A Reflective Analysis on Carl Roger

1.0 Introduction

Counsellors mostly use humanistic approaches in their daily work of counselling. Humanistic approaches are based on several theoretical frameworks that emerged during the 1950s and 1960s and are still being used by counsellors to date. According to Merry (2002), some of the most prevailing humanistic approaches in today’s counselling practice include the person-centred therapy and the Gestalt therapy, both of which are alternatives to other approaches such as the behaviourism approach and the psychoanalysis approach. This manuscript will focus on the person-centred approach to counselling, based on Carl Rodger’s person-centred (PC) theory. In a reflective structure, I will try to answer the question “why do counsellors do what they do?” drawing from my experience as a counsellor and as a client. In doing so, the first section of the essay will describe Carl Rodger’s person-centred theory. Next, the paper will outline and justify each of the principles of PCT, from the perspective of both the counsellor and the client.

1.1 The Person-Centred Theory

Coined by Rodgers in the 1940’s and 1950s, the PC theory was developed in response to two major theories i.e. the behaviour theory and the psychotherapy theory (Lambers, 2000). As a major believer of humanistic approaches, Rodgers thought of the PC theory while performing a personal reflection about human nature and its role in providing quality counselling services, a phenomenon which made him the first person to use the term ‘client’ rather than ‘patients’ (Sanders, 2013).
Ideally, the philosophical underpinning of the PC theory was on the assumption that there is an inherent goodness in human beings and a major motivation behind human behaviour is the need to grow into one’s full capacity (Lambers, 2000). Thus, Rodgers believed that humans have a tendency to self-actualize and this can sling-shot them towards personal growth especially if there is an unconditional positive regard under an environment of emotional support. Rodgers further theorized that when a person is well-functioning, the personal growth is enabled by an internally regulated organismic process which triggers them to evaluate their experiences whether they are good or bad for the person without making any references to societal or cultural standards. Rodgers also believed that the concept of self is at a central position of the PC theory. So, as individuals gain more life experiences, they gain the ability to differentiate themselves from others in an attempt to make a sense of their self (Lasuy, 1988).
Ultimately, Carl Rodgers concluded that for an effective PCT to take place there must be three elements of congruence, unconditional positive regard, and emphatic understanding, which are also conventionally termed as ‘core conditions.’ Personally, I also believe that applying the three core conditions would serve well in yielding a positive outcome and helping me and my client achieve a solution to their problem. The following section of the paper highlights what I would offer to the client based in the core conditions, and the rationale behind this.

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2.0 Unconditional Positive Regard

My counselling Journey would start by giving the client an unconditional positive regard (UPR) as proposed by Carl Rodgers. Rodgers (1951) defines UPR as the fundamental attitude a person-centred counsellor gives to their client during the entire counselling process. As a counsellor who practices UPR, I would deeply value my client’s humanity without making any consideration to the client’s particular behaviours, thereby consistently accepting my client and giving them enduring warmth. It means maintaining a relationship that is uncontaminated with any misgivings regarding the client’s feelings, behaviours or thoughts or making any personal judgments about the client (Bozarth, 2013). Why would I develop such an attitude to the client? This question cannot be answered in a better way other than based on the main objectives of PCT and how I believe I am able to achieve this objective during my counselling sessions with the client.

According to Rodgers (1962), PCT’s aim is to rejuvenate the client’s experiencing process or to make this experiencing process to function in a more flexible and richer way. I want to help the client live a fully-fledged life and to reincorporate elements of their life experience that they had lost before they came for therapy. My main aim thus is to help the client become less rigid with experiences; embrace all aspects of their experiences and to start giving a full trust to her own personal experience as an enabler and guider to an effective life. Therefore, I am concerned with being dedicated to the process, being affirmative to the client and giving the client unconditional warmth.

