Person-Centred Counselling |

In light of the person centred theme this year, quick recap of the approach is very much needed. I am still struggling to see how being fully person centred could help clients’ with their dilemmas. Also, how would I communicate to clients what I’m doing is more than just ‘accepting’ them and letting them ‘facilitate the growth themselves’. When said out loud, it almost seems like all the responsibility is on the client. Would they like to hear that? Hm, needs some reframing.

I took some excerpts from an article (below) which I found particularly useful and perhaps will help me with gaining a better picture of counselling practice:

Italics are my comments

Person-Centred Counselling |

An Introduction to Person-Centred Counselling

The person-centred approach views the client as their own best authority on their own experience, and it views the client as being fully capable of fulfilling their own potential for growth. It recognizes, however, that achieving potential requires favourable conditions and that under adverse conditions, individuals may well not grow and develop in the ways that they otherwise could. In particular, when individuals are denied acceptance and positive regard from others — or when that positive regard is made conditional upon the individual behaving in particular ways — they may begin to lose touch with what their own experience means for them, and their innate tendency to grow in a direction consistent with that meaning may be stifled.

So it’s something about exploring the reasons behind the presenting issue without judgement – with positive regard

Psychological disturbance occurs when the individual’s ‘self-concept’ begins to clash with immediate personal experience — i.e., when the evidence of the individual’s own senses or the individual’s own judgement clashes with what the self-concept says ‘ought’ to be the case. Unfortunately, disturbance is apt to continue as long as the individual depends on the conditionally positive judgements of others for their sense of self-worth and as long as the individual relies on a self-concept designed in part to earn those positive judgements. Experiences which challenge the self-concept are apt to be distorted or even denied altogether in order to preserve it.

Therapeutic Approach of Person-Centred Counselling

  1. Unconditional positive regard
  2. Empathic understanding
  3. Congruence

These three core conditions provide a climate conducive to growth and therapeutic change. They contrast starkly with those conditions believed to be responsible for psychological disturbance.

Interpreting it as such means that as therapists we are looking at the positive regards/ negative regards that were offered to the client. Also, we are to offer the clients positive regard in not imposing rules on their behaviour (contradictory in a way, for instance, what if a client turns up very drunk etc).

Empathic understanding: We had a practice session during teachings, I couldn’t get to an empathic understanding of the other person’s story. It’s quite difficult to grasp the layers of meanings and feelings from an account especially when done in 5 minutes. When the counsellor perceives what the world is like from the client’s point of view, it demonstrates not only that that view has value, but also that the client is being accepted.

Congruence: The counsellor is authentic and genuine. The counsellor does not present an aloof professional facade, but is present and transparent to the client. There is no air of authority or hidden knowledge, and the client does not have to speculate about what the counsellor is ‘really like’. How much congruence is appropriate? Would the client be put off by too much self-disclosure? I am in favour of bringing the feelings evoked in me by the client into the room to be explored, but I have also seen instances where it clients don’t want to know what’s going on in the therapist.

Notably, person-centred theory suggests that there is nothing essentially unique about the counselling relationship and that in fact healthy relationships with significant others may well manifest the core conditions and thus be therapeutic, although normally in a transitory sort of way, rather than consistently and continually.

Criticisms of Person-Centred Counselling

A frequent criticism of the person-centred approach is that delivering the core conditions is what all good therapists do anyway, before they move on to applying their expertise and doing the real work of ‘making clients better’.

Theoretically that’s the case, I have studied the person centred approach prior to practicing and understood it. Or so I thought. When in therapy I realised it is not easy to bracket off my continuous assessment and formulation of this person in front of me. It is also contradictory to ‘identifying blind spots’ in client’s thinking (Egan’s Skilled Helper Approach) which we were taught. However, as it is the person centred ‘year’, we have to immerse ourselves in it; be mindful about the techniques used in therapy for process reports, transcripts etc. Having said that, I am aware that positive regard seems to be an important facilitator in helping clients explore their issues in depth. 

Also, if just bringing the congruent self is sufficient, what of the knowledge therapists has in relation to the field? Isn’t that more useful? But if the self is bringing knowledge into the therapeutic relationship. What knowledge is right? The author of the article gave a very good example: 

Another way to understand this point is this: given two counsellors, each of whom manifests the core conditions to some specified degree, what else, if anything, matters? Would it be better for a given client to have the one who is an expert at astrophysics or the one who is an economist? Would it be better for a given client to have the one who struggled through a decade of ethnic cleansing in a war-torn country or the one who went to private school in an affluent suburb and subsequently worked as a stockbroker? Aside from academic expertise and personal history, what about personal philosophy, parenthood, and other factors?

