Person-Centered Process: The Soul of Therapeutic Change
Stirring Hope Amidst Distres
Have you read C.S. Lewis’s (1950) story, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe? Aslan, the noble lion,reverses the curse on Narnia. We can tell when the snow begins to melt. “Winter began stirring backwards.” Hope and anticipation rise with the dawning of a new day. “Spring is in the air.” When clients enter therapy, their distress is like snow still covering the ground. There’s a cold force keeping it “forever winter, yet never Christmas.”
In order to melt the snow, clients need freedom to express skepticism toward therapy and the possibility of change. I accept this need and am curious. As we get to know each other I may use respectful confrontation that can lead clients to think about things in a different way.
Despair and Courage
Another interesting book is The Sickness Unto Death by Soren Kierkegaard. He thinks of “despair” as being inauthentic and invulnerable. “To will to be that self which one truly is, is indeed the opposite of despair.” We live at the mercy of what is both outside and inside of our control. And so we live either in fear or dread of what we feel powerless to change or courageous in spite of our fear and dread. Sometimes, let’s face it, courage is MIA.
I use empathy and encouragement to expand my client’s courage. First comes an openness to change, a willingness, which is an expression of courage. Change happens when we are open to it. We turn our will toward it, and surrender self-protection and fears. Faith, hope,and even relationship may catalyze this change. This sort of change takes great preparation, care, and patience. When changes do occur, they often come in subtle ways and bring with them simple joys, almost unexpectedly. The novelist John Steinbeck (1954) wrote, “Change comes like a little wind that ruffles the curtains at dawn, and it comes like the stealthy perfume of wildflowers hidden in the grass.”
The Soul of Therapeutic Change
One of my favorite books is The Will to Meaning by Viktor Frankl. He says, “One has long ago come to realize that what matters in therapy is not techniques but rather the human relations between doctor and patient, or the personal and existential encounter.” Carl Rogers, creator of Person-centered Psychotherapy, agrees. He believes that optimal therapy requires a therapist entering into an intensely personal and subjective relationship with a client, “relating not as a scientist to an object of study, not as a physician expecting to diagnose and cure, but as a person to a person.”
Yet therapists are easily wooed by gimmicks and novelty. If a therapist is lifeless or uses too many techniques, her/his efforts to help may be worthless. Therapy, in this case, is not relationship but a poor excuse for scientific experimentation. The mechanisms of some psychotherapies undermine their therapeutic value. If a therapist is not fully present as a warm, accepting, genuine, caring person, then the power center of therapy remains turned off and, for all practical purposes, ineffective. Ultimately, the person-centered process in psychotherapy is the soul of therapeutic change.
If you’re interested in exploring new options for your life, I’d love to help you. Please give me a call at 404.518.0828. . . Dr. Sharman Colosetti, PhD, LCSW
This is revised from an interesting article by Blake Griffin Edwards, LMFT that describes the kind of psychotherapy that I practice, Person-centered Process. Blake Griffin Edwards is a licensed marriage and family therapist and clinical fellow in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. His writing has been featured at GoodTherapy.org and PsychCentral.com as well as in Family Therapy Magazine, Context, and Voices Journal.