2.1 Dedication

As a therapist, I must develop a dedicated attitude and a sense of responsibility to my sessions with the client. Before beginning the therapy, I would ask myself: do I want to do this? Do I have both energy and time for this? Or have I made the necessary preparations to work with this particular client? As obvious as these questions may seem, I am struck by how some therapists deal with such situations. For example, during my experience as a resident therapist in a major referral hospital, I could see clients frustrated after being sent to therapists who later quit the process, or therapists accepting clients who rarely attend sessions due to their fixed work schedules. Clearly, this is a violation of the BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2018) which states that the counsellor should maintain integrity by delivering services to the client ethically while giving careful considerations of how they fulfil their legal obligations. Quitting the process is a violation of the therapist’s legal obligation to deliver full services to the client. It is also against the BACP’s ethical requirement for providing adequate and fair services.
I have also had similar experiences with some previous clients. For example, in one scenario, I felt a lack of enthusiasm to attend to a client simply because I was on holiday mood and had literally switched off from work. This affected my level of dedication throughout the one-week session that I handled the client. Research evidence by Lasuy (1988) corroborates with this experience. In a study conducted within 325 sessions of 41 PTCs, it was concluded that therapists do not always have a high-level enthusiasm to handle the clients. While responding to the question, “with what feelings or expectations did you begin this session?” a section of the respondent therapists admitted that in one out of every six sessions, they performed the therapies while not in the mood of doing so because they were either ill, fatigued, in a holiday mood, had a busy day or just lacked interest (Lasuy, 1988).
Whereas these situations inevitably occur once or twice, I realise that as a therapist, I am not obliged to take on any client who comes for the consultation. It appears to me that if possible, I must not perform therapy on a full-time basis and that I can conduct therapy in combination with other activities that consume less energy.
From my own perspective as a client, I always feel that I have the right to my therapist’s commitment and that includes my right to their availability and full attention during therapy sessions. I always want to feel that the therapist is someone I can count on. To paraphrase Rice (1983), this element contributes to an energetic and safe working relationship between the client and the therapist, and therefore the therapist’s dedication must be assured especially now that the therapists find themselves in a ‘saviour’ situation.

2.2 Affirmation

As a therapist, I would also endeavour to have a confirming attitude to the client and believe in their potentialities to achieve a positive outcome. In developing the PC theory, Rodgers emphasized that affirming and appreciating the client helps in eliminating the client’s notion that their desire to become (or to self-actualise) is limited to their past because if the therapist accepts the client as someone who is fixed, then they shall be confirming the client’s notion of being limited; but if the therapist accepts that the client is in the process of becoming, then they shall be making real or confirming the client’s potentialities (Rodgers, 1961). What is at stake here is communicating to the client that they are worthwhile, that I take them seriously and they can achieve the change they want. According to Rodgers McMillan (2004), this attitude is viewed as “naive optimism” due to its self-fulfilling nature. A part of this attitude, I would apply what Rodgers & Wood (1974) identifies as ‘gullibility’, where I do not listen to the client’s story with suspicion wondering whether they are trying to conceal something but rather, I am aware that the client will not always say the truth and therefore I assume that taking the client’s story as it is makes the best way to help them be more authentic.

2.3 Non-Possessive Warmth

The last element of UPR I would apply is non-possessive warmth towards the client. It means reacting positively to the client’s story with affection. This is what Rodgers (1961) describes as a good working relationship with the client where there is neither infatuation nor romantic love but a process of mutually learning to like each other as a result of the realities that me and my client encounter during the process. Thus, I would apply a ‘need-free’ relationship with my client to an extent that my satisfaction is drawn from the client’s freedom to grow in their own way. This action would partly be motivated by my experience as a client, where I easily achieved a positive results in my therapy because my therapist was able to play a ‘facilitator’ role and through her indestructible role, enabled me to uniquely unfold my own self without any attempt of manipulate me or influence my feelings about myself. This made the process more simplistic and set a relational context with an appropriate corrective interpersonal encounter during the entire therapy process. It was also part of BACP values and ethical requirement where their therapists are required to ensure integrity within the client-practitioner relationship (BACP 2018). However, during my experience as a therapist, I noticed some limitations of UPR that are worth highlighting. For instance, I noticed that I could not always unconditionally and positively welcome the basic attitude towards the client. In my opinion, part of the reason for this feeling is my failure to have a deeper understanding of this attitude or problems that may be associated with it. Similar remarks are made by Van Balen (1990) who argues that therapist may begin to experience problems with the attitude when the therapeutic process stars to become more relationship-centred and when certain aspects of the process such as confrontation and feedback start to emer

3.0 Congruence

I would not indulge in any PCT endeavour without applying the concept of congruence as proposed by Carl Rodgers. Whereas the concept has been misconstrued by most practitioners as the ability to express one’s feelings to the other person in an undisciplined manner during therapy, it is defined by Rodgers Barnett-Lennard (1998) as the situation when one is aware of their own internal experience or the willingness to communicate to the other person how one is feeling inside. Thus, Rodgers (1961) used the term ‘real’ with the other person as the best term which could describe congruence in PCT.