Below is perhaps the best part of the article: 

Best Fit With Clients

Clients who have a strong urge in the direction of exploring themselves and their feelings and who value personal responsibility may be particularly attracted to the person-centred approach. Those who would like a counsellor to offer them extensive advice, to diagnose their problems, or to analyse their psyches will probably find the person-centred approach less helpful. Clients who would like to address specific psychological habits or patterns of thinking may find some variation in the helpfulness of the person-centred approach, as the individual therapeutic styles of person-centred counsellors vary widely, and some will feel more able than others to engage directly with these types of concerns.

I am in agreement, that it up to the needs of the client. I have came across some who would benefit from the therapist who brings him/herself and explore the issue with the client from their frame of reference. Others might require more challenging and reframing. The most difficult part is in identifying the most suitable approach in the time given. 

Being in client’s frame of reference

Understanding another person from their point of view is undoubtedly difficult. Is it achievable? We all have our own agenda. We want the best for our clients. We try to identify blind spots and made them salient. Therefore, is it possible to put aside ourselves and be completely attuned? If not, is this a lost cause? But isn’t this what makes a therapist human? A balance is needed!


Counselling experience? Hang on. I might have that.

With my placement interview #2 coming up tomorrow, I can’t help but feeling the jitters especially with the recent setbacks concerning lack of counselling experience. And so as I was tossing and turning around in bed last night unable to put my mind at ease, a thought struck me. Isn’t counselling about offering guidance and support to others in their life decisions and understanding the causes of distressing thoughts? If so, the certificate in counselling course I was on last academic year does that.

Throughout the year, we were paired up in triads which changed every 2-3 months and we went through 3 changes. The triad sessions consisted of a speaker, listener and observer and were conducted in confidential environments where every group had their respective rooms. The most important point here is that, the issues and problems that were brought to each session were real and personal to each of us. We were not performing situational role plays. The listener guides the speaker through their genuine problems and offers the speaker a place to voice their concerns in a confidential environment. Here, we brought many deeply buried matters that have never been discussed with non-significant others (and we were a complex bunch, aye?). For the speaker, this allowed us to explore and understand ourselves better. For the listener, because of the trust placed on you, the degree of empathy and sensitivity offered does not pale in comparison to counselling offered in formal settings. Thus, I believe there is a case for concrete counselling experience.

Placement results 2

One month ago, I was given the option to apply for another centre for children services who is willing to take on a 1st year trainee. Unfortunately, I was told yesterday that I will not be offered an interview because I do not have the counselling/group work experience and that my interests do not extend to adults and young teenagers. This has cast so much doubt over my own abilities. Have the university made a wrong choice accepting me into the programme? Or if they see potential in me, why not these placements supervisors?

Well, to be fair, the first one gave me an opportunity to present myself in an interview and proposed that I could be arranged to start in my 3rd year. On the other hand, the supervisors from the second option said that they are looking for someone interested in working with parents and older teenagers too other than children and young people. I felt misjudged, I was under the impression that if I am to apply to children and young people services that would be part of the job too. Should I have explicitly stated in my cover letter that I am interested in working with them too? But aren’t older teenagers = young people? To be honest, children and young people is a field that as an amateur I’m quite confident in, because I have the most experience in this field compared to work with adults or elderly. If this is not enough for a 1st year placement, should I just give up all hope?

Nonetheless, 2 similarity persist across the 2 rejections; that I lack formal counselling experience, which leads to the question of how do I gain counselling experience? Telephone counselling isn’t usually included in counselling experience because it’s not face to face but it is one which is accessible to most people. Face to face counselling… as far as I am aware you need to be qualified as a counsellor to be able to do that. Does this mean that I have skipped some steps in between, should I have trained as a counsellor first? But what about people who go into a counselling programme, they are required to train on placements too on their first year, why are they allowed to train without prior counselling experience? (sounds paradoxical). Or maybe they’re looking for counselling skills rather than counselling? In that case, don’t most jobs in the support work sector already include that- which means most of us who qualifies into the C.P programme has?

At the first placement option, the potential supervisor spoke of the added responsibility of being a psychologist on top of being a counsellor especially within an established organisation. Such as various meetings to attend, research to conduct, lectures and workshops to attend, liaising with other members of staff and various protocols to adhere to. Therefore for a newcomer, it might be overwhelming. Is this the reason? But surely we would have proven our ability to manage workload from the degree entrance interview?

There are other options out there such as assistant psychologists which allows you to gain some therapeutic skills and I suppose by the sound of it, the perfect pre-professional training job albeit highly competitive.

I guess the bottom line here is What do they mean by counselling experience? What do they expect from a 1st year trainee’s first placement?

