Human beings share a desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a meaningful difference in the world. While people share a desire to grow and fulfill our potential, we often feel stuck. The process of moving from stuck to unstuck-and-progressing is a process of acknowledging what is and recognizing what can be. The intrinsic motivation to change arises through relationships that are empowering and make it safe to explore the pain of the present moment in relation to what is preferred and valued. The attitudes and personal characteristics of the counselor and the quality of the person-centered counselor relationship is an important determinant of the outcome of the therapeutic process and an important factor to transformation. Inherent in the person-centered approach is a willingness to explore new ideas, learn, grow, and be open to change. While this approach is not sufficient for all clients, it is not a stagnant or dogmatic approach, and offers foundational principals from which to formulate an integrated approach to counseling.
Developing an Integrated Approach to Counseling
I have come to understand and experience people as essentially good. Of course, all people at times, and some, most of the time, listen to thoughts that can cause misery and suffering.
I experience and understand life as compassionate and that life itself has given us unconditional love. Thus, we have a responsibility to steward that which we have been entrusted—our life, our children, our fellow human beings, and this earth. This understanding will serve as a basis from which to formulate an integrated approach to therapy.
What human beings share in common is an inherent desire to belong, to contribute, and to make a meaningful difference in our world.
Inherent Nature of Human Beings
Everyone and everything exists in relationship. Relationships serve as a mirror for our relationship with life, and an opportunity for transformation and growth. Through developing fulfilling and enduring relationships, people can contribute to the collective whole.
The Chinese character for “person” shows two people leaning on each other. Some consider it one of the most important words in Chinese thought. The character for the quality of “humanity” is made of the characters for “person” and “the number two,” meaning two people who face each other, two people communicating, two people who love each other; in other words, there is no such thing as an isolated individual.
Each of us is linked together into a single living entity, and these links are not limited to the human world; they extend to the natural world and the cosmos, and all existence.
The Buddhist perspective of life regards the relations and mutual interdependence of human beings as more important than the individual view of their existence. This view is linked to the teaching of dependent origination (Ikeda, 2008).
This perspective begins with treasuring our own life, then the individuals around us, and extending outward to encompass life and all people. Buddhists treasure ourselves existing simultaneously with all people and the environment around us.
I will explore the transformative and growth process from two perspectives: the perspective of what is and what can be and the perspective of motivational-interviewing.
While people share a desire to grow, fulfill their potential, and live meaningful lives, one can often feel stuck. The process of moving from stuck to unstuck-and-progressing is a process of acknowledging what is and recognizing what can be. It is the domain of what can be that gives impetus to life, and therefore, meaning. However, we cannot get there without first acknowledging what is.
The domain of what is has a purpose. It exists to conserve and maintain. It requires self-discipline, repetition and routine, and exists for its own sake. The domain of what is provides stability to the system. However, it does not give meaning or fulfillment to life.
When we fail to appreciate the present moment (what is), we can potentially become stuck. There is nothing inherently wrong with not appreciating the present moment. If lack of appreciation becomes a pattern, then we are stuck.
The domain of what can be is about change, risk taking, knowing what the risk is, taking the risk for the difference it makes, and living a more meaningful and fulfilling life. There is an ebb and flow in the process of going from what is to what can be.
We can develop the skills of appreciation and gratitude through the practice of noticing and appreciating what we value in the present moment. It might be as simple as finding something to appreciate about the floor we are standing on. By developing appreciation, we then take steps to develop skills in the domain of what can be. The domain of what can be also exists in the present moment. Nothing exists outside the present moment. The change process begins with a thought and an intention. Risk taking is about having the self-control to act on our intent toward what can be. Knowing what we risk is the basic knowledge required for self-control. It might be as simple as knowing that you will be embarrassed if you take some risk. Taking action to produce a difference produces humanness, and gives life meaning.
