It’s not one thing
There are many approaches to therapeutic counselling and these are based on different models of the human mind and present different forms of intervention to effect therapy. Some counsellors are purely devoted to a single approach, while others have a more eclectic style, utilising various interventions drawn from a mix of approaches.
My own approach to counselling, however, is integrative. This means that through studying many theories regarding the human condition and therapeutic intervention I strive to develop an overarching “theory of theories” in order to better allow me to work with the whole humanity of the person.
My approach is broadly humanistic and person centred and integrates existential philosophy; gestalt therapy; psychodynamic counselling; transactional analysis; developmental psychology; creative therapy; and ideas of social construction, especially around gender, sexuality and shame.
My approach is not fixed and I am constantly learning and integrating ideas and theories into my way of working with clients.
Humanistic psychology holds that a person’s behaviour is mainly influenced by the ways in which they see and understand the world around them. Even so, humanistic psychology does not suggest that people are merely products of their environment, and instead believes that individuals have an internal motivation to fulfill their potential. Humans have an awareness which leads to conscious deliberation as they seek meaning in their lives. A personal identity results from how an individual seeks that meaning.
Person centred counselling
Person Centred approaches to counselling can be traced back to Dr Carl Rogers who held the belief that when it comes to psychological and emotional distress it is the client who knows best, who knows what their pain is, and who will be able to find a way forward if given the right environment within which to do so. In this sense Person Centred approaches are non-directive and the counsellors role is to strive to provide that environment which is most conducive to growth. Dr Rogers suggested three core conditions that are required to create that environment: genuineness or congruence on behalf of the counsellor; an offering of unconditional positive regard and total acceptance towards the client; and to both feel and to effectively communicate a deep, empathic understanding of the client. If these conditions are present to a full enough extent the client’s own tendency towards growth will be unhindered by the therapeutic relationship.
Existential philosophy suggests that the world within which we live is a subjective interpretation of reality rather than an objective reality. Even when we speak of objective truth, that which is agreed as being true by peers (such is in the world of scientific discovery), existential philosophers would suggest that this is in fact an inter-subjective truth, an intersection of many individual subjective truths, rather than an actual objective truth, as we can never truly step out of our subjective realities to observe the objective. Existential philosophy is to do with ‘being’ and ‘meaning’, and understands that each individual experiences a unique existence without a fundamental or intrinsic meaning. This, then, requires that each individual strives to discover meaning within their existence. From a therapeutic point of view existential philosophy can, amongst other things, ask questions about what it is that gives meaning to an individual’s existence, and allow new answers to develop if needed.
Gestalt is a German word with a very specific meaning: a complete form which is comprised of many parts in specific patterns of interactivity and relationship, and which cannot be described or understood by the qualities of the individual parts outside of the whole form. In order to get an idea of what this may mean we could think of a piece of music: the individual notes in the music form the music by their placement within a pattern and the ways in which they interact and relate with each other, and yet we could not understand the music by hearing the individual notes outside of the music itself. In Gestalt Psychology a person’s experience is seen as similar and is described as a flow of experience. The ‘here and now’ is important in Gestalt approaches to therapy, as although the influence may have origins in the past its influence is in the here and now. Working with a therapist trained in such a way we can attempt to complete ‘unfinished business’ from the past, and reduce the influence of past events on our perception of the flow of experience.
Psychodynamic counselling has its roots in psychoanalysis and for me the most important element of this approach is what is termed transference. Transference is said to occur when aspects of ourselves or our past experiences of others are experienced as being expressed by another person in the present, regardless of whether or not that other person is expressing them. For example, we may experience a female counsellor behaving in ways similar to our mother. Transference of aspects of ourselves onto others is known as projection, and often these are parts of ourselves which we have not accepted. For example, we may find others very judgemental, and yet this may be a projection of our own judgemental attitudes which we find unacceptable. As a therapist it is important for me to recognise my own transference in order to pick out what I am bringing into the therapy room from that which my client is bringing.
I will, as this page develops, outline the approaches and ideas above in order that a better understanding of my integrative approach can be had.