“All university faculty members are liberals”- Psychologists undesirable for jury duty

In one of my previous post “Can psychologists read people’s minds? and our response” I referred to an article which looks at various conventional image others have towards psychologists. It seems that this stereotype extends to official obligations such as jury duty. A commentator from the following article “All university faculty members are liberals” depict that

NOT WANTED, for both sides. Prosecutors didn’t want us, as likely being soft-hearted and overly sympathetic, whereas Defenders didn’t want us because we were likely to see through their baloney about the person’s unhappy childhood. We are both senior citizens now, and neither of us has ever been on any jury. No one wanted us. Ever.

So what chances do some of us have, who are psychologists as well as university faculty members to be juries? None existent I suppose if this stereotype is widely accepted. However, I suspect by reposting this article I’m contributing in spreading the knowledge of this stereotype which might be internalised by university faculty members and psychologists as a justification for being excluded.

For those who are interested, you can see read more about what prompted this recent discussion on the supposed liberality of academics in “The DA thinks you are Liberal“.

I can’t be depressed, I am a Man

I really like Chato’s comic depiction of the attitude most men’s have towards actions or feelings that are traditionally linked to vulnerability. Chato, on his blog is very frank and honest about his journey battling depression; the pervasive consequences it had on his life, the burden of being a man with a weakness and struggling to find hope amidst it all.

This comic touched me and brought to mind the kind of resilience my role model shows. One which is moulded by his tough environment. But who sometimes need tell himself to take a rest. If he only allow himself to do that without feeling undignified.

One way to increase reflectivity— Friends

While doing some net surfing, I came across this research article which showed that friends may know more about us than we do ourselves! How is that even possible? What’s even more striking is that parents are the least reliable in terms of predicting their child’s traits as they tend to perceive them as being exceptional.

Surely, I know what my fears and hopes are better than anyone else. Well, actually, that is true. What friends are shown to know better are observable characteristics such as creativity, intelligence and/or rudeness. This is the case as we might be clouded in our self perception influenced by our unconscious desires. So perhaps, there is a strong case to integrate comments friends make in good will to aid our pursue of self development.

Being reflective is a complex process which requires us to combine information from our past, present as well as aspirations and ambitions to arrive at a full picture of ourselves. To be honest, it is relatively impossible to gain a full picture of ourselves with the constant change in surrounding people and environment. Furthermore, it is difficult for us think beyond what we thought we were. However, have you ever thought why we’re able to offer advice to others much easier than we can to ourselves? Faced with all sorts of changes and situations, sometimes we are lost in the moment unable to process our thoughts and emotions. In these situations, perhaps it is wise to seek our friends’ consultation rather be caught in a delusion that we are targeting the right areas.

Below is the full link to the article.

This summarises it all- therapeutic vs medical intervention

Very smart comic that basically summarises therapeutic vs medical intervention. I like it that the artist uses a much beloved disney character to illustrate his point. It’s all in the nose. :P

Funny Cartoon of the Week June 11, 2008 – brad veley language | Funny Stuff.




Can Psychologists Read People’s Minds? | & Our Response?

I was browsing through some RSS feeds when this article’s title grabbed my attention. It talked about one particular prevalent myth surrounding psychology and counselling – how we are supposed to be able to give a precise summary of someone’s life based on the way they present themselves.

You can access the article here: “Can Psychologists Read People’s Minds? |“. Following on from the article, my take on it is – So, how should our response be?

I suppose most psychologists would empathise with me. It is not unusual when I tell others what I do that they immediately present me with the challenge to analyse and interpret their background. I would then reply that psychology does not work that way. One time, this stranger at a restaurant challenged me to uncover his personality in which I politely said it is inappropriate to make explicit inference about someone based on first impression and that the way therapy works is to piece together numerous information to inform counsellors. It is impossible to make conclusive judgements just from one exchange and I personally think it’s unprofessional to do so. In which he replied, ‘ha! look, you can’t come up with anything.’

The article gave an example of the popular TV series ‘Lie to Me’ which depicts a gifted psychologist who is able to accurately tell the emotions someone is currently feeling and whether he/she is lying. This art is not a complete make up, it has its place in psychology known as the study of ‘micro expressions’. However, I think one important point that the author of the article omit and possibly the general audience (those who believes that psychologist are fortune-teller-like) missed is that Cal Lightman (the protagonist in this series) has continuously stressed the fact that, yes he can tell whether one is being untruthful or emotionally unstable but he is not able to ascertain why or how that’s the case. That is an important point.