In PCT, congruence is regarded as being willing to understand the client and hold high regard to their experiences thus being facilitatively congruent. In doing so, as a therapist, I must be committed to respecting and understanding my client, while ensuring to operate within a genuine desire not to have any power over my client. I also need to believe that the therapy will only be effective if I consider the client’s experience as valid.

My application of congruence would widely be supported by a therapeutic presence, defined by Merry (2002) as being receptive, immersed and grounded with the client while being for and with them. In doing so, I would complement the congruency between me and the client by being open and empty to receive the client’s experience with totality. However, whereas ‘being with and for the client’ is not explicitly revealed in the definition of therapeutic presence, Sanders (2013) opine that congruence is a component of and emanates from therapeutic presence, and therefore the more a therapist is present in the process the more congruence they will be in terms of their responses and experience. This understanding may have several implications. First, it implies that in order to be aware of my experience and share my experience with the client, I need to be immersed in the moment’s experiences with the client. Secondly, it implies that if I develop congruence and therapeutic presence, I can experience a sense of openness and expansion Rodgers (1951), leading to a deep sense of trust between me and the client.

A key element of congruence I would practice is being with the client during the healing endeavour. This is because according to Rodgers (1957), executing PCT entails holding no intent of harm to the client but instead relating with them in a manner that helps their healing. In doing so, I would provide a helping motivation as a way of being congruent with the client and being facilitative. If I am in presence with the client and with my own experience, my decision of sharing my genuine experience will be guided by this intention. Hence, I need to be aware of and present with my own experience besides having the ability evaluate whether it is my own issues that are emerging (hence temporarily put them aside) or whether what is emerging is helpful to the healing process of the client. Similar remarks are made by Rodgers (1961) who emphasize that in regards to congruence during a therapeutic process, therapists need to open up to and be aware of their internal experiences while being there for and with the client.

From a critique point of view, the complex nature of congruence has made it easier for critics to target PCT in its entirety. Critics claim there is nothing unique about the three core conditions of PCT because any good therapist will apply them anyway. However, I think this criticism indicates how the real challenges of consistently observing congruence, emphatic understanding and UPR are less understood. Sanders (2013) also holds the same opinion and states that critics of PCT do not understand that while some therapeutic techniques depend on the therapist’s ability and willingness to formulate hypotheses about the client while ‘holding back’ to maintain a professional face by concealing their personal reactions, it is challenging to apply these techniques in the realm of honesty and openness required to maintain congruence with the client.

4.0 Empathetic Listening

Rodgers (1980:p. 142) defines the concept of empathy in person-centred therapy as “entering into the private perceptual world of the other and becoming thoroughly at home in it….. It means temporarily living in the other’s life, moving about in it delicately without making judgments…” Thus, empathy is a way of understanding the client’s inner world and enabling the client to feel that the therapy understands their experience.
My intentions for being emphatic with the client would be clear: to test, verify or check whether my emphatic understanding is accurate by communicating my inner understandings to the client for modification, correction, or verification. Practically, I would facilitate this communication through vocal intonations, body language, gestures, and words – forms of communication that are important for enabling the client to perceive and evaluate their accuracy. Hence, in this situation, I would view my client as the authority and expert about their own feelings, meanings, and intentions.

At one point as a client receiving therapeutic services, I observed two major effects of acceptant and accurate emphatic understanding based on my perceptions. The first one is that I was able to elaborate, reveal and develop my experiences to the therapist. Secondly, I became more intent and consistent with focusing on and expressing myself from the real source of my experiences. Hence, the empathetic understanding had a focusing effect on the entire therapeutic process. Similar remarks are made by Brodley (1991) who points out that emphatic understanding enables both the therapist and the client to focus on the client’s experiences even though this is not often the therapist’s intention.

