Blog: Articles on Psychological Wellbeing, Relationships, Brain Health, Counselling and Neurofeedback
Welcome to the blog of Sojourn Counselling and Neurofeedback. Articles posted here are written by our clinical staff and relate to services we offer or conditions we address. We hope they will be helpful to you in some way, whether you're considering counselling for yourself or someone else, gathering information on a mental health related issue, or just want to find out more about who we are and what we do.
What Does it Mean to Change and Grow in Therapy?
posted: Jan. 11, 2022.
People come to therapy because they are facing some problem or challenge in life that, despite their best efforts, they haven’t been able to move beyond. Often there are external factors contributing to the problem like a family member, friend, coworker, or boss who seem to know just the right buttons to push. These and other external factors are difficult if not impossible to change without first changing oneself. The good news is that personal growth is the focus of counselling, and counselling is meant to deepen the connection to oneself. This lays the groundwork for psychological growth. As we connect to ourselves, we connect to resources that help us make decisions that positively impact personal wellbeing, circumstances and others within our spheres of influence.
What is Psychological Growth?
Carl Rogers, who some would say provided the foundation for modern psychotherapy, defines growth as any kind of movement toward “self-esteem, flexibility, or respect for self and others” (Rogers, 1961). These often form the broad goals for counselling. Growth is a natural tendency of the human organism and can be stimulated if provided the appropriate conditions.
In Roger’s view, unconditional positive regard, acceptance, and empathy are the three pillars that combine to form the environment for personal growth to unfold naturally. In therapy, it is the accepting, non-judgemental attitude of the counsellor towards the client that provides the context for human growth. Change comes about as a response to experiences of oneself in relationship, and the more genuine and authentic this relationship, the greater the potential for growth in counselling.
How does an unconditional positive attitude by a counsellor towards a client in therapy provide the right relational conditions for growth? Painful personal experience is often very difficult to examine, let alone accept. As a therapist demonstrates the attitude that that there is nothing fundamentally wrong with a person, that past decisions made are understandable given the circumstances at the time, it invites people to take a closer look at themselves and their experiences. This is the powerful catalyst to change: to accept oneself and one’s experience enough to look at it directly. To accept our own experience as it is paves the way for growth. Acceptance moves us naturally towards self-actualization, as we turn deeper inward towards our most immediate experiences. But if people come to therapy to change, how does accepting oneself as one is contribute to change?
How Can Therapy Help Me Grow?
Rogers described the unique paradox of acceptance and growth when he stated that when he is able to accept himself just as he is, then he is free to grow. It’s almost like acceptance allows us to get out of our own way to provide space for the natural and ever unfolding process. Can you imagine yourself as a flower bud in the soil? You don’t need to do anything particularly remarkable to make yourself bloom. Once the flower is given the right conditions to grow, it occurs effortlessly. And humans are much the same way.
Rogers demonstrates how being accepting of his own experience impacts clients when he states “It is only by providing the genuine reality, which is in me, that the other person can successfully seek for the reality in him.” This congruence of the therapist can help clients feel safe enough to have a more immediate experience of their own emotions. Emotional experience provides a window into the deepest parts of the self. This is where the therapist’s acceptance of whatever the client discloses is crucial because it provides the safety needed for clients to examine their deepest thoughts and desires, which reveals their true nature. Connection to this true-nature means tapping into the source of our growth potential.
If the counsellor demonstrates these non-judgemental and accepting attitudes, it creates a certain type of relationship where growth can take place. Every human has growth potential, which becomes actualized when the right psychological conditions of acceptance are present. Roger’s conceptualization of how human growth is innate when the right conditions are present also applies to relationships outside of the therapeutic alliance. This means this attitude of non-judgement can be applicable to parents, teachers, and any other professional that operates in a person-to-person capacity.
The conditions of congruence and acceptance starts within the therapist’s being, because if therapists can practice being warm, accepting, and congruent within themselves, it becomes much easier to fulfill this role for another. When the therapist shows up as a whole person, instead of playing the role of a professional helper, they are demonstrating acceptance of themselves as well as offering a congruent and stable sense of their own self. Participation in a congruent relationship with someone who is authentic helps to build self-trust.
The Change Process
How does change occur? As the therapist listens, empathizes, and accepts the client’s experience and internal feelings, clients also increasingly listen to and accept their own experiences, even ones that previously felt scary, overwhelming, or shameful.
As therapy progresses with the therapist demonstrating acceptance, empathy and trustworthiness, trust in the safety of the relationship grows and the client becomes increasingly willing to face previously repressed emotions. People may begin the therapy process quite removed from their emotional experience, but through the safety and acceptance of the therapeutic relationship, they become able to experience and process their emotions as they arise. This becomes the guiding process of therapy. The need to defend oneself against one’s own experience dissolves in the accepting environment of the relationship.
The process of change isn’t about finding some new insight or revelation about oneself, it’s about meeting yourself wherever you are and having the courage to explore and express whatever is arising within oneself. The motivation for growth does not come from psychotherapy, it is an inherent capacity within everyone and therapy can help unlock this capacity.
Rogers also mapped out several characteristics of the growth process that he has observed in various clients across his professional career. In general, clients who sit with their own experience and feel received and accepted by their therapist gradually become more open and accepting of their experience as well. Having one’s experience received in an accepting manner facilitates the movement toward growth, with change occurring along a continuum from rigidness to unfolding into a dynamic process of openness.
Change involves getting closer to our “organic being”, allowing ourselves to be as we are, without having to separate ourselves from whatever we are experiencing in the moment. Our natural self is always in the process of evolving and isn’t in a fixed, definable state, so the closer we move towards our organic, natural self, we move from rigid definitions to embracing the ever-unfolding flow of being.
Once people get to the final stages of therapy, they become less dependent on the counsellor’s acceptance. The person is now willing and able to receive and accept their own immediate emotional experience, learn from this information, and make intentional decisions informed by this deeper connection to themselves. At this stage, change continues to evolve but the person may not have any need to continue coming to therapy, since they can offer themselves the same sense of acceptance, empathy, and positive regard that they received from the therapist.
If you would like to experience therapy with the writer first-hand, Andrew is currently accepting new clients. Book your first appointment today.