My Approach to Counselling
Summary: This page focuses on my philosophy and approach to therapy. This is based on the principle of honouring the individual and their unique point of view. There are no 'right answers', it is important to trust your own wisdom. On this page I explain why and how, describing some of the practicalities of my approach and how it gets the job done.
On this Page:
Reality as Individual as you are
Why there are 'no right answers' in life and why realising this will empower you
Maintaining your right to be Uniquely 'You'
The importance of the Core Conditions in therapy
My approach to helping - Integrative Therapy
Each individual sees something different whenever they look out into the world. Looking at clouds, one person perhaps sees a face, another sees cotton wool, whilst another perceives water vapour, thinks 'cumulo-nimbus' and perhaps the prospect of rain. We cannot escape the fact that we experience the world individually and react to it in subtly, or perhaps even very, different ways.
We each of us encounter the world in different ways. What we bring to that encounter depends on who we are, our physical make-up and what our past experiences have taught us to believe about the world. This isn't just a 'Venus & Mars' thing about the differences between large groups like men and women. I believe it is a fundamental truth about all of us -- we are individuals and no two people experience the world in the same way.
When an artist paints a picture it gives us a glimpse into his or her world as much as it represents a definitive 'reality'. Our inner worlds are full of these representations. Though valid to us, they are nevertheless representations of the external world, just as a painting is a representation of its subject. Therapy works with these 'representations'; you cannot change the world, only the way you perceive it, but long-held perceptions can at first seem rock solid and unchangeable. It is here that a good therapeutic relationship can be extremely valuable.
In many situations this isn't a problem because the differences between individual realities are not that great. For example, if two people look at a red plastic ball they will perhaps each see a slightly different shade of red. However, both will probably share the same concept of what a ball is and accept that the ball is 'red enough' for them to agree on the basic colour! Suppose one of them has been told he is 'colour blind' (a characteristic more common in men incidentally). In such a case there may be a difference of opinion about the colour. But which one of them is 'right?' I would argue that they both are! Each person has his or her own 'truth' and I feel it is important to honour this. This applies to everything we perceive. It applies, for example, to how we handle stress, how we judge what is 'right' and what is 'wrong', how we experience a person or how we react in a certain situation, for example, to conflict. Back to Top
If you accept this philosophy, as I do, then it has certain implications for the way you live. On the one hand there are no certainties, no 'privileged frames of reference'. In other words, no one can claim to know the truth -- they can only have their truth, which is, after all, merely an opinion. It may of course be an informed opinion borne of experience or great knowledge or extensive training. It might even be beneficial to you to hear and heed that opinion, but it is just an opinion, a perspective, one person's 'take' on things from where they stand. This of course impacts on the way I work; I seek to empower you to explore a number of perspectives, to increase your awareness (and hence your choices) and to trust in your own wisdom. Back to Top
The Freedom to be You
So, what I am saying is that there are no certainties about 'how to be', no 'right answers' and ultimately, it's all down to you! Sounds scary and yes, it can be when you think about it. Moreover, with this freedom, I believe, comes responsibility. On the other hand though, it also means that you have the freedom to be who you are. Because there are no fundamentally 'right' ways to do things it also means that you cannot 'get it wrong' either. OK, you can get it wrong for you but it is important not to live your life 'getting it right' for everyone else and not for yourself.