The focusing effect of emphatic understanding in a therapeutic process is clearly understood from Rodger’s conceptualization of the process theory of change in PCT. According to Rodgers (1961), the focusing effect is desirable and although it is notable, its desirability is considered theoretical because it is not it is not the reason why the therapist responds emphatically to the client’s experience. Applying emphatic understanding would enable me to help the client get in touch with the real source of self-representation and self-disclosures. According to Brodley (2001), this would make the client hear my emphatic responses for confirmation with their inner sources of self-disclosure so that they can find out whether my perceptions of the client’s feelings and meanings (which I communicate to the client during emphatic listening) are consistent with their expressions or not.
Emphatic listening would also assist the client in understanding their self-structure as an element of self-actualization. In this regard, Rodgers (1961) pointed out that a person’s self-structure and how they see themselves is largely influenced by their conditions of worth. I can confirm this assertion with my own experience of feeling worthless and not being ‘good enough’ at some point in life. I also feel guilty when I feel anger or even hungry, yet these are natural humanistic feelings. According to Haugh & Merry (2001), the feeling of guilt emanates from self-structure and a feeling that I do not deserve these needs. I agree with this because, during my younger ages, I could encounter negative reactions for expressing these needs. As a result, I used overweight and food as a coping mechanism. This result is also observed in the literature by Bryant-Jeffreys (2006) as a major cause of eating disorders. Nonetheless, according to Douglas (2012), the weak self-structure of people with eating disorders makes it necessary to apply a deep level of emphatic understanding while counselling

them. These remarks corroborate with those of Douglas (2012) who points out that all counsellors should develop empathy as a quality, a remark that I totally agree with. The criticism that any good practitioner would apply the core conditions of PCT anyway, in their therapeutic process (as mentioned earlier on), shows a disregard for the empirical evidence which shows unambiguously that the quality of client-therapist relationship predicts the effectiveness of the entire therapeutic process even though one may argue that observing the three core conditions may not be the only way of achieving a quality relationship (Lambers, 2000). However, something that person-centred therapists may fail to face head-on as noted by Mulhauser (n.d, n.p) is that: “what (if anything) is it important that this self has, apart from the three core conditions?” In other words, manifesting the three core conditions does not reveal the therapist’s own contribution to the relationship. For instance, I am only aware that the client will have the access to the self because I am congruent, yet I do not know whether that self should be natured in a particular way or whether it should be acquired from a particular knowledge background.
All in all, in this paper, I draw from the work of Carl Rodgers to make my argument that all the core conditions of PCT are essential to a positive therapeutic process outcome, and each concept has a specific rationale. Rodger’s emphasis on congruence, UPR, and emphatic understanding is especially useful to my analysis as it allows me to think through PCT as a technique that entails viewing the client as able to grow and achieve their full potential. To this end, Rodger’s conceptualization of giving the client an authority over their experience is generative in understanding how providing favourable conditions for the client during the therapeutic process may help the client grow to their full potential.

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References

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  • Bryant-Jeffreys, R. (2006) Counselling for eating disorders in women: Person-centred dialogues. Oxon: Radcliffe Publishing.
  • Bozarth, J.D. (2013) Unconditional positive regard. In M. Cooper, M. O’ Hara, P.F. Schmid & A.C. Bohart (Eds.). The handbook of person-centred psychotherapy and counselling. (2nd ed.). pp.180-192. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Barnett-Lennard, G. T. (1998). Carl Rogers helping system: Journey and Substance. London: Sage Publications.
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  • Client issues in counselling and psychotherapy. London: SAGE Publications Ltd. Haugh, S. & Merry, T. (2001) (Eds.) Rogers’ theraputic conditions: evolution, theory and practice, Vol 2: Empathy. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
  • Howe, D. (2013) Empathy: what it is and why it matters. London: Palgrave Macmillan Lambers, E. (2000) Supervision in person-centred therapy. In D. Mearns & B. Thorne (Eds.), Person-centred therapy today. pp.196-211 London: Sage
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