Skills in Person-Centred Counselling & Psychotherapy
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Skills in Person-Centred Counselling & Psychotherapy

Janet Tolan, Rose Cameron

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eBook - ePub

Skills in Person-Centred Counselling & Psychotherapy

Janet Tolan, Rose Cameron

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About This Book

This bestselling classic has guided thousands of students and practitioners step-by-step through the skills and theory of the person-centred approach. Fully updated, this Third Edition includes numerous new exercises and case studies, a thoroughly-revised chapter on recent debates and developments, as well as two important new chapters on:

· Politics, Prejudice, Power and Privilege

· Client Perception

It remains an essential introduction for those beginning their training as well as more experienced practitioners keen to expand their range.

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1 The Theoretical Framework

The importance of theory

Person-centred theory is simple, elegant and universal. Just as an appreciation of atoms gives rise to an understanding of the whole of the physical world, so can an appreciation of person-centred theory give rise to an understanding of the complexity and richness of human experience.
People can come to counselling in extremes of psychological pain or experiencing strange thoughts and behaviours. If we are not to be frightened or overwhelmed, we need to have an understanding of why they are in such a state and what we can do to be of use. When we listen to the sheer awfulness of another person’s life, it is human to feel inadequate. How can I, in one session a week, hope to make a difference in the face of such suffering? One possible response is to remove ourselves a little – to disguise those feelings of inadequacy behind an elaborate analysis of the causes of the pain rather than allow ourselves to hear the suffering. Another is to rush into ‘helping’ – offering suggestions and solving problems in an attempt to make the other person’s life easier. Both of these responses help us to cope with the person, and with our own inadequacy, while distancing ourselves from their misery.
And yet ... What is the point of someone expressing such agony? Won’t it do more harm than good? Surely it’s better to help a person to get on with their life rather than wallow in misery? He’s feeling worse now than when he first came to see me. Person-centred therapy isn’t working – I’d better try something else.
Without theory, how can we have any confidence in our way of working? Unless we have a hypothesis about what is happening and why, we will tend to fall into our own insecurities when the going gets tough. Theory is the map that guides us through territory which is alien and can feel dangerous. It helps us to stick to the path, however rocky, instead of panicking and running into the woods.

What is theory?

For us to work effectively with others, we need a set of assumptions or hypotheses which answer the following questions:
  1. What do we mean by ‘person’ and ‘personality’?
  2. How do we understand the way that people develop?
  3. What do we consider to be ‘normal’, ‘healthy’ or ‘adjusted’?
  4. What do we consider to be ‘abnormal’, ‘unhealthy’ or ‘maladjusted’ and how do these states arise?
  5. How can people move from 4 to 3?
  6. How can others best assist in this process?
The person-centred hypotheses are as follows.

What do we mean by ‘person’ and ‘personality’?

Colloquially, when we speak of someone’s personality, we mean a combination of their characteristics and qualities. For the purpose of theoretical understanding, however, we need a technical definition and in client-centred theory we posit two components to personality: experience and self-structure.
We define experience as sensory input; the information that comes through our five senses and from internal or visceral feelings. This is often referred to as organismic experience to underline that we are using its technical meaning. Experience is informed by current happenings (I am cool or warm, interested or bored and so on) and also by past experiences. We can react at a gut level to a present event or to another person according to past happenings, even when the gut reaction is not necessarily appropriate to what is happening now. In fact experiences that were extremely frightening and threatening, particularly when we had little or no control over them, can feel as though they are held in every cell of our body.
The self-structure is our model of the world around us and of ourselves. It grows as a child learns to name and organise experience – to symbolise it in awareness. It becomes our way of understanding the world and it enables us to ‘fit in’ to family, society and culture in order to be valued and loved.
Person-centred theory gives us a model in which the person is always striving to integrate their organismic experience of the world with their self-structure. When the two are at odds with each other, the person experiences uncomfortable, or even painful, emotions and it is this discomfort or pain which might bring someone into counselling.

How do we understand the way people develop?

Experiencing, or organismic experiencing, is simply that: the capacity of the organism to experience. We see, we hear, we touch, we smell, we taste, we sense our own inner sadness or happiness, anger or calm. This experiencing is essentially neutral – neither healthy nor unhealthy, neither good nor bad. It simply is. Without the self-structure, we would not be able to construe any of this experience or give it meaning.
In order to recognise and then name something, we need a framework and familiarity. With everyday objects, colours and so on, adults are likely to name them for the young child without distortion and without judgement. It seems natural to most parents to engage in repetition and emphasis with babies: ‘Mummy’, ‘nose’, ‘spoon’, ‘cup’, ‘red’, ‘doggy’…
Along with some words will come other, underlying, meanings in which emotions are communicated, for example, ‘No’ (disapproval), ‘Dirty’ (disgust), ‘Clever’ (delight). Thereafter ‘dirty’ might be something to avoid. The self-experience of revelling in the oozy coolness of mud will be distorted. ‘Clever’ might always be a matter of pride or envy. The sense of superiority which sometimes goes along with it might not be recognised.
The self-structure is our basis for explaining and making sense of our experiences. It encompasses everything that a person holds about themselves and about the world. Some beliefs are built through our own experiences. Others are based on the prior beliefs of family. (Family in this sense meaning the group, or groups, of people concerned with a child’s upbringing.)
Figure 1.1 The Total Personality
Figure 1
It is as though parts of the self-structure are ‘handed down’ within families and cultures. If you dont subscribe to this view of the world, youre not one of us! The more we have to strive to be accepted, the more we cling to these ‘handed down’ views, even when our own experience tells us something different. Take, for example, a member of a social grouping which holds a prejudice in common: ‘black people are ...’. ‘But’, an outsider says in surprise, ‘what about your friend Quibilah?’ ‘Oh’, replies the group member, ‘she’s different – she’s such-and-such, is Quibilah, not like the rest at all!’
How much experience of black people would it take to revise this person’s self-structure? The answer is that experience alone will never suffice. That person’s acceptability, often at some deep level, depends upon their believing that black people are ... If they were to move into another grouping which held a contrary view, they might, in time, amend their self-structure in order to become acceptable in the new group. But only when they felt themselves to be accepted despite their opinions and prejudices would they truly be able to evaluate their experiences for themselves and change their self-structure accordingly.
The self-structure is initially formed according to the values and injunctions of parents and other carers. Conditions of worth are transmitted to children, who learn that they are acceptable or lovable if they behave, think and feel in certain ways. The development of the self-structure usually entails building in such ideas about self and about the world as though they were absolute truths rather than opinions or points of view. These are known as introjected values.
The need to be valued and loved is overriding, so the development and maintenance of the self-structure is important. Experience that conflicts with the self-structure will be distorted or denied.

What do we consider to be ‘normal’, ‘healthy’, ‘adjusted’ or ‘mature’?

The self-structure does a valuable job in a number of respects, particularly in that it enables us to make predictions. Although it is not in our awareness, we can usually anticipate correctly that the ground beneath our feet will be solid and that water will move about. We can also predict how the people around us will react if we talk or behave in certain ways.
As individuals, we are flexible where there is no conflict between our experiences and self-structure. We can predict or recognise what is acceptable to us and to others and make choices without distorting or denying our experience. We can change our judgements and values according to our own experience.
Also, the more someone is able to integrate their own experiences into their self-structure – in other words, the more self-accepting...

Table of contents