It is about me as I rejoice at the privilege of being
a midwife to a new personality—as I stand by with awe at the emergence of a
self, a person, as I see a birth process in which I have had an important and
facilitating part. – Carl Rogers (On Becoming a Person).
Counseling is something we all engage in. Aware or unaware, we help others to ease their burden. When it comes to professional counseling, some are trained to facilitate good mental health with the least amount of damage. Counselors, being human, are not perfect. We make mistakes but the trained counselor knows if and when a mistake happens. Although the counselor becomes aware of the mistake, not everyone acknowledges it. Or apologizes. This is where a distinction could be drawn between a counselor who themselves are on a journey of self-development and one who is not.
Carl Rogers didn’t have much to say about counselors who hid behind a façade of professionalism. He thought they lacked self-development. For Carl Rogers, congruence meant being true and genuine, being your true self. He said in his book – On Becoming a Person, “In my relationships with persons I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.” Now some of us may be experts, but we are not experts on somebody else’s life. During his years at the Child Study
Department of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, in Rochester, NY, Carl Rogers realized something very profound while treating a pyromaniac – the possibility that there were mistakes in authoritative teachings, and that there was still new knowledge to discover!
In the course of counseling, we come up with similar experiences. The theories we were taught don’t seem to work. What then? Do we leave our client, who is pregnant with the capacity to transform but is stuck because of our resolute determination to stick to protocol? Our mission is to help give birth to a new personality. Our client is ready – that is why they are in the counseling room talking to a therapist. But are we ready to abandon authoritative teachings and be congruent, empathic and willing to offer unconditional positive regard? Carl Rogers believed that these core conditions were sufficient to transform a person. That is not to say that later developments of Behavioral Therapies do not play a role in their healing, but he tells us that the core conditions are a necessary tool and foundation on which to build a trusting relationship with the client without which, the therapy will not come into successful fruition.
When we think of facilitating the birth of a new personality, we think of the immense influence one might need to have on another in order to effect such a change. How does a counselor do it? Let’s explore the core conditions a little further.
Contemplating on how best to treat a client, Carl Rogers thought, “How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth?” (On Becoming a Person) I am amazed at that line of thinking. A model relationship between client and therapist, which the client can use to mold and strengthen their own personal relationships outside of therapy!
Upon realizing that change comes to a person through experience in a relationship and not through intellectual dueling, Carl Rogers posited in order to effect such a change, the therapist should offer a genuine and real relationship to the client. Thus the core condition, ‘congruence’. He said that “It is only by providing the genuine reality which is in me, that the other person can successfully seek for the reality in him.”
Carl Rogers used some very specific words when he described Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathy – the other two core conditions. He said, “the more acceptance and liking I feel toward this individual, the more I will be creating a relationship which he can use”, and, “that I feel a continuing desire to understand—a sensitive empathy…”. Now we face a problem. How do we, as counselors, learn to ‘feel’ these things? Can it be taught? No. Can it be learned? No. You feel something or you don’t, isn’t it? This is where the counselor realizes that this journey involves a heavy dose of self-development. We are in a place where we need to feel good things for our clients, to be non-judgemental and accepting. But how do we do it, if we are opinionated, have pride in speaking our mind, believe thoroughly that we need to weed out toxic people from our lives? Quite lovely traits of modern-day social media psychology. But will these personality traits help us model a kind and accepting relationship with our clients? Very unlikely. We will be gritting our teeth while nodding our heads in apparent agreement to a client’s perception which is far from desirable to our own views. There is no way we will feel liking and acceptance towards a client.
And so, this is the reason we are on a journey of self-awareness and self-development ourselves. Feeling empathy and unconditional positive regard is an attitude or an attribute of the personality. We need to open up before we ask a client to do so. We need to heal ourselves of ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ before we ask a client to do so. The genuineness in us is the key that unlocks the heart of the client to trust and build confidence in therapy. That is why, as a counselor, I believe it is our duty towards our clients to receive therapy ourselves whenever we feel we may be sliding towards hiding behind a façade of ‘professionalism or ‘expertise’. There are little clues that we can watch out for: our tone becomes authoritative, we start using directives often, we rationalize with a display of logical thinking, we resort to offering practical solutions.
As long as we keep a picture in our mind that we, as Carl Rogers wrote, are like a midwife aiding the birth of a new personality, I believe we will have created for ourselves a goalpost or a safe place that we can always turn to when we feel the therapy is not going in the preferred direction. What is important is not our intellectual ability to steer the client in the direction we want them to go, but to understand where the client wants to go and model for them the compassionate and accepting relationship that they can use to get to their own destination.
Read more about Core Conditions here.