The theoretical inconsistencies discussed in the previous two posts (here and here) inevitably leave practicing counsellors in a difficult position. If they followed the theoretical frameworks as these are posited, they would not be able to counsel people.
In transactional analysis, if the script is really ready by the early school years and it is so powerful that it directs concrete and distinct behaviours for an entire life, counselling would have very little chance to change the script or counsellors would have to be omnipotent and infallible. Since there are no special mothers to give birth to omnipotent and infallible counsellors, the counsellor has to reject or at least put aside the most fundamental assumptions of transactional analysis (and use it as a communication technique rather than a counselling one).
If the actualising tendency is autonomous and the blockages to it derive from interaction with the society asRogersstated, then the healthy person should withdraw from the society either directly (becoming a hermit) or indirectly (the actualising tendency is in incognito – showing a mask to the society or being a non-conformist). Thus counsellors have to put aside the most fundamental category of person-centred counselling if they want to work with the client.
In Gestalt Therapy if needs have a predetermined hierarchy and these are in conflict with the behaviour displayed by the client, the only answer counselling could have is to change the client’s personality in order to match the hierarchy of needs and then help the person to establish the Gestalt in this new structure. However, this would contradict to the basic assumption of the autonomy and the individuality of the client, hence the counsellor, to work with the client, has to ignore the theoretical foundation of Gestalt Therapy.
Not having a theory as a support to their practice, counsellors have to turn to themselves to find some basis to their practice: their own experiences and their own ethics. While experience is very important as skills have to be at a dexterity level in counselling, the incoherence between theory and practice deprives the skills from the reference point: the systematic, constructed knowledge.
This is how the ethics of the counsellor becomes the basis, the reference point. No doubt that the key attribute of the therapy is the genuine helping intention on the side of the therapist based on empathy, hence ethics is central. However, theoretical inconsistencies could cause confusions even in this. Let us show this on the example of the theory of person-centred counselling.
I want to emphasise that these are the logical outcomes of the carelessness with which Rogers approached theory and not how he actually applied person centred counselling. Nevertheless, it is important as counselling students still have to memorise Rogers’s theoretical framework and as critical reflections on the fundamentals are actively discouraged, it has a latent effect on the practice.
Rogers defined unconditional positive regard in two ways. Firstly as a utilitarian principle:
‘A high degree of unconditional positive regard was likewise associated with the more successful cases.’ (Rogers, 1967, p. 48-49).
Here he acknowledges the possibility of different degrees of unconditional positive regard in the counselling process; and he interpreted it as an effective way to achieve success. However,Rogersgave a very different definition elsewhere:
‘The third conditions is that the therapist experiences a warm caring for the client – a caring which is not possessive, which demands no personal gratification… Standal has termed this attitude “unconditional positive regard”, since it has no conditions of worth attached to it.” (Rogers, 1967, pp. 282-283).
Here unconditional positive regard is defined as essential and necessary to the therapy. But what is it? Rogersdescribes unconditional positive regard explicitly as an attitude and not as a method or a technique (Rogers, 1951, p. 25), as a chosen philosophy (Rogers, 1951, p. 22), or to put a proper name to it: a moral, ethical obligation. It is a moral choice made by the counsellor. This then opens Pandora ’s Box:
Why should the counsellor choose this moral stance? Are there other ethical choices? Could those be different, better, more efficient than unconditional positive regard?
What is the relationship between the two definitions of unconditional positive regard? As a moral obligation, it should be unconditional, but as a utilitarian principle it cannot be such. Is it morally right to use unconditional positive regard when there is low level of it?
If unconditional positive regard is utilitarian, it has to be conditional, hence it cannot be a necessary condition of the therapy.
If unconditional positive regard is independent of the goal of the therapy, it cannot be a moral obligation.
These contradictions can be resolved only in one way. As the unconditional positive regard as a moral obligation is independent of the attributes of the therapeutic situation, thus, from the perspective of the therapist, the therapy itself becomes a moral action. It is correct only if it is the interest of the client that the therapist uses unconditional positive regard.
