Because no one else can know how we perceive.
In a few days, I will be starting a person-centered therapy, aka person-centered counseling, client-centered therapy, or, after the guy who invented it, also called Rogerian psychotherapy – zu deutsch: Gesprächstherapie, which is also the name I prefer because it makes it more about talking and less about counseling or psychoanalysing and whatnot. Most definitely makes it sound less intimidating.
It’s been a very, very long time since I had regular meetings with somebody. It’s been in fact so long that my last therapy sessions were still filed under “home visiting family therapy”. Naturally, I am a bit scared as to what to expect now. I suppose, it can only get better though, right? There’s just been too many things piling up, too much emotional baggage and garbage that I have vigorously ignored. However, in the end, there’s only so much running or bouldering or engaging in other time-body-and-mind-consuming tasks one can do to cope before one realizes more drastical measures are required. I’ve long since gotten to that point and alread left it far behind, and I’m honestly just glad the bestest roomie was not around when I hit my low-point because that’s something you don’t want anybody to witness. In order to get to grips with all this, I met up with my sister, who always has the answers to the questions I don’t even have to ask. And yet again, she did here, too, with a little bit of good timing and coincidence playing along. Let’s take a little explanatory detour: Despite casually rocking her master in psychology (you go, girl!), she is also currently enrolled in further training to specialize on person-centered counseling. One requirement is that everybody participating in said further training should suggest someone in need of therapy who is willing to participate and then in return is willing to become a case study.
In other words, I’m a guinea pig.
Soon I was allocated to Claudia. Soon she contacted me and asked to postpone the beginning of our sessions till June. Which was sadly the opposite of soon and meant I had to wait two long, agonizing months during which merely the prospect of having decent counseling in the foreseeable future kept me going. Sooner became later et voilà, here we are, both ready to begin our journey together.
Gesprächstherapie. For those of you who are not sure what exactly that is and too lazy to look it up, let me explain in a nutshell: established in the 1940s by Carl Rogers, it focuses on the patient, on the patient’s experience and awareness, feelings and thoughts. It is based on empathy and seeks to facilitate the patient so that they might be able to help themselves and find answers, solutions, help within. It’s about knowing and accepting who you are and allowing yourself to be exactly that and thus make change possible in the first place. Six core conditions build the foundation of person-centered therapy: contact, client incongruence, genuininess or therapist congruence, therapist unconditional positive regard, therapist empathetic understanding, client perception. All those fancy words describe a very specific relation between therapist and patient that is defined by empathy and by the therapist’s explicitly articulated desire and active attempt to relate to the patient and fully understand and appreciate his or her perspective as accurately as possible. This can be quite challenging for the therapist, too. As Carl Rogers describes it:
To be with another in this [empathic] way means that for the time being, you lay aside your own views and values in order to enter another’s world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside your self; this can only be done by persons who are secure enough in themselves that they know they will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and that they can comfortably return to their own world when they wish. Perhaps this description makes clear that being empathic is a complex, demanding, and strong – yet subtle and gentle – way of being.Carl Rogers, A Way of Being
In other words: it’s the therapeutic equivalent of Douglas Adams’ Point-of-View Gun, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Psychology, the intergalactic highway into my mind, the big friendly letters on the back reading DON’T PANIC. And yet, I do.
Person-centered therapy allows the patient to address topics and talk while the other person (the therapist) mostly listens. Once you draft out your thoughts, fears, feelings into words and sentences, you automatically re-assess them. I have experienced this and I bet so have you. Gesprächstherapie sort of enhances that process and facilitates the patient to come up with possible solutions for themselves. Ideally, during this process, the therapist simply listens, without judging and without showing any signs of approval or disapproval. It’s an act of active and overly aware listening in such a mannter that the patient perceives he or she is truly heard. This should (theoretically, haha) enable the patient to find the answer (which despite aformer mentioned sci-fi comedy author is not always 42) within oneself. It seeks to shift the perceived cause for feeling miserable from outer circumstances to the inner self. To put it bluntly: it’s a guidance to love, embrace, and accept oneself. Super lame and soppy, I know, – insert pathetic inspirational quote. Oh, well, let’s actually insert a pathetic inspirational quote:
I’m not perfect… But I’m enough.Carl Rogers
One of Rogers’ key slogans. To truly believe that and live by that principle is what person-centered counseling hopes to achieve. So fingers crossed. To be honest, I have very mixed feelings about this. I have high hopes, certainly. But then – and I know, that sounds weird for somebody who hardly ever shuts up – I’m very concerned about the talking itself. Will I be able to open up? To transform the mush in my mind into meaningful units? Will I be able to talk about whatever if I don’t even know what this whatever is and which part of whatever might be relevant to get to the previously mentioned self-insight? Also, I always considered myself being fairly self-assured. Of course, there are situations I feel insecure and of course I have inadequacies THIS big yet others might not even notice. And I’m not sure how all this soppy “love yourself”-mantra is supposed to help me with insomnia, anxiety attacks, or paralyzing emotional pain. But I’m open-minded and willing to try and we shall find out this coming Friday. In a brand new episode of Julia flew over the cuckoo’s nest. Until then, we’ll remain curiouser and curiouser. And needless to say: We’re all mad here. Cheshire Cat over and out.