Congruence and assertiveness in therapy

In his inspirational 1961 book ‘On Becoming A Person’, the founder of person-centred therapy, Carl Rogers, devotes a section to what he considers to be the client’s subjective experience of therapy from a wary and guarded beginning to a more settled and secure conclusion, where the client feels ready to show their real self to trusted people outside of the therapy room.  

Necessary for this process, Rogers argues, are the core conditions of the therapeutic relationship, namely unconditional positive regard. Without judgement, accurate empathy, and an authentic and genuine sense of congruence in the room.

It is congruence which he refers to, in his hypothetical client’s voice, referring to the therapist as ‘him’ – with the following passage:

"I can even tell him just how I'm feeling toward him at any given moment and instead of this killing the relationship, as I used to fear, it seems to deepen it. Do you suppose I could be my feelings with other people also? Perhaps that wouldn't be too dangerous either."

Fear of communicating

Within personal relationships, it can feel difficult to have one’s say; some will fear having their opinions rejected, or minimised, or even mocked and belittled. Others may see the entire concept of sharing a piece of their soul a terrifyingly unusual prospect, perhaps having never been asked or feeling as if they weren’t listened to if they were. It can also be hard to work out exactly what one is feeling sometimes, or what is needed, or what is truly best for them.

Congruence is vital in any relationship, not least a therapeutic relationship which is dependent on the utmost level of trust and honesty. It can be an expression of your rights, it can eliminate mind-reading for the other person in the relationship, and crucially it can air previously unspoken yet genuine thoughts and feelings.

Being open with your therapist

Feeling able to be authentic with your counsellor can help move towards a more client-centred way of working – focusing on what you wish to focus on, proceeding in a way you wish to proceed, being honest and open without walls or barriers, and subsequently feeling as if your real self is being heard and appreciated.

But opening up through counselling can provide a positive experience of doing so, particularly as there is no ‘right’ way of doing so, with no time limit or expectations attached, allowing a client to take their time to ruminate and decide what the best course of action is for them, coming from them, uncorrupted by external influences or beliefs.

As Rogers’ theorises, could it then feel safe to share your real self with others too? Could it lead to your real self feeling a sense of belonging, acceptance and embraced by those closest to you? Are you then able to be fully you?

Assertive communication

Thoughts articulated with I feel, I would like or I think it’s important to, are examples of assertive communication, where you can clearly define and state needs and expectations; a counselling room is no different, and ideally a place where you can feel as if your needs and expectations can be appreciated, validated and met.

Through person-centred counselling, we can create a strong and secure therapeutic relationship built upon the foundations of previously unspoken vulnerabilities and insecurities. We can minimise the danger attached to feelings, and use honesty as a step towards an emerging whole self, rather than a feared catalyst for the end of a relationship.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Bristol BS31 & Bath BA1
Written by Rowan Long, NCS Accredited Professional
Bristol BS31 & Bath BA1

Rowan Long is a person-centred counsellor. He is currently working in several secondary schools and higher education centres in the South-West of England, as well as volunteering as a child and young person's counsellor with Off The Record. He also works with clients of any age through private practice in a quiet and welcoming village location.

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