Counselling and the spirit

People from many different spiritual backgrounds, and from none have found great resonance with the Person Centred approach.

It was developed from the positive premise that we all have the ability to fulfil our greatest potential in any given circumstances.

That includes the lifting and expanding of the spirit as well as increasing appreciation of our own lives and experiences, accomplishing practical tasks and achieving goals.

People have often emerged from difficulties having grown in understanding, having developed emotionally and sometimes spiritually as a result of the wisdom which was previously hidden from view, but inherent in their painful experiences. Sometimes going through those difficulties can open new avenues of understanding, in unexpected ways, on previously unrealised levels of experience.

Interconnecting ripples

Spiritual traditions across the world and throughout time have had different understandings of psychological unease, its causes and relief. The Person Centred approach can encompass many frameworks of thought and belief. This is especially focused on  how YOU make sense of your own experience, whatever that may be and also allows for changes, new insights and new awareness.

Therefore I can accept clients on any spiritual journey, including any new ones they may encounter along the way of counselling, and any existing spiritual crises that they want to bring to counselling.

The Person Centred approach was founded in the 20th century by Dr. Carl Rogers, an academic and Psychologist who undertook decades of scientific research and practice to discover what was best for clients’ outcomes. It is therefore surprising somehow that the Person Centred approach has been found to enhance the spiritual experiences of Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and those of other beliefs; and people who feel very connected to nature or any forms of universal love, and of course atheists and people who haven’t had any spiritual background.

There is something of the universality of the approach which allows for the most personal and individual experiences to emerge. Sometimes those can be made sense of in a spiritual framework. They don’t have to be. Everything is centred around the individual client and their sense of their own experience. It can be a successful and satisfying psychological or emotional journey.

The founder of the Person Centred approach Dr. Carl Rogers had many personal, professional and spiritual influences throughout his own life.

Rogers had started his life as a Christian, even studying theology before changing to a scientific model at University.  After decades of scientific research and practice in psychotherapy, with many influencers, he became interested in Zen in his later years.

Dr Carl Rogers
Dr Carl Rogers

Rogers used strict scientific research methods to develop his theories. What he discovered and developed strongly challenged the psychological status quo then, which was that the professional psychologist, as expert, must “know what is best” for the “patient.” However Rogers noticed by carefully listening to his  “patients” that they often knew more about how to unravel their issues than he, the “expert” did, and that they could actualise their own potential given the right conditions for growth. So he developed those conditions which the therapist provides as fertile ground for the client to flourish to their best possible potential.

Radically, Rogers followed his clients’ own view of their experiences, and developed the Person Centred model of therapy to help them to develop their own actualisation of potential.

This was radical as it was in direct opposition to the “expert and patient” models being practised, and was very unpopular with experts, at first. Now Rogers approach, to some extent, lies at the heart of almost every modern therapy practice today, including psychoanalytical. The Person Centred approach that I use is very close to the Rogers own practice. (Some subsequent research, e.g. into PTSD, has altered some aspects to talking therapies).

Rogers’s scientific observations were also often based on the natural world, he had lived on a farm. He noticed a potato in a dark basement striving for existence by sending tendrils towards the light of the window. Despite not having any soil or water – the conditions for growth – to sustain it, the potato still attempted to actualise itself as a reproducing plant.

Rogers worked from the principle  hat all living things have a tendency to ‘actualise’ their fullest potential in any given environment. This is also a radically positive attitude of human nature which hadn’t previously been part of the received psychological models, and it is central to the empathic and compassionate form of the Person Centred approach.  

Many people in psychological crisis and distress have been able to make sense of their experiences through the gentle and non-judgemental nature of the Person Centred approach.

Many have found it helpful that there are no “diagnoses” such as are used by the medical models of psychology and psychiatry. People can therefore re-frame their experiences as they wish, for positive change and growth, and choose not to completely identify with symptoms, diagnoses or terminology from the medical models which belong to this particular culture, at this particular time.

There is no suggestion that medications or medical diagnoses should be abandoned. Rather the client in counselling  has the choice to frame their experiences in a more personal and individual way as they may wish. There is a choice to use different terminology or none at all, but to live an experience rather than judge or label it.

In embracing your own experience as valid and central to your growth,  you can learn to trust yourself and your perceptions, navigate your own paths, all within the person centred framework.

The Person Centred approach can honour and include your new experiences and meanings, which may be ongoing as you continue to expand your life experience and its meaning for you. As you gradually grow your own way and let go of unhelpful ideas often imposed by other people or their actions towards you, your own spirit can slowly lift and expand as you gain psychological strength and self-confidence. The psychological pain often dissipates in this process, just as the light of a single candle eliminates the darkness. Only you can find the place where your light is lit, but I can help you look for it.

Matt Licata puts this beautifully,  “We must discover for ourselves the most skilful, effective, and compassionate ways to open and enter into the body, psyche, and heart. No one can tell you what the right way is for you. No one can know ahead of time the places where the light will enter.
The hero or heroine’s journey is individual by nature, requiring experiential, primary experience; a collective spirituality will never meet the longing within. While there are many mentors and guides that appear as grace along the way, the true teacher will always point you back into your own uniqueness.

Some leading lights of the person centred academic world have written about their own spiritual traditions and experiences:

Brian Thorne speaks of his own spiritual experience through his immersion in Christianity. He described a discovery that he, “together with all humanity, is infinitely desirable to God. This is despite his own frequent experience of himself as undesirable. His conviction is that negative self-judgements and lack of self-worth conceal us from this truth.”

Buddhist correlations have been explored by Campbell Purton in his Deep Structure of The Core Conditions, and more generally he has looked into The Spiritual Implications of Unconditional Positive Regard.

I can teach and support non-religious mindfulness meditation techniques as an adjunct to counselling, if appropriate.