Some person-centred therapists are advocates of pluralism, which is OK if it works for them. If they feel they need something more to allow a client to move further forward and feel more confident within themselves then it makes sense to do so.
I do not feel the need to embrace this stance as person-centred is enough for me. There is no need to reinvent the wheel and there is no justification in stating that the wheel needs altering, as this tends to spread the myth that the approach is wishy-washy. If an individual decides that person-centred does not work for them and they need something additional then that is a factor of their reality and their personality. It is not the approach that has limits. It is the human within the approach.
I did not know when I began my counselling journey what the PCA was. I did not know that my personality was the right fit for it. I was always honest and authentic. At 18 years old I handed my personal diary to a girl after only a first date. The message was: This is me and you either accept me or not. The ability to be open and honest enabled me to become a better counsellor and develop my congruence.
Empathy was a different matter. It had not been developed and took a dramatic event to shift it. I lost my wife to breast cancer in 2009 when our children were 6 and 3 and the reorganisation of my self-concept and empathic ability was my gift from the loss.
My late life was always surprised when people shared their problems with me and told me their biggest secrets. I believe it was my openness that lowered their defences. Although I had this ability, I did not have an empathic understanding of their struggles. It was mostly gossip for me.
My grief brought more of my personality into awareness. It was unavoidable. I was able to recognise my insecurities and the difference between my real self and my ideal self, to understand my defences and reactions. I now know that the closer I get to understanding the whole of myself, the closer I get to understanding the whole of the client that walks into my counselling room. The more I can understand myself, the more I am available to the client and am able to understand them separately from myself. To accept them regardless of how different they are to me.
Rogers stated that it is not what he can do for a client to change but how can he provide a relationship that the clients can use for their own development. We can throw a rope to a client and it is up to them whether they want to climb. We do not have to pull them to where they are not ready to go. Once they feel safe, they will climb.
This is for me the most important factor in counselling and where panic may set in for a counsellor. The pace of the client is crucial and that we match that pace. It is like watching the ball under the one of the three cups. Follow the ball. Follow the client where they take us on an exploration within their personality. We become a guest in their world and reflect their alter ego. This can be extremely difficult and uncomfortable with clients that exhibit conscious control of their emotions and their environment. These clients that avoid emotions through strategies, often want the counsellor to provide strategies to assist them further with their avoidance. If this dependency arises then the counsellor is merely a human pill taking the client further away from the autonomy required for a healthy existence. In fact, they become a collaborator in maintaining the conscious control.
Allan Schore, the neuropsychologist compliments the PCA. He is not reinventing the wheel but realigning it. He brings further understanding in the form of science. His research has proved that it is the right brain synchronisation of both client and counsellor that reorganises the self-concept. Therefore, conscious control is a lot more difficult to navigate because it is the control of the left brain over the right. It is the process of taking the left brain offline that enables effective therapeutic change. Empathy is the key that unlocks the right brain. Not sympathy or identification which is often mistaken for empathy.
The person-centred counsellor does not need to send clients for CBT to work with this left dimension and they do not need to retrain in another modality. It is keeping the right brain to right brain loop open whilst working with the cognitive aspects of the left that may be dominant at the start of therapy.
We often hear that a lot of men do not like having their emotions probed or that clients with OCD are working very hard to consciously control their emotions and the environment. It is important that we respect this and tread carefully as we try to unearth the healthy patterns behind their anxiety without triggering defences.
I try to remember that it is the client who sets the pace that feels right for them. I also keep in mind that it is emotions that change behaviour and not behaviour that changes emotions.
I may not be the right counsellor for all clients. I assume that all counsellors are aware of this. It could be many different deciding factors as to why a client quits therapy. It might be conscious or unconscious as a lot of communication between humans is non-verbal. Our antennas detect threats. This would explain why some clients feel comfortable around one counsellor and not another.
I guess it would be easy for me to blame the PCA approach when a client does not engage in counselling. It is not so easy to look within and uncover those internal blocks or inhibitors that are more than likely preventing the wheel from moving forward.
Darren Cockle is a person-centred counsellor with his own private practice in Winchester, UK. You can connect with him on Twitter @DarrenCockle3