If you can’t trust the title, trust the process

Counsellor? Psychotherapist? What’s in a name? Take it away and what have you got? A nameless process is the answer. That’s how I’ve come to view counselling and psychotherapy. Remove the names and you’re left with a process and this is what a client experiences.


When training to become a counsellor, my class took some time to consider ourselves worthy of the title. Instead, all we had was a process to refer to. It often felt like we were fumbling along, guided by intuition and some powerful determination. We often resisted that process, but always came back to it.

It didn’t help us when we learned that the great master himself, Carl Rogers, had regularly altered the title he gave to his process. From the 1940s, through the 1950s and 1960s, he wandered from client-directed therapy to client-centred therapy to the person-centred approach. Today, his heirs are more likely to entitle it person-centred and experiential therapy. One day soon, this will evolve once more. 

With such a dynamic approach to therapy, one might think that the process itself has changed along with the names. My experience is that this is not the case. In Counseling and Psychotherapy (1942), Rogers sets out 12 characteristic steps in the therapeutic process. Whether a client attends six sessions or 36, this process is evident in all its stages, mostly but not always in a linear way.

1. The client comes for help.

2. The counsellor defines the helping situation.

3. The counsellor encourages free expression of feelings.

4. The counsellor accepts, recognises and clarifies negative feelings.

5. The first tentative positive feelings emerge and growth begins.

6. The counsellor accepts, recognises and clarifies the positive feelings in the same way he has the negative feelings.

7. The client produces insights of self-understanding and self-acceptance.

8. The counsellor helps the client clarify possible decisions and courses of action.

9. The client acts on some of their decisions and connects them back to earlier insights.

10. The client grows, with further insights and a more complete and accurate self-understanding.

11. The client demonstrates increasingly integrated positive action, with less fear and more confidence.

12. Both client and counsellor recognise a decreasing need for help and the helping situation comes to an end.

What’s wrong with ‘therapy’?

For 80 years, this has been the process used by practitioners who follow the Rogerian approach. Perhaps now you can see why the last name I prefer to call this process is ‘counselling.’ I’d much prefer not to call it anything at all. It is a process of everything and nothing and is, perhaps, truly uncapturable in a title.

What’s wrong with ‘therapy’, I hear you ask? Visit any dictionary and the first definitions you’ll find associate this word with illness or disorder. While we live in times that seem to discover new psychological disorders every year, Carl Rogers preferred to recognise that an individual was ‘maladjusted’, having early on adapted to living in their life circumstances as best they could, but now finding their ways of coping inappropriate or ineffective. Now you’ve read that sentence, go straight back to the 12 characteristic steps and read them through again.

But, of course, I have to use something to describe what I do today with my own clients. My choice is the word ‘therapeutic.’ OK, it still references ‘therapy’ and we know where that goes, but its contemporary meaning is much wider and deeper than that, embracing a wealth of positive, growth-related aspects, from recovery to rejuvenation, that I think Carl Rogers would recognise.

If you go to my profile, you’ll hopefully see a bit further into why I think ‘therapeutic’ is the right word for the working relationship I can offer clients. I’ve simply learned to trust the process.

In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for [their] own personal growth?

- Carl Rogers

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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Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6TY
Written by Mark Griffiths, MNCS (Accred)
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6TY

LOOK INSIDE a blog series written by Mark Griffiths, Person-Centred Counsellor

Mark wishes he'd known a bit more about counselling before he first became a client himself. He hopes that readers considering counselling will be interested in some thoughtful and occasionally entertaining pieces opening up this mystifying therapeutic world.

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