This is unsustainable, because therapy can be unsuccessful. The unconditional positive regard as a moral obligation in unsuccessful therapies is unimportant from the perspective of the therapy as it fails to deliver. The unconditional positive regard is a moral obligation from the point of view of the therapist, but it is immoral from the client’s view as for the client the therapy is defined by its success. If the unconditional positive regard is a utilitarian principle, then success is crucial, consequently it ceases to be a moral obligation on the therapist – it becomes a technique.
When Rogers defined the unconditional positive regard as a necessary and sufficient condition of therapy, he attempted to unify the two aspects: the unconditional positive regard is a moral obligation that delivers results. With this the problem seems to disappear, because the therapy itself is a moral act – unconditional positive regard defines the particular therapeutic relationship. This means that at the deepest level unconditional positive regard and therapy are one and the same.
But the problem only seems to disappear. If therapy is a moral act, then the unconditional regard abolishes the unique characteristics of the particular therapeutic situation, thus it is immoral as it defines the therapy exclusively from the therapist’s perspective, while this perspective is arbitrary because success is not relevant to this. Thus therapy as a moral act becomes immoral. If unconditional positive regard is a utilitarian principle, a method (or using Rogers’s term: as an implementation), unconditional positive regard cannot be regarded as essential to the therapeutic process, it cannot be a moral obligation and if the therapist insists on it, it becomes immoral. The problem is evident in the following passage from Rogers:
‘To me it appears that only as the therapist is completely willing that any outcome, any direction may be chosen – only then does he realize that vital strength of the capacity and potentiality of the individual for constructing action. It is as he is willing for death to be the choice, that life is chosen; for neuroticism to be the choice, that a healthy normality is chosen. (Rogers, 1951, p. 49)
Rogers here ignores the content of the client’s choice – he is interested only in the act of choice and therefore, his attitude (that he allows the client to choose anything) justifies (or can justify) anything. On the other hand Rogersalso defined people by their choice (in particular, the fully functioning person). The theoretical and logical inconsistencies led to an anti-theoretical stance: the therapy depends on the ethics of the therapist and this ethic (the unconditional positive regard) is omnipotent: if the therapist shows unconditional positive regard, the client will choose life, health. This faith becomes now the cornerstone of person-centred therapy and all the theoretical categories of actualising tendency, organismic self, the locus of evaluation are superfluous from the perspective of the therapy – they are communication tools to create respectability in academia.
But because of this faith the noble values and ideals that unconditional positive regard claims to be as the only way for a successful therapy is only a thin veil of haughtiness of the therapist and his moral.
With this the unconditional positive regard destroyed the concrete meaning, the purpose, the content of the therapeutic relationship – now therapy is for the therapist convenience: he is deus ex machina who, hypocritically, finds moral satisfaction in acting as such. With this, person centred counselling turned against its own principles: it is not for the client, but for the therapist, it is not for cultivating the personality of the client, but satisfying the egoistic needs of the therapist. Helping the client is important only as much as it helps the therapist and the approach in the market competition for income against other service providers.
Clearly Rogers and person-centred counsellors do not follow these logical consequences resulting from the incoherence in the construction of Rogers’s theory – in their practice they interpret unconditional positive regard as acceptance of the situation and the client that needs helping.
Here at CTPDC in our courses we follow this latter interpretation of the therapeutic relationship. For us the moral obligation of the therapy derives from the fact that it is a helping profession, its function is healing. The primary aim of the therapy is to reduce the suffering of the client. This is the condition of the healing process, although not necessarily as a separate phase. It is possible that the therapist cannot “cure” the client, but by reducing the suffering the therapist makes humane life possible for the client.
This attitude requires a high degree of consciousness. It requires the therapist to live a life in which he is conscious of his relationships and the tensions of his own life and – even more have to be able to manage these effectively. The counsellor consciously has to give up the urge of coming from the therapeutic relationship to have power over life of the client and he has to suppress the voyeuristic joy coming from the ability of peeping in the deepest secrets of the clients’ life. These conditions will provide stability, honesty, clarity and consciousness for the therapeutic process, or to use the term of person-centred counselling, it will support congruence and open the way to genuine helping.