005 – PD Groups – Critiques of Carl Rogers – Idiosyncratic Empathy – Counselling Placements

005 – PD Groups – Critiques of Carl Rogers – Idiosyncratic Empathy – Counselling Placements

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In the fifth episode of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Ken Kelly and Rory Lees-Oakes discuss personal-development (PD) groups. ‘Theory with Rory’ looks at critiques of Carl Rogers, and ‘Skills with Ken’ at idiosyncratic empathy. Finally, in ‘Ask Ken and Rory’, the presenters offer tips on choosing a counselling placement.

PD Groups

A big part of studying counselling is self-growth; the PD group (also known as a ‘process’ group) acts as a respectful and safe place to explore self.

Carl Rogers called the PD group an ‘encounter’ group; in his later career, he facilitated many such groups throughout the world, especially in societies experiencing conflict.

Rory and Ken explore the role of the PD group, some of the rewards and challenges that counselling students may face within such groups, and how to learn from any discomfort we face there to increase our self-awareness, personal growth, courage, and ability to apply the core conditions.

A useful formula is always to talk in terms of ‘I feel …’ – so that you are owning your emotions.

Critiques of Carl Rogers

Rory looks at the arguments against Carl Rogers’ work, starting with the sociological critique that person-centred therapy is culture-specific. Other arguments are:

  • that Rogers may be wrong in his belief that all humans are essentially good, especially if you look at the various atrocities carried out around the world
  • that the notion of the core conditions as not only necessary but also sufficient may not be true for some clients, e.g. those who have suffered abuse and abandonment, substance misuse or psychopathy (who may need a more structured approach)
  • that therapists may simply be putting on a professional façade rather than truly embodying the core conditions.

The last critique listed above is known as the ‘Masson critique’, after Jeffery Masson, a former psychotherapist who wrote a book, Against Therapy (Collins, 1988). This puts forward a number of criticisms of person-centred therapy – as well as other modalities.

Finally, Rory explains a new critique – a theological perspective – that claims person-centred therapy puts the self at the centre of a person’s existence, and so goes against the Christian view of the centrality of God and Jesus.

Idiosyncratic Empathy

An empathic connection between counsellor and client is recognised as being necessary for psychological contact to take place. Empathy is about both perception and communication: the counsellor must perceive the feelings being shared by the client and then communicate back the understanding so that the client feels heard.

The phrase ‘idiosyncratic empathy’ was coined by Jerold Bozarth, who asserted that empathy was dynamic, changing in line with the individual client and their specific situation. This takes empathy to a deeper level, beyond the mere reflection of words to a more personal and individualistic level that is different in each therapeutic relationship. In other words, empathy is as varied as the different clients we are likely to meet.

Ken explores how to show empathy towards clients with low self-esteem, without rescuing or leaving the client’s frame of reference. Tips include working on expanding our ‘feelings’ vocabulary, and practising pinpointing the right word – to express both the emotion and its strength – through our own journal work.

Counselling Placements

Counselling courses at level 4 or above require a certain amount of face-to-face client hours. Finding and being in a counselling placement for your diploma or degree can be challenging; it is important to believe in yourself and to have confidence in what you are offering the agency.

Ken and Rory explore what to look for and offer some tips on making sure the placement opportunity is right for you, and fits with the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions. Ensuring you have insurance cover for your practice is essential.

Links and Resources

Handout on Jeffrey Masson’s critiques

Against Therapy by Jeffery Masson (Collins, 1988 – reissued in 1992; and Kindle edition, 2012)

Counselling Tutor Facebook group