I am going to come right out and admit that I nabbed that title from a book written by Irving Yalom, a great American humanistic psychologist and writer. It`s an awesome book if you are into psychology, or more specifically, if you are curious about the inner-workings of psychotherapy. He provides many absorbing insights into the therapeutic process not normally accessible to those outside the field.
Good therapy is indeed a very special gift. Unfortunately, my guess is that most people who have not experienced it do not view therapy in this way. There has always been and remains a stigma attached to anything remotely related to mental health. People tend to keep these things undercover for fear they will be judged in some horrible and negative way. It really is unfortunate. The truth is, people seek counselling or therapy for a myriad of reasons, not all of which are necessarily related to serious mental issues. I tend to think that oftentimes people simply need a private forum where they can be heard in a non-judgemental manner, sometimes for the first time in their lives. This can be a hugely rewarding and exhilarating experience for these individuals.
Carl Rogers, a highly regarded and hugely relevant American humanistic psychologist from the 1950`s, set new ground in psychotherapy when he theorized that people will improve psychologically and reach new levels of self-understanding if they are provided with certain criteria within the therapeutic process. One of his criteria was that there should be no power divide between client, (up to that time referred to as “patient”), and therapist, and that the therapist must at all times endeavour to relate to the client in a congruent, (authentic), manner. He viewed people as being inherently good and felt that each individual deserved to be treated with respect, acceptance, and understanding. In particular, he believed that all clients should be afforded unconditional positive regard.
Rogers was not interested in diagnosis, but rather, in gently and empathically assisting clients to gain personal insight into their problems. He guided them towards finding, and more importantly, owning, their solutions. In owning their insight and solutions, he felt that clients would benefit not only in the short-term, but over the long-term as well.
My own experience has led me to conclude that the key factor in initiating long-term positive change in a person and what I believe to be the true gift of therapy, is in fact this unconditional positive regard. If there was only one thing you could offer a person in the process of therapy to help them become fully functioning individuals, that in my view would be it.
What exactly is unconditional positive regard? It is absolute, positive, unconditional and respectful acceptance of a person for whatever he or she is. No exceptions to the rule. It seems so simple, yet the ramifications of a life without it, and the benefits of being provided it, are nothing short of astounding. It is, simply put, what all human beings crave. With the exception of those afflicted with serious mental disorders, this approach alone can instigate within individuals the deep, life-altering changes required to find their worth, their place in the sun, and their significance in the world.
Having said that, and as crucial as it is, providing unconditional positive regard all the time is probably unrealistic in most day-to-day situations. Within the therapeutic environment however, it will inspire the deep changes necessary for the full development of those seeking to find themselves, accept who they are, and truly come to value themselves as unique individuals. This in my view is the true gift of therapy – thanks to Carl Rogers.
- Incongruence. (taerilynn.wordpress.com)
- On January 8th (willhumes.net)
- Client-Centered Therapy, Student-Centered Learning and User-Centered Design (gumption.typepad.com)