The ‘Fells & Dales’ group of counsellors met on 12th April, to reflect on the subject of ‘Authenticity’. The paper for discussion was entitled ‘Authenticity: A Goal For Therapy?’ by Miriam Donaghy (Practical Philosophy Autumn 2002). We also listened to a recent broadcast of Radio 4’s ‘In Our Time’ – a panel discussion chaired by Melvyn Bragg on the theme of ‘Authenticity.
We had a wide-ranging conversation about the meaning of authenticity, as generally understood but also as applied particularly to the work of therapy. It is, perhaps, a given that as therapists we aim to model authenticity, our hope being that our clients might also discover a way of living authentically. However, we asked ourselves what being “true to oneself” actually means, and how it relates to other concepts such as congruence, transparency, integrity, honesty, genuineness and autonomy (the latter meaning literally ‘giving oneself the law’). We noted how helpful clients might find our occasional self-disclosures (judiciously used), and how authenticity might mean revealing our humanness and our fallibility.
A concern was raised over the possibility of authenticity leading to narcissism, self-centredness or isolation (“I’m OK, never mind anyone else”), but this was countered by the notion that self-acceptance and self-awareness tend to result in both greater acceptance of others, and an ability to receive others’ acceptance, and an enhanced capacity for empathy.
We concluded, as we often do, that it is a great privilege to draw alongside our clients for part of their journey towards authenticity. However, we acknowledged that authenticity is an ideal, rarely achieved and only sustainable for brief spells. For some, the cost of being fully authentic might be too great, if it puts relationships with significant others at risk. But at least there could be something ‘authentic’ about recognising and perhaps finding a place for whatever inauthenticity is within us.