I trained for an Advanced Diploma in Integrative Counselling at The Iron Mill Institute, Exeter. I learned various theories in order to choose which worked for me as a person, to be able to deliver effectively as a therapist.
Relationship-driven rather than theory-driven, it is my personal philosophy, honed from experiencing both sides of the therapeutic relationship, that the potency of the therapy is in the quality of the relationship between client and counsellor.
Person Centred Counselling
The model closely fitting this philosophy is called person-centred counselling devised in the 1940’s by Carl Rogers. Rogers was influenced by post-Freudian concepts in psychotherapy and believed that a reliance on theory could lead to a situation where the therapist attempted to fit or mould a client into a preconceived cognitive structure rather than engaging in the client’s world as he or she experienced it. (1) He researched what clients said worked for them, and the conditions required to enable their personal development. One of the main concepts that he drew from the research was the requirement of certain “core conditions” which he refers to as congruence ( honesty, authenticity), unconditional positive regard (a nonjudgmental and wholly accepting attitude to the client) and empathy.
Rogers believed that with the right conditions a client will move towards self-actualisation “the curative force in psychotherapy - man's tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities...”. (Rogers 1961)
Regarded as the cornerstones for the person-centred approach, it is my belief that these core conditions are powerful when they are part of the therapist’s way of being in relationship. This is a philosophy, not a technique.
I appreciate the continuing development of the approach which keeps it fresh and relevant. Modern person-centred counselling places the emphasis on relational depth:
“...a state of profound contact between two people, in which each person is fully real with the other and able to understand and value the other’s experiences at a high level” (Mick Cooper 2005)
I believe that the person-centred approach can be very powerful, more so than more didactic approaches as I believe that a person’s own realisations run much deeper than anything they are told. Knowing something cognitively is one thing, whereas feeling it and believing it fundamentally, knowing it in one’s self is where real change lies. I help my clients to move towards this deeper understanding, this wisdom.
The existential approach is about considering the difficulties we as human beings face simply by being alive. It covers underlying anxieties around our fears of dying, concerns around life's meaning, fear of our responsibility of choice and the fundamental loneliness that some of us feel. There are no easy answers here but exploring these factors can help clients feel less alone and often gives a sense of relief. More details about the existential approach can be found here.
For specific, more focused work I utilise elements of REBT - Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy - which predates Aaron Beck's Cognitive Behavioral Therapy by a decade. It is still very popular in the States but in the UK we seem to have got caught up in the research and efficacy of CBT, perhaps at the expense of other equally valid and valuable approaches. REBT is similar to CBT but has more depth and looks at the whole person. I value the philosophy behind the approach. I wrote a short piece on the comparison of CBT and REBT here. I wrote an article on my struggles with pure CBT here.
Transactional Analysis (TA)
I often use TA as it is a very useful and simple framework for understanding relationship dynamics. It not only helps highlight dysfunctional ways that we relate to others (or they to us) but also any issues in our relationship with ourselves. This is at the heart of much of the work I do, particularly with depression, anxiety and addictions.
Where appropriate to the work, I draw on Gestalt techniques as well my knowledge of NonViolent Communication and Myers-Briggs personality testing. These are extremely useful tools to help clients gain differing perspectives about their relationships and situations.
Occasionally I use creative interventions when clients may be stuck in their process and require something different to talking therapy to access their emotions. This might be sandtray work, visualisations, drawing or writing to help the individual in their process. This is all done with discussion and agreement beforehand.
(1) Thorne, B, Carl Rogers Sage Publications 2006