‘The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change’
The most important part of counselling work is to offer a safe, supportive and non-judgmental relationship in which you can open up and explore yourself and your issues.
When we look at human development in terms of nurturing, the most important things a child needs from the very first days of life are to feel safe, to feel special, to feel seen and heard and to feel soothed by a caring and calming other. We can only learn who we are and the nature of the world, in relationship with another. As discussed on the mental and emotional health page, deficits in these areas create an anxious brain, prone to emotional dis-regulation, and unlikely to serve us well to reach our full potential as adults. We get stuck in our development because if we don't feel accepted fully for all we are from the outset, we tend to deny or distort our genuine inner experience, thoughts, impulses, desires, feelings and this causes us tension, which if left unattended, turns into mental, emotional and physical discomfort.
The person centred approach offers such acceptance, along with empathy and a warm, genuine relationship, and it is through relationship with others that we learn to relate to ourselves.
Imagine going to University, you're just 19. You notice that everyone else seems to be out partying, socialising and generally networking with others, but the idea of it fills you with misery and unhappiness. You force yourself to do it, which brings you down, exhausts you and, on top of that, you beat yourself up for not being a nice, friendly, happy person. You just try to fit in with everyone else, because you haven't learnt to trust your true instincts, to know and honour yourself for what your thoughts, feelings and impulses are telling you – in this case that you like peace and quiet, you like your own company or that of just one or two people and you get energised by this rather than by being with lots of people.
The essence of person centred therapy is to step back and question all the ‘should's’ and ‘should not's’ that we carry around and explore who we really are. Then we are free to choose our own reality and to become who we want to be.
The person centred way very much puts you as expert of your world, you know where it hurts and only you see the world through your eyes, so the therapist trusts in you as the author of your life, and as such this therapy is non-directive. Learning to trust in your own resources is a vital part of the process, and once again, one that we could have learnt in childhood, had the conditions been right.