As part of our monthly interview series, we’re talking to Limerick-based therapist Claire Forde about person centred counselling and how talking to someone can really help if you’re worried about your mental wellbeing.
Claire, as a counsellor, you abide by the core conditions set out by Carl Rogers regarding Person Centred Counselling. Can you tell us more about this approach?
Carl Rogers placed great emphasis on the relationship with the client. This is at the core of client focused or centred therapy. Rogers felt it was very important to allow the client to identify aspects of their lives that may need to be changed, and to give them the space to tap into their own attitudes and behavioural patterns. This approach encourages the client to explore their own subjective worlds and to see where things can be changed. Rogers believed there were three core conditions which have to be present in the therapeutic setting – genuineness, empathy, and unconditional positive regard, which is being non-judgemental. When the therapist is with a client and these conditions are present, in time the client will learn to process things differently and become true to themselves. They will learn to go through life doing what’s right for them and not be overly concerned about pleasing others. In this way, the person-centred counsellor is listening, exploring, being non-directive and just being fully present with the client. As a therapist, you walk in the client’s shoes.
Can you tell us about the ‘Empty Chair’ theory?
The ‘Empty Chair’ technique is an aspect of Gestalt Therapy. I draw from other approaches at times,and this is an example of this. Sometimes, you can be working with a person who isn’t able to express themselves in certain situations. A person may have anger or other issues with someone. So you can ask them to imagine that this person is sitting on a chair beside them, and ask them, ‘What do you want to say to them?’ You invite the client to turn to the chair and just let off a bit of steam or try to express themselves and release these feelings. I work a lot in bereavement, and I had a client many years ago who lost a close family member and didn’t get to the house in time before the person died. They were very upset. I invited them to image that their loved one was on the chair beside them and invited them to speak to this person. What was beautiful was the fact that English wasn’t this person’s first language, so when they turned to the chair, they spoke in their first language to their loved one. It was very moving and beautiful. They told me the following week when I saw them that they had slept so well that night. I’ll never forget it and it made realise the power of this technique.
How can counselling help?
Counselling means there’s someone there to listen to you in a non-judgemental way. A person can talk about personal problems in a safe and trusting environment. It gives them space to simply be themselves and just to know they are safe and they are held. It will give them a chance to work through some of the issues in their lives, such as anxiety, stress, bereavement, suicidal ideation, and depression. Therapy is continuous too. It gives people a chance to make changes, to explore what’s going on in their lives and to work on it. At times, someone will come to me with a particular issue and with time and trust, they may open up about another bigger, underlying issue affecting their lives. As they work through these changes, they are receiving continuous support in a therapeutic setting.
What are some of the most common misconceptions around therapy?
I think there is a big fear of being judged, or that a counsellor is going to fix you or tell you what to do. If you’ve never been to counsellor, it can be difficult to understand how the concept of talking is going to help in a real way.
When might counselling not have the impact it should?
Counselling may not have the same positive impact, if a client is forced to go by someone else. For example, if a person has addiction problem, a partner may push them into counselling as they want to help. The client might only go to a session as they’re afraid their partner will leave them. In order for counselling to work, the person must want to be there and be willing to do the work. On the other side, therapy will not work if the therapist is not in a good space, doesn’t follow a particular code of ethics, or neglects their own self-care. If they’re not in a position to work with a client, it can do more harm than good. I find that Continuous Professional Development is very important for counselling to have the impact it should.