Maintaining your 'right to be uniquely you' isn't always easy. Many people encounter problems with this. For example, they may not be confident about who they are or what is important to them. Even if they are, past experiences or their upbringing may have led them to the conclusion that their views or feelings are somehow less important than those of other people. They may have problems with assertiveness (see Assertiveness for more info on this). Moreover, many parts of society can exert enormous pressure on us to 'fit in' or conform. There has probably never been a time in history when there is so much talk of 'individual freedoms' whilst at the same so many powerful messages from a multitude of media that tell us who we should be and how we should live. In other cases our sense of the world and they way it is may be less useful or less well adapted than it might be. Here, the individual has a view or a conviction that they hold strongly yet it doesn't really work all that well for them and they may end up unhappy, isolated or dysfunctional. It may once have worked well; for example, children who experience abuse often survive by withdrawing. This may have helped then but it is unlikely to work well as a strategy in adult life. As a counsellor my aim is to support you as you explore who you are, what it means to be you, to help you to discover the influences that shape your unique view of the world. My role can also involve helping you understand how your perspectives impact upon your response to a particularly troublesome problem, such as stress at work, anxiety or relationships, for example. Back to Top
The way in which I work draws, in part, on the work of Carl Rogers, a psychotherapist in the humanistic tradition who identified a number of factors (or 'conditions') that support and encourage the personal growth of the client in therapy. Paramount among these are the principles of acceptance, empathy and congruence (sometimes called genuineness). Together these three are often termed the 'core conditions'. Back to Top
Acceptance is vital if we are to explore all aspects of the situations you wish to discuss. My unconditional acceptance of you is a step towards you accepting yourself and also to you feeling safe enough to explore those parts of yourself that have become hidden, perhaps because they did not, or do not, meet with the approval of significant others in your life. Unconditional acceptance does not imply an acceptance of all attitudes or behaviours but rather, an acceptance of the person and my belief in their innate capacity for growth and good. Back to Top
Empathy is essentially my ability to 'step into' your world and see or feel things from your point of view. This helps me to understand your perspective and work more effectively with you, especially when I actively share my perceptions with you. It is different from sympathy, which is a passive and often unhelpful response to another person's distress. We perceive the world selectively and this can lead to a distortion of perception. My empathy is important in helping you to reclaim parts of your experiencing that you may unconsciously have come to deny. Empathy helps me to become aware of these important issues or feelings so that I can offer them to you to explore. For example, some clients have learned to habitually disregard their feelings of fatigue. Especially when coupled to a low valuing of their efforts, this can lead to them working much harder than they need to do, or than is good for their health, yet they may be literally unaware of their feelings around this. The problem they may present with isn't 'not taking care of myself' or 'working too hard' but 'stress at work', a 'sense of failure', 'lack of achievement' or 'depression'. Empathy helps us both become aware of the real issues and broadens your perspective on solving your problems. Back to Top
Congruence is another important condition in therapy. Congruence is sometimes called Genuineness. I believe it is best described as 'an agreement between what is on the inside and who we are on the outside'. I strive to be congruent myself. When with clients this communicates to them that 'it is OK to be who you are'. It is also important in an open and honest encounter like therapy where we are seeking to remove the deceits and misperceptions that we have learned to internalise as 'facts' about ourselves. In all aspects of life I believe that being honest with your Self and others, reduces the stress of living. Back to Top
Practitioners of Rogerian (or person centred) therapy believe that these core conditions (and others) are both necessary and sufficient for successful outcomes in therapy. My own view, developed subsequent to my first few years of training, is that they are necessary but not always sufficient, especially in short term or solution-focused work. My later training (at Master's degree level and beyond) was based on what is known as an 'integrative' approach. As the name suggests, this approach integrates a number of approaches to counselling and psychotherapy into an effective whole. I believe that this enables me to work in a way that is best suited to the client, to the situation they wish to address and within the time available.
It isn't that any one type of therapy is better than another overall, but some approaches are undoubtedly better in some situations. Each approach has its strengths and this is borne out by research and my own experience. There is more information on this, see Types of Therapy. Critics argue that an integrative approach can end up as a 'hotch potch' of often contradictory approaches. The integrative practitioner, say critics, can be 'jack of all trades and master of none'. It is important, I feel that the therapist has had appropriate training and is aware of the tensions between different approaches. His or her approach does need to be truly integrated and s/he needs to have developed a cohesive approach. Because of my training in several types of therapeutic approach, I believe this makes me an effective choice for clients in a wide variety of situations. However, it is important to recognise when a client will benefit from working with a specialist in a particular psychotherapeutic discipline. My own training, my continuing professional development and my awareness of developments in research, help me to judge when it is best to suggest specialist referral.
Other related pages:
Different Types of Therapy What are the choices available for anyone seeking counselling or psychotherapy? Is one type of therapy better than others for some types of problem?