By Douglas TurnerI believe that if you feel there is someone listening carefully to you with some respectful understanding of your feelings then you begin to believe you are worth hearing that you deserve some attention; that you are worth it.
I approach counselling in the belief that you have the answers to your unhappiness and in telling me about what is wrong you will hear the beginning of a way forward.
Together we can build on that beginning until your world changes from an unhappy to a more hopeful place, And in that hopeful place you have some coping skills should you need them again.
If you are physically ill there is usually a good chance you can be cured with the right diagnosis, correct prescriptions and careful nursing. If an accident leaves bits of you broken then bones can be set, plaster support applied and in time therapeutic exercises will enable those parts to function again. This we understand, can observe and test.
However, we do not give the same attention to the invisible hurt that can accompany illness and accident, loss and unhappy life history. The invisible hurt is not as straightforward as physical illness but it is as real. There is emotional internal bleeding going on long after the event that triggered it. There is an equivalent to scar tissue that restricts movement and numbs feelings. There is a whiplash effect of panic, depression and self-doubt.
Counselling seeks to address this invisible hurt: to heal, restore, renew. Counselling like medicine is a broad church. lt has its own jargon and contention within its ranks about the interpretation of symptoms and what makes for effective treatment.
For me, the most deceptive, the most demanding and the most effective form of counselling is called Person- Centred.
It is most deceptive because it sounds easy. It is not built on a vast theoretical base. It values instinct and attitude alongside intellectual ideas. Because it has no prescriptive formula but instead an insistence on rigorous integrity it is particularly demanding. Its success depends on the counsellor removing the equivalent of the surgical mask, the rubber gloves and some of the professional distance.
So what might it be like for you on the receiving end of Person- Centred counselling? Mixed feelings I’d guess, some unexpected. perhaps anger and frustration because you are hurt and want advice and answers and you do not get them. Maybe frustration that this listener is not critical of those that have hurt you and not shocked by what you have done. Sometimes surprise that in the first time in a long while you are being listened to carefully and your feelings are being taken seriously. Eventually even a bit amazed that your life can be changed because you were able to talk and putting feelings into words for another to hear is the beginning of managing them for the better.
This is what you and your counsellor will work towards- the outcome, the product. But there is also something else going on that affects the healing – the process. This is the time you spend with your counsellor, what goes on between you. The message you should be getting from this safe stranger in this secure place is an assurance that you are worth taking seriously, that your concerns are real ones. Here is someone who sees strengths in you when you cannot and is optimistic about your future when you do not believe you have one. And yet you believe this counsellor is sincere and has some insights. So maybe you begin to realise they are seeing in you someone you dimly recognise from way back before you were so knocked about. Someone with a little more confidence, a little surer of where they are going.
[boxibt style=”gray”]About the Author
After a wide experience of Further and Adult Education, I am now concentrating on Counselling, Training and Supervision in a private capacity.
My supervisory experience encompasses individual work with counsellors and Diploma students and group supervision in the voluntary sector.
I have taught counselling at certificate and diploma level and will shortly be moderating courses for the A.B.C. (Centra) Examining Body.
I have been counselling individuals for some ten years with a Person-Centred approach informed by T.A. and some Cognitive notions.
…it helps to be heard..
DOUGLAS TURNER M Ed. Dip.Ad.Ed.Dip.Counselling.
B.AC. Accredited Practitioner
Person Centred Counselling A Case Study
By Patience O’ Neil
Before I begin to work with someone, we have a meeting to check each other out in terms of what each of us is expecting & what the process could involve – me explaining how I work with the Person Centred approach, and how a counselling contract is framed, & our respective roles in the therapeutic alliance – the prospective client explaining what she is looking for, expects to happen & how the process may help or not. Also, importantly, as we sit in each other’s company, we get a sense of “does the face fit”; can I imagine trusting/ being trusted by this person?
At this meeting, we decide whether to begin working together or not. If not, I would make suggestions about other possible counsellors to contact. If yes, then we discuss & agree on the terms of our working contract, which includes the initial number of sessions, costs, cancellations, commitment, and confidentiality.
Here is a case study to illustrate how the Person Centred counselling process works. I shall call the client Jo, not her real name.
Jo came over as a calm, down to earth & practical person in her mid thirties.
However, as she began to tell her story what emerged was someone stuck in a deadlock with no spontaneous way forward. Jo was in the process of changing – in the way she experienced herself, how she felt about her role as worker & parent, what felt genuine – which was exciting & opened up new horizons. However, Jo’s family members hadn’t opted for her to change, in fact the opposite, they wanted the person they’d always known in her normal role. So familiar family routines became zones of tension, anger & recrimination.
Jo felt she was faced with an impossible dilemma. Should she give up on the newly found journey of self discovery in order to maintain the status quo with the people she loved & had built a life with? That choice would provoke feelings of pretence & resentment in Jo, which could undermine family life.
Should Jo pursue her personal journey & try to persuade other family members to change along with her? This choice would be perceived as provocation & lead to an escalating climate of anger at home, so that nowhere felt safe.
Person Centred counselling is built on various key ideas which we can link to Jo’s situation to explain the process. Firstly, the goal is to become a fully functioning person, harnessing the innate life affirming force within you– the self actualising tendency. Jo had absorbed messages during her growing up called conditions of worth – as many people do – saying you are only worthwhile if you do as you are told, or please your parents, or put other people first, for example. So, as an adult Jo can only feel good about herself when these conditions are met – she will have created adult relationships based on these conditions. Allied to this is the idea of locus of evaluation, which means the place where Jo evaluates herself from – does she have the power within herself to believe she is worthwhile? Or does she believe the learned childhood messages & feel that her partner has the power to define her worthiness?
In order for Jo to get in touch with her self actualising tendency, she needs to gain the power within herself to believe she is a person of worth & discard the learned conditions of worth. Then Jo can choose the best course of action for herself.
So how did the therapeutic process unfold? Our initial contact was for six sessions & then a further six.
In the first stage Jo told her story & I tuned in carefully to her world, her experience of it, her dilemmas & pain. This includes noticing what is not said, & contradictions. Part of the therapy is for Jo to tell me, a dispassionate ally, all about the turmoil that has been raging inside so that she can let go of it, gain some distance from it, explore the perspective of other people involved, and be affirmed as valid in having these feelings.
In the next stage, Jo & I return to the dilemmas, the “ought & “should”, so that Jo can explore within the safety of the counselling space, what would happen if… how would she feel if… what does feel most authentic… where do these learned messages come from & can she discard them now in the light of who she is now ? What are Jo’s emotional resources, & priorities?
In the last stage of our work together, we move towards an ending at an agreed date. So we review insights gained & current feelings & Jo has the opportunity to check out what she would like to do & is able to do. My role is ensuring that Jo has accepted her own capacity at this time to take up her chosen course of action.
And so we finish.
[boxibt style=”gray”]About the Author
I have been a freelance counsellor & supervisor for ten years, working from a Person Centred perspective, informed by concepts drawn from a psychodynamic approach. My founding belief is that each person has the potential to become whom she or he would like to be & with the support of the therapeutic alliance can get in touch with that person.
I combine my freelance work with my role in a Further Education College co-ordinating a counselling training & a teacher-training programme. I consider that these two aspects of my work complement each other.[/boxibt]
BA Hons English & American Literature, PGCE, Diploma in Counselling, Certificate in Psychodynamic Psychotherapy & Group work.
Phone: 01926 771447[/boxibt]