Motivational interviewing (MI) is a person-centered approach to counseling. Wagner and Ingersoll (2009) share that a key factor of MI is to help clients improve their lives by overcoming the inertia that results from unresolved ambivalence and low motivation about making changes. The MI counselor focuses on developing discrepancies between the client’s current problematic behavior and their long-term goals or hopes. According toMiller and Rollnick (2002), “when discrepancy becomes large enough and change seems important, a search for possible methods for change is initiated” (p. 11). In addition, Miller and Rollnick share that constructive behavior change can arise when the person connects their behavior to something of intrinsic value, something important or something cherished. Intrinsic motivation for change arises in an accepting and empowering atmosphere that makes it safe for the person to explore the pain of the present in relation to what is preferred and valued.
Developing a Theoretical Orientation
The influence of personal experience, observations, and growth will undoubtedly contribute to the development of my theoretical orientation.
In light of my present understanding of the nature of human beings, the person-centered approach is most congruent with my values, beliefs and experience. Rogers (1956) stated “change in personality, attitude, and behavior appears to come about through experience in a relationship. If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and a process of change and personal development will occur” (p. 994). I have observed and experienced that the most significant contribution to healthy growth came about through making contact through relationships. The quality of the relationships matters.
At age 20, I could barely read or write, and refused to speak in front of any group, large or small. I was still in the Army and considering re-enlisting. I spoke with an early mentor about my decision. He asked, “What would you truly love to do?” I whispered to him that I would like to go to college, but that would be impossible. With much enthusiasm, he replied, “Yes! Please do. It is important for young people to get an education. You can do it.” Relationship matters.
When I first applied to a university, I failed to be admitted. I had failed the writing exam. For one term, I took an advanced expository writing class and poured my efforts into learning to write. Passing with a B+ was my admittance into the University. My first literature professor in college stated, “Chuck, you can’t write. If you can’t write, you can’t think! But you can learn too.” I can still see the smile on her face that conveyed a confidence in my ability to learn.
Once, in my mid-twenties, I was driving home from a road trip with friends. We passed a car that was engulfed in flames. It was a huge ball of fire. It appeared that the passengers were trapped in the car. I looked to the faces of my friends. I could see they were horrified. I could see they cared deeply. But I felt nothing. I felt no concern, no empathy. All I saw was a fire. I knew then that something was terribly wrong. I felt nothing for the people in the car.
During that time people would sometimes remark that they had met me, spoken with me, but felt that I didn’t know they were there. Well, I did not recall having seen them, even though they said they had spoken to me.
That was a different time and a different life. It is hard to imagine that I was ever like that. Now, in this moment, as I write and reflect on the image of that burning car and consider the people, tears well forth from my eyes and love is all I can think of. There is also an appreciation for the friends who where in the car that day and the difference they have made in my life.
I have experienced numerous times the power of possibility—the possibility to create a new future out of the present moment.
The power of listening, our intent, and understanding can create new futures. However, our past can cloud the present moment, and thus we often create a future that is nothing more than a reshuffling of our past. Then the future ends up being a re-arrangement of our past. It is important to be complete with the past in order to create a fresh new future. This requires forgiveness and the courage to create new stories.
According to Corey (2009), the basic premise of the people-centered approach is that people are essentially trustworthy; they have the potential for understanding themselves and resolving their own problems without direct intervention of the therapist. Corey stated, “Rogers emphasized the attitudes and personal characteristics of the therapist and the quality of the client-therapist relationship as the prime determinants of the outcome of the therapeutic process.” (p. 166).
The people-centered approach can serve as a foundation for building an integrated approach to counseling. From the four stages outlined during the life of Carl Rogers to present day, the person-centered approach demonstrates a willingness to learn and evolve. It is not a static or dogmatic approach. As Flanagan (2007) shared in her interview with Natalie Rogers, her father was always open to learning, changing, and growing.
