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It is often said that no man is an island. This is in acknowledgement of the fact that human beings are by nature social beings and have an innate need for social interaction. Forging relationships with fellow human beings is thus a natural and unavoidable occurrence as long as one is on this earth.
Relationships are multi- faceted whereby people are related to others in various ways. In this regard, one person can have friends, lovers, siblings, parents, teachers, pastors, and so on. All these represent the different relationships people have with others. Oftentimes, these relationships are fulfilling and add value and meaning to our lives. For instance, most recall with nostalgia the love of their mothers when they were children or the first kiss from their first romantic relationship. Such relationships bring us a lot of joy and create cherished memories that last forever.
Nevertheless, not all relationships are happy ones. In addition, even in the happy relationships, problems of all sorts always seem to crop up. It is impossible for two people to get a long all the time regardless of how much love existing between them. Many people love their mothers and cherish the relationship yet accept that there were many times when they failed to see eye to eye with them. It is simply human nature and is unavoidable.
This is even more so for couples in an intimate relationship. In fact, it seems that people who are in a romantic relationship are more susceptible to relationship problems than other people in non- romantic relationships. It is very rare to find couples that are problem- free and this is probably due to the sensitivity inherent in love and sex (Health and Sex 2008). Since a lover is the closest anyone can get to another person, there are always tensions and high expectations within the relationship.
Counsellors are well aware of this fact and have tried to find ways of counselling people who are in relationships. Counselling in general is a process that helps enable a person to deal with their issues and subsequently reach decisions affecting their life. It is a friendly, positive and supportive approach to helping others. It involves talking with a person in a manner that helps the person concerned solve a problem or at least in a way that helps to create conditions that will cause the person to improve and/or understand his/ her behaviour, character, values or life circumstances a little better (Woods 2008).
Couple counselling, on the other hand, deals specifically with relationship problems and has increasingly become one of the most effective ways of helping couples deal with the problems that they have to go through. Couple counselling helps a couple deal with the issues that prevent them from having a truly fulfilling relationship such as a lack of communication; physical difficulties; intimacy barriers; life transitions; or just general breakdowns (Woods 2008).
However, counselling is not as easy as it sounds since relationship problems evoke strong emotions in human beings and these emotions are difficult to manage. Most people find it hard to open up during counselling and this may pose a major problem to the counsellor’s efforts. A counsellor thus needs to be careful about how he/ she goes about the process of counselling. To be able to effectively overcome this problem, the person- centred approach is often used in couple counselling.
The person- centred approach, as expounded on by Counselling Resource (2008), is an approach that views the client as being their own best authority on their own experiences and acknowledges the client as one who is fully capable of fulfilling their own potential for emotional and psychological growth. It nevertheless recognizes that achieving this potential requires favorable conditions and that, under adverse conditions, individuals may very well not grow and develop in the way that they otherwise would in a better environment. This is especially true when individuals are denied positive regard and acceptance from others or even when that positive regard is made on the condition that the individual has to behave in a certain way. In such cases, they may start to lose touch with their own realities or what their own experience means to them. Consequently, their instinctive tendency to grow in a direction consistent with that meaning may be stifled and this is not good for any counseling efforts.
A possible reason as to why this may occur is that individuals often cope with the type of conditional acceptance given by others by slowly incorporating these conditions into their systems and making them their own views about themselves. They thus may form a self-concept which includes views of other about themselves. Such views may include: “I am the type of person who must never complain”; or “I am the sort of person who always agrees with what others are saying.”; or “I am the kind of person who always does the house chores even when others could care less”. Due to their fundamental need for positive regard from others, it is much simpler for them to become this type of person (and receiving positive regard from others as a result) than it is being anything else and in the process end up with the risk of losing that positive regard.
Over time, their innate sense of their own identity and their own evaluations of experience become blurred and are replaced by creations caused by the pressures piled upon them by other people. In other words, the individual displaces personal judgments and meanings with those of others resulting in a warped lack of self- awareness. Psychological disturbances then occur whereby the individual’s self-concept starts to clash with their immediate personal experiences. When this happens, the evidence of the individual’s own judgment or the individual’s own senses clashes with what the self-concept says ought to be the case. Unfortunately, the disturbances often continue unabated as long as the individual continues to depend on the conditionally positive judgments of others for their sense of self-worth and for as long as the individual continues to rely on a self-concept which was created in part to obtain those positive judgments in the first place. Experiences which challenge the self-concept can easily be distorted or even denied completely so as to preserve it (Counseling Resource 2008).
