Therapist style and client preference

What is your therapeutic style? And what would you (or did you) prefer as a client? 

As my work has developed I know how my style would usually be in sessions and also what I preferred when I was in therapy. I think both match up fairly well at times. Although I didn’t see anyone who gave as much between session work as I do! 

You could expect that my style as a counselling psychologist would be that I am led by the client's needs and directed by what they want from the sessions. I would expect that our sessions might involve strong emotions at times, and I would encourage their emotional expression. We could talk about the past and present, or focus on the future, again led by their needs rather than my interests. You could expect my approach to be supportive and warm rather than challenging.

Mick Cooper and John Norcross developed an Inventory of client preferences in therapy (the CNIP). This can be done online - it will take about 15 minutes and you can see at the end of this what type of therapeutic style you might prefer. It is interesting to complete both as a therapist and as a client.

Cooper and Norcross outline four main polarities in therapeutic style. They are not “either or” choices but you rate yourself on a scale with a balance point in the middle. The first dimension is between client directive-ness or therapist directive-ness. Basically, the idea is that the client leads the session (maybe closer to a person centred approach) or you as the therapist lead the session (maybe a cognitive behavioural approach).

The next dimension is around the emotion expressed within the session. Is this encouraged or is the focus more on thoughts? Again this could relate to different therapeutic approaches. The third dimension is over whether the sessions have a focus on the past or the present. Does the client need to process older trauma or work on the day to day difficulties that arise? Finally, there is a dimension that considers how warm and supportive their therapist is compared to whether there is a focussed challenge. 

One of my colleagues reflected that this type of approach could be seen as a way of encouraging psychotherapists to “be” a particular way which might be incongruous with who they actually “are”. Or that clients who have completed this might come asking therapists to be a particular way with them. Our own authenticity could be at stake! In my view, increasing our understanding of what our own experience is has benefits, no matter how it comes about. The information derived from the CNIP doesn’t need to be a final statement on who we are or what we prefer but could be an initial statement of our position to open discussion about how things might be, or why we prefer one thing over another. 

One of the aspects of the CNIP I like is that it allows us as psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists not to feel like we are all pushed out of the same mould and need to have the same attributes. It opens the possibility that we don’t all need to be both challenging and warm. It is accepting of our differences. It is pluralist in that it recognises the diversity of us as humans and what we might prefer and need. 

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Glasgow, G1 2ER

Written by Dr Philip Simon Glen

Glasgow, G1 2ER

Simon Glen
Counselling Psychologist.

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