Many clients are curious about the different therapy approaches out there, and you might choose to do your own research to try to identify which is right for you. It can be hard to find clear and concise information about complicated, jargon-filled theory online. There are so many acronyms! It might comfort you to know that the evidence strongly suggests that the biggest indicator of the effectiveness of therapy is the relationship between the client and therapist; that, actually, the therapists’ approach has less to do with how effective therapy is going to be. However, you might still want to know about what model your therapist is working with. Here’s my explanation of what my core approach, person-centred therapy, involves.
Person-centred, sometimes called ‘client-centred’, therapy sits within the wider umbrella of humanistic therapy. The other umbrellas are psychodynamic (including Freud and the classic psychoanalysis often depicted in film and TV, such as in sitcom Frasier) and behaviourism (which includes CBT, widely used in the NHS). Humanistic therapy emphasises the unique nature of being human, and holds the belief that people are fundamentally, innately, good.
Person-centred therapy was pioneered by American psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1950s, and the basic tenet is: we know deep down what is good for us, and what we need, and in the right conditions we will flourish and reach our potential. However, life events and other limiting factors get in the way and hinder our progress. A supportive and nurturing therapy relationship can provide the right environment for us to reconnect with our needs and to step back and identify what will help us meet them.
So what does that actually look like?
The person-centred model positions you as the client as the expert on your experience and choosing what to bring to therapy. My role is to help you explore the things you find difficult and to create a relationship in which we can be curious together about what is going on for you. This allows us to both step back from your immediate experience and to understand more clearly what is happening. From that perspective you think about what it might look like to do something differently, and start to choose that. I sometimes get clients expressing impatience with the process. This is not a quick fix. People can want answers, solutions, more obviously active input. Me sitting opposite them, nodding and reflecting things back might feel frustrating. It doesn’t always look like much is happening. However, being fully heard and witnessed in this way can be transformative. You are in the driving seat as the client. You choose what you want to talk about. This can be difficult and unnerving at first, and takes some getting used to.
Why do you use the person-centred approach?
The person-centred approach calls for therapists to be accepting, non-judgemental, and congruent (or genuine). This particularly speaks to me because of my experience of being LGBTQ+. Perhaps (I hope!) all therapists seek to meet their clients with acceptance, a lack of judgement and congruence. I see putting those conditions at the heart of the therapy relationship as a way of counterbalancing the experiences me and my clients can have out in the world. It offsets the discrimination we can encounter as a minority, the painful and discounting experience of not being seen. As queer people we are not accepted everywhere we go; far from it. To be accepted by your therapist, as your unique, glorious, complex full self is radical and essential to a supportive and effective therapy relationship. This is not about mere tolerance, but true acceptance, being cherished. LGBTQ+ people experience judgement and criticism frequently in subtle and overt ways, and for a therapist to meet you in a way that categorically aims to shrug off judgement can be a novel experience. Many members of this community have to hide parts of themselves growing up, and into adulthood. To have a therapist who models a congruent, genuine way of being and relating can encourage you as a client to be more authentically yourself too.
The person-centred approach is not for everyone, but I believe it has something to offer most of us. I hope this has given you a sense of what the approach is about- please get in touch if you’d like to arrange an initial assessment to see whether this could be right for you.