Person- Centred Counselling in Action by Dave Mearns & Brian Thorne, 1988 Person-centred counselling originated in 1930’s and 40’s from the work of the American psychologist Carl Rogers. Rogers came to believe that as it is the client who is hurting, then ultimately it is the client themselves who holds the answers about how best to move forward. At the time, this approach was a departure from others forms of counselling which relied on clients being advised, guided or somehow influenced on which direction to take.
Using the person centred approach, it is the counsellor’s job to help the client connect with their own inner resources enabling them to find their own unique solutions. In this book the authors undertake to explain the theories and principles of person centred counselling by relating them to actual practice. The book is intended as a practical and comprehensive guide for trainee counsellors, those training them and also for established counsellors wishing to familiarise themselves with the person centred approach to counselling.
Coming from the standpoint of someone just starting out as a trainee counsellor, the writer was first attracted by the short, snappy title of ‘Person Centred Counselling in Action’. The word ‘action’ hints that the work will not be a dry, difficult to read book concentrating only on the theoretical side of things but the reader will actually get to see how the process works in practice. In this regard, the book did not disappoint. -2- The main body of the book explores in some depth, the conditions (known as the core conditions) of empathy, acceptance and congruence, which are essential to the practice of the person- centred counsellor.
The final three chapters draw on one particular case study showing how the core conditions are used in practice. These final chapters look at the experience from both the counsellor’s and the client’s point of view. The writer found the contents of the book to be written in a logical fashion and in the main uses straight forward language. The writer felt that the down to earth style of writing and avoidance of jargon made the book more accessible than some others of the same genre. Also very helpful is that as
new concepts are introduced, examples of the concept being discussed are highlighted in boxes throughout the text. This helped to reinforce the writer’s understanding of ideas that are unfamiliar to her at this stage of her learning. One of the main themes of the book is an in-depth exploration of the three elements that make up what is referred to in person centred literature, as the ‘core conditions’. In the first chapter the book clearly states what these are as follows: “The creation of a growth producing climate in a therapeutic relationship requires
That the counsellor can: 1. be genuine or congruent 2. offer unconditional positive regard and total acceptance -3- 3. feel and communicate a deep empathic understanding” While this statement is useful for clarity it is obvious on reading further that these conditions are not easily attained. They take commitment on the part of the counsellor to develop and maintain these attitudes and are so significant, say the authors, that not only do they have profound implications for the counsellor’s professional practice but also for the counsellor’s life as a whole.
This thought makes the writer pause and reflect on how powerful the core conditions are and the words ‘life changing’ spring unbidden to mind. Although in practice, the core conditions are inextricably linked, for the purposes of this review the writer has chosen to focus on the book’s exploration of acceptance or ‘unconditional positive regard’. The authors speak of unconditional positive regard as being an attitude held by the counsellor and give the following clear definition:
“Unconditional positive regard is the label given to the fundamental attitude of the person-centred counsellor towards her client. The counsellor who holds this attitude deeply values the humanity of her client and is not deflected in that valuing by any particular client behaviours. The attitude manifests itself in the counsellor’s consistent acceptance of and enduring warmth towards her client”. It struck the writer that although this attitude of unconditional positive regard can be viewed as highly commendable, it may also in practice, be difficult to attain. The writer agrees with the -4-
authors’ opinion that unconditionality cannot be guaranteed due to each counsellor being fallible, human and having personal limits. The writer however questions the authors’ statement that “ the person centred counsellor is likely to be ‘less conditional’ than most other people with whom the client will relate”. The writer feels that this is a sweeping generalisation of clients’ relationships and may not be true. That said, the writer believes that the attitude of unconditional positive regard is one that every counsellor, irrespective of tradition, should actively seek to develop and maintain.
The authors pose the question “Why is unconditional positive regard important? ” In answer to this question a picture is drawn of a client who has been brought up to believe that it is only by meeting conditions imposed on them by significant others that they have any value. By consistently having an attitude of unconditional positive regard and by valuing the client in their own right, irrespective of conditions imposed by others, the counsellor is directly challenging the client’s long held beliefs about their self- worth.
The authors describe the client as being in a negative, self-defeating cycle, not expecting to be valued and relate to others by being self-protective or defensive. They may well be displaying behaviours that drive others away such as being inappropriately aggressive, not showing any feelings or perhaps withdrawing from any demanding social contact. In driving others away, the client’s belief that he is unworthy or unlovable is reinforced. The authors explain that by having an attitude of unconditional positive regard, the counsellor can gradually break into the client’s self- defeating cycle.
Once the cycle is broken, the client -5- no longer needs to be defensive towards the counsellor. His fear reduces and an environment of trust and safety is created where the client feels able to explore what troubles him. The authors claim that not only will the client have been influenced to question conditions of worth imposed on him and been helped to become less defensive but that somehow the client will begin to experience the counsellor’s attitude for himself and begin the journey
towards self-acceptance. The writer, though inexperience, agrees with the writers’ view that the counsellor’s attitude of unconditional positive regard can eventually have dramatic positive effects for the client. The writer also takes on board the authors’ advice to bear this dramatic effect in mind, early in the therapeutic process when the client can display a number of difficult, off-putting behaviours. There was some discussion by the authors about ‘defensive’ clients.
They give examples of three clients with very different problems. Mary an unkempt 45 year old lady with poor personal hygiene who is filled with self-loathing; Roger a hard-nosed 35 year old, cut-throat business man who blames his wife for all their marital problems and James a suspicious, angry 18 year old who used most of his first counselling session to verbally abuse the counsellor. It later became clear that the three clients had four things in common: 1. They all had a deep sadness, 2. Felt intensely unloved, 3.
Did not love themselves and 4. Were all extremely vulnerable. The authors note that although the clients behaviours were very different their defensiveness was acting as a shield which repelled others and hid what kind of people they really were. The -6- authors advise that unconditional positive regard means that the counsellor should not be put off by these behaviours but should continue to value the worth of the client and eventually earn the right to be given access to what lies behind the shield.
The writer can imagine that it could sometimes be difficult for the counsellor to accept their client. The authors examine this problem in some depth and also give practical steps for the counsellor to take when confronted with this situation. They advise the conscious use of empathy which helps the counsellor to focus more on the client and less on her own negative feelings towards the client. Using empathy can also encourage the client to open up more and cause the counsellor to question her earlier judgement.
The authors also suggest that it would be beneficial for the counsellor to explore the matter more fully in supervision. The dislike belongs to the counsellor, say the authors and is therefore her responsibility to deal with it and not blame the client for her feelings. In the chapter on unconditional positive regard, the authors go onto discuss in some depth other matters worthy of consideration and study such as ‘Can the Client Accept My Acceptance?
’, ‘Focus on Warmth’, ‘Focus on Conditionality’ and ‘Accepting the Client who loves you’. Unfortunately time does not allow the writer to discuss these topics any further. The writer found the whole book very engaging and informative and would recommend the newer edition to anyone wanting to learn more about person-centred counselling. Its ‘hands on’ style is very readable and gives many useful examples of the process in action. In conclusion, it ‘does what it says on the tin’! (Word Count 1,565)