Let’s start by looking at what defines integrative humanistic (IH) counselling, the type of counselling practiced at The Counselling Centre. We will look at the values and beliefs about human nature and the experience that it is built on. It always takes a little courage to do counselling and its good to understand first what the experience might be like.
In a nutshell, what makes IH counselling distinct is that it maintains that the client is expert on his/her own life. If this is not recognised as important, there is a risk of inequality and a risk that the client’s power will be given away or taken away. Just as an acorn needs fertile ground to reach its potential as an oak tree, the skill of the counsellor is to support the client by creating a safe, confidential and non judgemental environment for the client to be his or her self. Here the client can deal with pain or problems, look at their development or make decisions at a time and pace that is right for him or her.
When a counsellor first meets a client, they will explain how the process works and help you to decide if counselling is right for you. Together you and the counsellor will begin to explore what it is that brings you to counselling at this time, your hopes, needs and supports. At the end of the initial assessment you and the counsellor will agree on the next steps. Very often, but not always, this may be to embark on a series of counselling sessions at a time that suits both parties. Some of the beliefs that underpin our work in these sessions are as follows:
The first belief is that deep down, people are good. They have a true self, innate from birth, which is positive. While the negative in life (pain, problems etc) are real, it is not the deepest level. In IH counselling, “actualization” is a name given to the tendency for an individual to fulfil his or her potential despite the negative and this is regarded as the sole motivation for human behaviour and development.
The second belief is holistic thinking. A person is comprised of their whole body, emotions, thinking, social and spiritual aspects. Developmental or healing work cannot be confined to one of these aspects without reference to the others.
The third belief is that reality is viewed through unique subjective experience. (This is called “phenomenology”). At a collective level, experience is socially constructed. To work with somebody therapeutically, one needs to step into their viewpoint rather than hold to one’s own, because different views of what constitutes reality are not often the same.
The fourth belief is that a client be empowered to choose and act. It sees the client as an equal party in the process, one who has the power to make choices and changes. It accepts that a client may be limited by environmental realities but does not believe that expert advice is the key to progress. The power, essentially, is within the client. The client is always in flux, in change and development, a process which is future and meaning oriented.
Carl Rogers (1951, 1961) – who advocated that the client is always central – describes people who are becoming increasingly actualised as having an openness to experience, a trust in self, an internal source of evaluation and a willingness to continue growing as human beings right til their last breath. Kiekergaard, the existential philosopher stated that the aim of life is “to be the self one truly is”. These views are held to be very important within IH counselling.
I would not like to attend a counsellor who did not know what he/she was looking to do and who did not know the philosophical orientation underpinning his/her aims. To know this is the first duty and usually forms a significant part of an IH counsellor’s training. Not only does the IH counsellor value his academic studies, but he holds some conviction with regard to a chosen “philosophical orientation” (Rogers 1951, p20) . He or she affirms peoples ability to determine right from wrong through rational human investigation and to give meaning and shape to their lives without recourse to divine texts, mysticism, tradition, revelation or dogma (while not denying the value of these).
Should you choose to attend counselling with an IH therapist, you will know that he or she has a well thought-out approach and that you will be an equal party in the relationship.
Rogers, C.R. (1951) Client-Centered Therapy London: Constable
Rogers, C.R. (1961) On Becoming A Person: A Therapists View Of Psychotherapy. London: Constable.