This person centred approach consists of three main components. According to the New York Person-Centred Resource Centre (2007), the person centred approach is an approach based on the work of Carl Rogers and is based upon the belief that three core conditions need to be put in place to help in the therapeutic growth of the client. These three conditions include the following: unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy, all of which are provided by the counsellor to help the client.
Unconditional positive regard refers to the creation of a climate for change through emphasizing acceptance, caring or prizing. It’s basically when the counsellor is experiencing a positive, acceptant attitude toward whatever the client is going through at that moment. In other words, the counsellor wills himself to feel what the client is feeling but in a non- possessive way. Here, the counsellor is non- judgemental and simply tries to identify with the clients situation without passing judgment or talking down to them. The client is allowed to totally vent whatever they may be feeling as the counsellor lends an empathetic (New York Person-Centred Resource Centre 2007).
This part of the person- centred approach is very important as it helps the client to release all that is in their hearts and minds. Sometimes, counsellors forget to listen and end up doing all the talking. Here, however, the emphasis is solely on the client. Using the unconditional positive regard allows the counsellor to pick up on the body language of the client and other subtle signs from their demeanour. This is hugely important since some things can only be gauged through body language especially if the topic is sensitive or makes the client uncomfortable.
The second component of the person centred approach to couple counselling is congruence. Congruence refers to being real or genuine. In this approach, it is where the counsellor desists from putting up a professional or personal façade. Some counsellors have an overbearing demeanour and insist of doing things in a formal way. This creates a tense environment for the clients. Through this approach, the counsellor becomes more of a friend than a professional and comes down to the level of the client.
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The term “transparent” explains the flavour of this condition. The therapist makes himself virtually transparent to the client whereby the client can see right through what the therapist is in the relationship. Consequently, the client experiences no holding back on the part of the therapist. On the part of the therapist, what he or she is experiencing is available to awareness; can be lived in the relationship; and can also be communicated if it is appropriate. As a result, there is a close matching (congruence) between what is being experienced at the gut level, what is present in awareness, and what is expressed to the client.
Empathetic understanding is the third component of the people centred approach. Here, the counsellor senses with accuracy the personal meanings and feelings that the client is experiencing and then communicates this understanding to the client. If the counsellor is really good, he/ she can even get so much into the private world of the other that he or she can clarify not only the meanings of which only the client is aware but even those just below the level of awareness. This kind of active, sensitive listening is extremely rare in our lives. Whereas we think that we listen, we very rarely do listen with real understanding and true empathy. Yet, in actual fact, listening of this special kind is one of the most powerful forces for change that exist.
The aforementioned components of the person- centred approach all work together to create the necessary climate requisite for bringing about change in the client. As people become more accepted, they begin to develop a more caring attitude toward themselves. As people are empathetically heard, it becomes possible for them to listen more accurately to the flow of inner experiences within themselves. As a person understands and prizes him or herself, they become more congruent with the experience. The person thus becomes more genuine, more real. These tendencies (which are a reciprocal of the therapist’s attitudes) enable the person to be a more effective growth enhancer for himself or herself. Hence, there is a greater freedom to be the true and whole person (The New York Person-Centred Resource Centre 2007).
In conclusion, the person centred approach is a humanistic and holistic approach to couple counselling. It ensures that the problem is sorted from its root cause as opposed to the superficial causes. As a result, it is increasingly gaining popularity in the world of counselling. Its continued use will be hugely beneficial to the millions of couples around who will finally have a chance at developing the loving and fulfilling relationship we all long for.
About the Person Centred Approach. 2007. The New York Person-Centred Resource Centre. 2008. Web.
An Introduction to Person- Centered Counseling. 2008. Counseling Resource. Web.
Seven Relationship Problems and How to Solve Them. 2008. Health and Sex. Web.
What is Counselling? 2008. Douglas Woods. 2008. Web.