New Beginnings Therapy

Concept of change – what does it mean for counselling and psychotherapeutic encounters. A person centred therapy approach.                          


While crystallizing and developing his client-centred therapy approach, Carl Rogers conveyed a state of fluidity where change was seen as an essential characteristic:

Change rather than rigidity becomes the characteristic of such a field (Rogers, 2003: 6).

Such a statement is intended to succinctly summarize this article’ title and as an opening argument to this paper’s quest to expand on and explore ideas around change, specifically how change is interpreted and managed by various psychotherapeutic models and how such perspectives can be applied to explain, predict and consolidate behaviour. In assessing his own personal understanding and simultaneously trying to promote his person-centred approach core ideas, Rogers considers that a therapeutic process is like life itself:

Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed (Rogers, 2004: 27).

Rogers is asserting that experience should be considered a main defining factor of life and its highest authority; for Rogers, experience is the touchstone of everyone’s reality and constituent for becoming a person. The concept of empathy is another essential idea in Rogers’ writings alongside ideas on transparency in which real feelings become evident. Rogers suggests that a successful therapeutic relationship is achieved when the therapist employs a deep emphatic approach that allows seeing his client private world through his own eyes (Rogers, 2004).

Empathy being defined as “the ability to identify with the emotions of others and to read the physical expression of emotions in others” (Gillibrand et al 2011: 218).

Rogers introduced his seminal ideas as early as 1940 during a conference at University of Minnesota entitled Some newer concepts in psychotherapy and by 1974, Rogers and his colleagues have changed the name client-centred therapy to person-centred therapy - although Rogers continued to use the two terms interchangeably ( Nelson-Jones, 2000). Such a change was also reflected in Rogers' theoretical stance with regards to his own professional understanding and ways of helping his clients. After more than two decades of psychotherapy practice, in On becoming a person, Rogers proposes as a general hypothesis that if he, the therapist, can form an enabling type of therapeutic relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur (Rogers, 2004:33).

Across all main psychotherapeutic perspectives the importance of a good rapport in therapy is indisputable that in consideration of equally important questions around how that rapport is formed and sustained throughout the therapeutic process. For some, Rogers' traditional approach failed to portray a stronger acknowledgement on the enormous influence of cultural and social factors on individuals' behaviour, hence offering what is arguably a relatively individualistic, and Westernized conception of “a person” where the internal resources of the client are seen as fundamental and where contextual possibilities denied (Gordon, 2012).

In order to further explore such potential criticism one question needs further consideration:

How do you know you have a good psychological rapport in a therapeutic encounter?

The following are some such indicative answers:

• Discussing the necessity of developing good contact with your clients at initial stages in therapy;

• By considering whether or not during sessions there is a high degree of flowing discussion;

• Two-ways feedback: receiving and giving feedback;

• Achieving consistency in various patterns of behaviour towards each other with a continuous assessment of various issues on sustaining an ethical and professional relationship.

• An insightful analysis of several non-verbal cues that can be indicative of a successful psychological encounter. For instance, body position, eye contact and facial expression;

• Considerations of culture, gender as a system and other social and ethnic criteria being considered and integral components of developing therapeutic relationship;

• Having a non-dependent affiliation - encouraging your clients to maintain and strengthen a sense of individuality and recognizing whether there are similar values, beliefs and attitudes involved;

From a psychodynamic or rather psychoanalytic perspective, Susie Orbach (2009) notes that psychotherapists very much rely on being able to observe and correctly determine feelings from their clients-using such signs as a guide into their clients experiences. In therapy such changes in mood and feelings serve as valuable clues to psychotherapist and are an integral part of the therapeutic process. Orbach (2009: 51) states:

"A mutual mood is not cause for interrogation. It is expected. When, however, the therapist registers an unexpected shift of mood in herself when she is with a patient, she begins a private inner dialogue with herself as to what it might mean. First she checks herself out as she is an object of study... What does the patient evoke in her? Why did she feel sad when the patient was making a light remark? Such emotional states, which the therapist notices in herself, are called the countertransference."

The importance of each individual's upbringing including different parenting styles, various learning styles, clear and distinct conceptions of what is considered acceptable and non-judgmental, issues around development and cognition and age group are all significant variables within a discussion around forming a good rapport with someone. A good psychological contact implies an agreement and understanding of individual personal differences as well as commonalities and should be characterized by reciprocity and mutual understandings with regards to both concepts of trust and respect. Thus, within the limits of counselling theory it could be asserted that such a rigorous account of both internal and external factors is essential to be acknowledged not only as a sign of good practice, but also as a formulation/case conceptualization of understanding a person in her or his totality. Such a deep comprehension can be interpreted as unconditional positive regard within a multicultural approach to counselling and therapy. Sue Wheeler (2006: 5) states that …engaging with difference and diversity at a deep level is challenging and leaves no assumptions undisturbed, no values and beliefs unchanged."

When discussing change, implicitly, a debate on continuity or discontinuity of certain aspects is present. Equally present are ideas around development, development and change being considered as interrelated concepts within various fields of knowledge such as that of developmental psychology: Jean Piaget’s stages of cognitive development and Erik Erikson’s psychosocial stages to name but a few.

Change is at the center of commencing a psychotherapeutic journey with both psychotherapists and clients seeking answers as to why problems are present at that specific moment in time, how change happens and what contributed to it. Psychological changes occur as a person develops understanding and it is expected that perhaps newly acquired insight is going to help maintain a positive outlook precluding a cessation of psychotherapeutic exploration and prompting new beginnings. Change is an integral part of that journey or rather the journey itself.


References:

Gordon, R. (2012). “Where Oh Where are the clients? The use of client factors in counselling psychology” in Counselling Psychology Review 27(4), 8-17.

Nelson-Jones, R. (2000). Six key approaches to counselling and therapy. London: Continuum, M., & Houston, G. (2003). Integrative therapy: A practitioner’s guide. London: Sage.

Orbach, S. (2009). Bodies. London: Profile Books.

Rogers, C. R. (2003). Client-Centred Therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory. London: Constable.

Rogers, C. R (2004). A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. On becoming a person. London: Constable.

Weeler, S. (2006). Thinking psychodynamically about diversity. In Weeler, S. (ed.) Difference and diversity in counselling. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.