The Use of Self

19 Oct. 2018  The Fells & Dales group of counsellors & psychotherapists met today to discuss two papers:  ‘Interview with Carl Rogers on the Use of Self in Therapy’ – chapter 2 in ‘The use of Self in Therapy’ ed. Michele Baldwin, Haworth Press, 2013, and ‘The Use of Self of the Therapist’ by Wendy Lum, Contemporary Family Therapy, March 2002.

We discussed in some detail what ‘use of self’ means:  the in-the-moment awareness of felt sense, experienced when with our clients;  allowing ourselves to be impacted by our clients, and trusting both ourselves to find a way of conveying, and them to be able to receive, what we are experiencing.

Yet this can feel risky at times, as the outcome of such an expression is unknown at the time.  In the very act of reaching out to the client, there is the risk of alienating or confusing them, but hopefully our intention to honour them with our honesty, genuineness and integrity will be received and reflected upon.  Indeed, it can model to the client the value of transparency and self-awareness.  It might be easier to ‘play safe’ and not make the effort or take the risk, thereby depriving the client of what could be a significant learning opportunity to reflect and grow.

Perhaps no one has been able to improve on Carl Rogers’ own descriptions of this process:

Perhaps it is something around the edges of those [core] conditions that is really the most important element of therapy – when my self is very clearly, obviously present.

The important thing is to be aware of this feeling, and then you can decide whether it needs to be expressed or is appropriate to express.

I want to be as present to this person as possible.  I want to really listen to what is going on.

At those moments, it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other.  Our relationship transcends itself, and had become part of something larger.

To be congruent means that I am aware of and willing to represent the feelings I have at the moment.

We acknowledged how difficult it is for this level of congruence, or ‘use of self’ to be taught within counselling training courses, and how the (necessary) breaking it down into teachable and observable units somehow diminishes it and misses the point, as perhaps is a danger in Virginia Satir’s model described by Wendy Lum.

Despite the threats of the medical model dominating the helping professions, and despite our kind of work being at times extremely demanding and exhausting as we give of ourselves, we agreed that it is a tremendous privilege to be able to relate to others at such depth and intensity  –  to experience what some might describe as a ‘meeting of souls’.  Where else can clients be met with such realness, at the same time as being held in such deep respect and trust?!

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The Use of Self

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