality, surrender, therapeutic growth, therapeutic relationship, values & principles, working with clients and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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