As you can imagine, the answer to this is as complex and unique as each client, each counsellor and each relationship between the two, but here are some of the basic theories that inspire my work.
Person Centred theory
Carl Rogers (1951), the father of Person Centred therapy (my core training), described how our self-concept (who we are) forms as a child. What a child values comes partly from what they experience (running feels good, for example) and partly from what is acceptable to their family (for example you will only be loveable if you are happy). These values are felt as if they were the child’s own experience.
As the child grows up, new experiences are allowed into their self-concept, or if they don’t fit with the self-concept (for example they feel angry with their parent for not listening to them or sad about being left out at school) they are denied or twisted into an attempt at something more acceptable.
Psychological disturbance (most commonly depression and anxiety) is made up of this denial or twisting of things a person is genuinely experiencing, because these experiences don’t fit into ‘who I am’ or ‘what is acceptable’. Psychological wellness occurs when a person’s self-concept roughly matches how they actually feel and experience the world. In therapy we work towards finding this balance.
“Any situation which is inconsistent with the self-structure is likely to be perceived as a threat, but the therapeutic situation provides a safe setting in which all the client’s experiences can be examined, and the structure of the self becomes re-organised so as to assimilate these experiences.” (Rogers, 1951, p. 513).
In other words, our bodies feel threatened when what we feel/experience doesn’t fit with how we have grown to feel acceptable to ourselves and others. For example a child was raised with the value ‘boys don’t cry’ yet as an adult he has experiences that would create sadness and vulnerability, but he denies those feelings and ends up feeling threatened by them (anxiety) or has to turn down the volume on all his feelings in order to deny the ‘unacceptable’ ones and can no longer feel joy or interest (depression). Therapy offers a relationship in which everything the client experiences can be looked at together, and the self-concept can be re-shaped to allow the denied parts in. The client in my example can share his sadness with the therapist, come to understand it and accept it, and allow it to be part of him without shame. He won’t need to put so much energy into being someone he’s not and his depression or anxiety will start to fade.
This requires change though and change is rarely simple and can be frightening. You don’t need to do it alone.
More coming soon
More coming soon