Application and Challenges
In and of itself, the person-centered approach has some shortcomings. Corey (2009) mentions that some treatment programs will require more structure. He believes that the therapeutic core conditions are necessary for therapy to succeed, but they are not sufficient conditions for change to take place at all times. This approach also demands a great deal of the counselor. The counselor must meet the core conditions themselves of (1) congruence, (2) unconditional positive regard, and (3) accurate empathic understanding.
Kirschenbaum and Jourdan (2005) conducted research across several therapeutic approaches and found that the core conditions are not sufficient for all clients. However, they did find that across all groups, the counselor’s empathy, positive regard, and congruence were significantly correlated with outcomes. They concluded, “the person-centered approach, which holds the therapeutic relationship as central and essential to effective counseling and psychotherapy, is alive and well.” (p. 48). Additionally they found that few counselors describe themselves as primarily person-centered, but person-centered principles permeate the practice of many, if not most, counselors.
The shortcomings do not limit the possibilities of the person-centered approach. It is more a way of being than a therapeutic model. As Corey stated, “If Rogers (1987a) were to give students-in-training advice it would be: ‘There is one best school of therapy. It is the school of therapy you develop for yourself based on a continuing critical examination of the effects of your way of being in the relationship’” (p. 189).
The Role of Spirituality and Faith
The person-centered approach is well suited for the integrating spirituality and faith. In her interview with Natalie Rogers, Flanagan (2007) shared that Natalie was a source of learning for Carl, especially in his later years. Natalie mentioned that as a 22-year-old Carl rejected all religion and shifted his focus on psychology. However, Carl was always open to new possibilities and absorbing new ideas. Natalie mentioned that she and other women influenced Carl in the areas of feminism and spirituality. She stated, “it was interesting to see him open up to new possibilities in his older years—that there might be some higher energy source, God or power that was greater than human power” (p. 123). This willingness, even commitment, to being open to new ideas and learning is a consistent theme throughout Carl Rogers’s life. Inherent in the person-centered approach is this willingness to explore new ideas, be open to change, and trust.
At the core of all the major faith traditions is the inspiration to love our fellow human being. Whether Jew, Buddhist, Christian or Muslim, it is essential to keep this in mind. This inspiration to love our fellow human beings is at the core of what it means to be human.
I have come to understand that the noble side of a person is manifested in kindness and consideration to others. Kindness and consideration for others resonate with both the Buddhist concept of compassion and the core Christian concept of love.
Behind each of us stands the compassion of the entire universe. Life is the most precious of all treasures. Each of us has been given this invaluable gift and each of us is irreplaceable. The most important thing is that we expand throughout society this fundamental consideration, this profound compassion and love toward life.
My hope is that as a counselor, I can contribute in some way to expanding this fundamental consideration; this profound compassion and love toward life. In so doing, be respectful and accepting of diverse faiths and beliefs.
Corey, G. (2009). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy.Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.
Flanagan, J. S. (2007). The Development and Evolution of Person-Centered Expressive Art Therapy: A Conversation With Natalie Rogers. Journal of Counseling & Development, 8, 120-125.
Ikeda, D. (2008). The Living Buddha. Santa Monica, CA: Middleway Press
Kirschenbaum, H. and Jourdan, A. (2005). The Current Status of Carl Rogers and the Person-Centered Approach. Psychology: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 42(1), 37-51. doi: 10.1037/0033-3220.127.116.11
Miller, W.R. and Rollnick, S. (2002). Motivational Interviewing: Preparing People for Change. New York, NY: The Guilford Press
Rogers, C. R. (1956). A Counseling Approach of Human Problems. American Journal of Nursing, 56(8), 994-997. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/3460983
Rogers, C. R. (1987a). Rogers, Kohut, and Erickson: A personal perspective on some similarities and differences. In J. K. Zeig (Ed.), The evolution of psychotherapy (pp. 179-187). New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Wagner, C. C. and Ingersoll, K. S. (2009). Beyond Behavior: Eliciting Broader Change With Motivational Interviewing. Journal of Clinical Psychology: In Session, 65(11), 1180-1194. doi: 10.1002/jclp.20639