The soul garden
There are many ways to define the work of a psychotherapist, and its role, but the analogy of a 'soul garden' seems to epitomise the creative process the work often seems to require.
A gardener would require working on a landscape, if they wish to design a new garden, rather than just the practical aspects of horticulture. It’s an art form and, with art, creativity is required for a successful outcome. Often clients, when entering therapy, feel unable to deal with what they encounter as their sense of self, 'their environment' feels fragmented. They may experience feelings such as shame, guilt, fear, and lack of control and may seek support in searching for answers, meaning and a way forward from what seems to be a realm of challenges and, at times, disappointments.
A therapeutic approach, with an adequate model, enables the therapist 'soul garden' to navigate through the landscape of the client and together with the client, creates the possibility for new experiences to take place, a new environment.
Self-actualisation model supports the idea of the individual aiming towards the goal of self-actualisation, the ultimate goal in life. This is seen as a psychological tendency that enables the person to move forward and Rogers (1961: 350-1) defines it "as the curative force in psychotherapy - man’s tendency to actualise himself, to become his potentialities”.
Maslow (1948) proposed the concept of the hierarchy of needs whereby, for the person to reach self-actualise; he/she requires other basic needs to be met and foundation to be built, to succeed in that process. These building blocks include physiological needs such as feeling safe, loved, a sense of belonging and esteem. The therapeutic space can provide an environment that is directly linked to these needs, thereby creating the right conditions for the client to explore how he/she could meet his/her psychological needs.The client has the opportunity to move towards his journey of self-actualisation, learning which maladaptive psychological responses are getting in the way of the process, untangling them and learning to rely on his/her inner resource that, time and unmet need tend to bury. Working towards self-actualisation can be seen as a process, the inner drive of the human nature (our potential), which if not given its full expression because of negative, internalised sense of self, the client may be repressed him/herself owing to prejudice or fear.
Sense of worth
The attempt to authentically struggle to exist by following the need to self-actualise, under the social constrained one may experience at the young age, impact the process. The traditional and dominant discourses of society can strongly inform the responses and attitudes of society and its members. This environment can impact negatively on an individual. Therefore, if a child’s way of expressing him/herself is rejected by society and the people in his/her environment, he/she can lose confidence in who he/she is and his/her ability to trust. This creates a condition of worth.
The right therapeutic environment is one in which a therapist is able to hold clients in a space that is free from judgment and where empathy, unconditional positive regards and congruence exist. In this environment, the authentic self is given the opportunity to manifest, to reflect on one self-image, work on discrepancies and bridge the gap created by incongruence of past experiences. Rogers (1961).
The therapist may attempt to pay attention to the internal split a client may bring while engaging with them. This enables the client to embark on the process of finding new meaning, purpose and values discovering of a new language and slowly, a new self. This process of working highlights and, over time, may lead to value the importance of attachment.
Let's reflect on a paper written by Mc Cluskey (2011) about the subject of attachment. She explores the dynamic of attachment within the system of caregiver and care-seeker, highlighting fear as a response to unmet needs. Mc Cluskey talks about how one may perceive one’s sense of self and how this impacts on how he/she interacts with others. By being unable to seek support as an adult, this can make the already stressful situation more difficult to manage. Not receiving adequate cares can lead to difficulty reducing or regulating the level of stress encountered.
Rogers (1961:353) refers to ‘creativity’ as an inner condition of freedom that opens the individual to the experience described as: “Extensionality... It means lack of rigidity and permeability of boundaries in concepts, beliefs, perceptions, and hypotheses”.
Sometimes, it is difficult to make sense of the phenomenon created at the moment in which two people meet to establish a therapeutic alliance and, how one manage the self and the presence creates a dimension of awareness, 'the creativity’ that Rogers is talking about. By managing this, the therapist may be able to use his skills and knowledge to navigate through it. So, by being open to the encounter, with a sense of wonder, the therapist can provide a space to witness the client’s narrative and, with curiosity, try to make sense of the lived experience and constructively manage what the encounter shed light on. “It can be argued that existential psychotherapy’s focus is not even primarily on the client per se, but rather on the particular ways through which relatedness express itself: First, through the narratives of the experience of being that are provided by the client and secondly and not less important, through the psychotherapist’s and client’s current lived experiences of relatedness as it unfolds and enfolds them both during the therapeutic encounter." Milton (2014: 240).
London. The University of Chicago Press. Pp 52
Maslow. A.H (1948) A Theory of Human Motivation, Floyd .VA. Wilder Publication Inc.
Rogers C. (1961) On Becoming a Person-A therapist view of psychotherapy. London-UK. Constable & Company LTD. pp 350-1, 353.
Mc Clusky U. (2011) The therapist as a fear-free caregiver. AUUC Journal, pp 14.
Milton M. (2014) Sexuality, Existential Perspective. London, UK. PCCS Books LTD. pp 240
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About Massimo Rinaldi
I have been qualified humanistic counsellor for over 17 years and am a BACP accredited counsellor, registered with both UKRCP and the COSRT. As part of my commitment to support the right of the expression of a healthy and holistic sexual life style, I have embarked on a postgraduate training for psychosexual and relationship therapy (Jan 17/19).