For me, I would rather have the overall picture before pointing out certain impressions I have of someone. This is in consideration of the negative implication the act has on one’s integrity. Some may argue that, why should we be nice about it if someone is lying. A lie is a lie regardless of the reasoning behind it. That is true but not a principle I adopt. Coming back to the example I gave about the stranger in the restaurant. He visited the restaurant almost everyday of the week and spent hours at the restaurant, only leaving when we close for the night. My first inference would be that he lives alone, does not have a sociable lifestyle and works in a certain field. However, I did not feel that is a respectful thing to say. Simply because of the negative implications it has. I found out later, the impressions I had were true. Perhaps, one of the reasons psychologists reserve their opinions is to signify respect to others. As a psychologist I feel that we have a duty to offer due regard to another individual especially with the impact they perceive we have.

Can Psychologists Read People’s Minds? |


Counselling Psychology? How?

Since I updated my status to the current university and degree, people have questioned me about my choice. Why another degree? Why this subject?

It does seems like I have been in education forever. At times I have hoped to get a proper full time paid job which offers me stability. Rather than unsociable part-time works coupled with taxing demands of a full time education leaving me with a virtually nonexistent social life. I have watched with jealousy my friends in the finance, law or engineering industry climbed up the career ladder, successfully earning and affording. Well, you’re probably asking, with all these discontentment in mind- Why don’t I just switch career path? That is a question I have asked myself numerous times. Considering my best subjects at high school and college had always been accountancy, economics…basically finance related. Switching into the mental health sector have been a radical and admittedly an experimental decision. Nonetheless, 6 years down the road I have not regretted nor even think about quitting.

Having said that BPS (British Psychological Society) quoted an average of 7 years to be a professional psychologist, 6 years have passed for me and I’m only at the beginning of my qualifying degree which by the way lasts for 3 years ie. a total of 9 years. However, I studied in a Scottish university which means 4 years to get an undergraduate degree, 1 year out for work experience, 1 year for counselling skills training (which is pre-requisite for most if not all doctoral level training programmes albeit it could be a shorter one) and at the 7th year I’m in a doctoral programme. You can see that I haven’t wasted much time considering the work experience you have to obtain too prior to entering the final throw of the HPC (Health Professions Council) system. Therefore, 7 years seems like a very optimistic figure. Also, if that is the average figure, it suggests that most people who achieved chartered status only had this one aim in their further education path!


Let me start with some background info

So what is it about being a professional psychologist that takes such a long time?; counselling psychology not excluded. In the UK, psychological related fields are regulated by BPS (British Psychological Society) and HPC (Health Professions Council). There are 9 possible areas to specialised in to become a chartered psychologist;

For more information on each category please click on the one you’re interested in which will bring you to its official description on BPS’s website. There are other positions that ends with the title psychologists however the list presented above are the only ones that are recognised by the HPC. For the purpose of this post, I will concentrate on counselling psychology.


As you can see, the route to calling yourself a counselling psychologist is to undertake an accredited doctoral training programme or through the independent route (which involves a lot more self regulating). To put it simply, for me the fundamental difference between counselling psychology and other fields like accountancy for example is the location of training. Graduates enter a multinational company (not necessarily, but for simplicity sake) as a graduate trainee/recruit and they are trained on site and depending on performance goes for career advancing exams such as ACCA. This is similar to the principles of clinical psychology training whereby trainees are employed by the NHS (National Health Service). However, counselling psychology is less established than clinical psychology thus receive less funding therefore most if not all courses are self-funded. Also, clinical psychology trainees train (paid) in NHS clinical and community settings exclusively whereas counselling psychologists have the choice to train (unpaid) in NHS settings, charitable or private settings.

You probably wonder then, why not train to be a clinical psychologist since you get paid on training whereas counselling psychologist don’t? I have once aspired to be a clinical psychologist but I concede that it is extremely difficult to get onto the course. The success rate for the year 2010 was 21% ie. 1 in 5 applicants obtained a place. These figures are drawn from Clearing House, the central body responsible for processing applications for clinical psychology. Unfortunately there isn’t a central body for counselling psychology and we make applications to individual universities therefore numbers can’t be obtained. I’m aware that for my current university, the professional tutors reported a total applications of about 80 of which about 40 obtained an interview and 20 were accepted onto the programme ie. 25% chance. Higher probabilities there.

It is also the case that in the UK, they do not accept international applicants as their main aim is to “to train clinical psychologists to work in the UK on a long term basis“. Therefore this has been a very big discouragement for me if not the initial defining criteria for me to opt out of this career path. I have personally clarified this with the Clearing House before and the international applicants they were considering were in the process of applying for permanent residency. There wasn’t any chance of me applying for permanent residency yet even though I intend to stay in the UK as I feel at home here having spent most of my teenage life here. The only option I have was to leave or consider other fields. Counselling came into mind.

End of part 1



Proudly powered by WordPress
Theme: Esquire by Matthew Buchanan.