I'm OK, you're OK
One of the most interesting aspects of working as a counsellor is the variety of people we meet. One client said to me, "You never know who is going to walk through the door – you must be brave!".
Every person-centred counsellor has learned about offering empathy and ‘unconditional positive regard’ to every client – so as a new client, you should expect to be welcomed and supported, and not judged. As a psychotherapist trained in transactional analysis (TA), my approach to each new person I meet can be summed up in a simple phrase: ‘I’m OK, you’re OK'.
That doesn’t mean that I look at a client who is troubled, and think they are OK. It means that they are ‘OK by me’ – that I’m ready to accept them, whoever they are, whatever they have done and whatever they have experienced.
Transactional analysis defines four possible ‘existential positions’ that you might adopt in any relationship.
- I’m OK, you’re OK.
- I’m OK, you’re not OK.
- I’m not OK, you’re OK.
- I’m not OK, you’re not OK.
It’s interesting to talk to clients about this – which position do they think fits them best? The second one describes a situation where a person is inclined to distrust, dislike or negatively judge people they meet, often with very little cause. It’s a superior life position that they are simply in the habit of choosing.
The third option (I’m not OK, you’re OK) may reflect how you are feeling as a new client – it describes a situation where you tend to feel that any person you meet is better than you, for some reason. You may be feeling sad, anxious, angry or scared, and you may assume that everybody you meet is not experiencing similar emotions – they are OK, you are not.
‘I’m not OK, you’re not OK’ is described in TA as a ‘hopeless’ position, and if it happens in the context of a counselling relationship, it’s probably best for you to try a different counsellor. At the first meeting between a therapist and a new client, both parties learn a lot. Mutual respect is really important as you both venture into a ‘therapeutic relationship’.
How you see yourself affects how you see others. By learning to approach people from the ‘I’m OK, you’re OK’ position, we offer them the opportunity to do the same, and to create a relationship where we accept each other as equals.