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. 

Video assessment

The time has finally come for the first assessment of my course. Nothing too new, have done this before on the counselling certificate course. A 20 minutes video-taped interview/session. Although having done a few on the certificate course, this time around it’s so much scarier. There’re few microphones around the room to pick up sound, few cameras to make sure the client and therapist can be observed from all directions and occasionally the camera zooms in to capture expressions (All these just made me more certain of my resolution to lose weight). All in all, I feel like I’m a horrible counsellor. Seems to have missed so much of what the client said and I do not acknowledge the complexity of client’s story enough! Urgh, I kick myself mentally watching the playback. I need to demonstrate that I am being with the client! Knowing that in my mind without letting the client know doesn’t move the therapeutic relationship forward! The client needs to know that I’m understanding what they’re saying! But then again, I see some good points in the video. Well, I’ll give my best shot on writing up the video assessment report and see how it goes.

Placement finally!

As the title suggests, I got a placement! Not in a NHS setting as I have expected, nonetheless I am equally excited to start at this place.

The services that this centre offer is based around helping individuals get back into work. Our role as counselling psychology trainee here is to provide therapy for those who needed support to seek employment. There are different departments within the centre that offers training in employment such as upholstery, horticulture, IT etc. It’ll be so exciting to learn more about these different departments. It’ll also be interesting to see the effects of being in work for vulnerable individuals- how it affects their self esteem. It is very meaningful to stimulate people by helping them find a sense of purpose in life through work. It is also economically efficient by reducing the unemployment gap. I am very much looking forward to working there. Although I’m afraid of seeing my first client! It’s like finally putting things to practice!

I look forward to working with my supervisor too. He seems like a person who is open to discussion and willing to impart his experience and knowledge without devaluing others. I think this allows greater room for exploration of the different issues that will come up in my practice.

The start of a new ‘year’ and some survival tips

September for most people signify a new chapter in their life. Going into university or starting a new year after the summer break. For me, I don’t form my resolutions on New Year, it has always been before the start of an academic year; what I plan to achieve, who I plan to impress, how much weight I plan to lose (:P), where I plan to be by next September etc. This year is no different.

I am finally entering the beginning of the last stage of my long education haul. It is enormously exciting and perplexing. This is it. Studying and working professionally in what I have strived for all these years. I know a few friends too who are entering their qualifying professional degrees this year as well and we share together a sense of having persisted with our dreams and achieved it. This is especially true with one friend of mine whom I went to university with, we have always talked about what kind of work experience we should get, if it’s even worth it, or how long it’ll take us if we even get there. Nostalgia.

On a lighter note, here are some survival tips! It’s for anyone who would be embarking on a new academic year. (extract from ‘When you’re the new kid in school’ :

  • Remember that the new place will give you a new chance.For at least the first day, you’re exotic. Especially in a school where there isn’t much coming and going, you’re someone special. Yes, it’s true you left what is familiar. But the new place is also a new opportunity. Nobody knows who you are, who you hung out with, or what to expect from you. If you didn’t quite like who you are or the reputation you had, you have a chance to start over. If you did like it, you can take that confidence with you and make a big splash.
  • Get oriented. If at all possible, visit the school before school starts. It’s hard enough to start over without also getting lost all the time. Ask your folks to arrange a tour. Figure out where the principal’s office is and how to get to the library. Ask for a map of the layout of the school. No time for this? Well, asking for directions is one way to begin to get to know people.
  • Do a little research. Get on the Internet and find out about the school. There’s probably a website. If there isn’t one for the school, look for the town’s site. You can find out about sports teams and events. You can learn what clubs are active and how the teams are doing. You can even check out what is usually served for lunch.
  • Take the time to assess. When you’re lonely, it’s tempting to grab onto whoever grabs you. But you want to take the time to look things over and figure out who’s who. As you know, as soon as you start hanging with a particular group, it will be hard to change your mind.
  • Dress for the group you want to join. For most teens, clothes are code for who you are. Wear a clean, neat, but kind of neutral outfit the first day. Get up in time to shower and do your hair. Jeans are generally fine as long as they’re clean and not flashy. Presenting yourself neutrally the first few days gives you time to figure out the informal rules for dress among the students. Once you’ve got it down, you can dress to fit in with the group you want to accept you.
  • Avoid cafeteria stress the first day. Pack a lunch so you don’t have to stand in line wondering whether to accept someone’s invitation to join their table or, worse, to have to walk the long mile in front of everyone to an empty table. Confidently sit on the edge and watch for a few days. Sit in a way that broadcasts confidence. You’re not a reject. You’re taking the time to think about who you’ll choose to be with.
  • Introduce yourself to teachers. First impressions do matter and you want to make a good one. Try to get to classes a bit early or to stay a few minutes after class to introduce yourself and to tell them where you’re from. A few minutes of politeness will get things off on the right foot.
  • Join something. A fast way to get to know some people is to join a team, a club, the band, a service organization, or student activities. People who share the same interests are likely your kind of people. Even if you don’t make real friends at first, you’ll learn some people’s names and you’ll have a few people to say hi to in the halls.
  • Take charge. Once you’ve got an idea who you want to meet, it’s up to you. Take a deep breath, pull up your big boy or big girl pants and start introducing yourself. Set a goal of meeting at least one new person a day. Say hello to the person who sits next to you in English class. Strike up a conversation with the person who has the locker next to yours. Remember – people like to talk about themselves. Think of a couple of questions you can ask each person and the conversation will take off almost by itself.
  • Keep but don’t retreat to old friends. Skype and Facebook and Twitter and texting and email and even the phone can let you stay in touch with old friends. That’s all good. But it can also be quicksand. If you let yourself spend hours and hours communicating with old friends, you’ll make it less likely that you’ll find new ones. By staying so connected to people who live hours away, you might keep yourself lonely in your own backyard

Full reference: Hartwell-Walker, M. (2011). When You’re the New Kid in School. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 5, 2011, from

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