074 – Self-Concept in Counselling

074 – Self-Concept – Attending – Unconditional Positive Regard

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In episode 74 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Ken Kelly and Rory Lees-Oakes talk about self-concept, as written about by Carl Rogers. ‘Practice Matters’ examines attending. Last, the presenters discuss unconditional positive regard (UPR).

Self-Concept (starts at 2.04 mins)

Self-concept is an idea much discussed by both psychologists and sociologists. Carl Rogers describes his notion of self-concept in his well-known book On Becoming a Person, originally published in 1961.

In his thinking on self, Rogers was influenced by Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. Rogers believed that the self has three aspects: real self (who we truly are), ideal self (who we would like to be) and self-concept. The self-concept is all about how we view ourselves; it is like a lens through which we see the world. This lens – often invisible to us – may be warped by conditions of worth and introjects. This links to the idea of phenomenology – i.e. the study of subjective experience.

It is really important for trainee counsellors to work on identifying and understanding their self-concept, because otherwise this invisible lens can mar the ability to offer clients the core conditions. Personal development is an important part of counselling training – for example, you will probably have personal development groups, personal therapy and exercises in increasing self-awareness (e.g. the Johari window).

Attending (starts at 12.44 mins)

Attending is a really important skill in counselling, which links to the core condition of UPR. Attending involves putting your client in the centre of your universe while you are working with them. It’s about not only listening to them, but really hearing them. This can be an unusual experience for a client who has not known unconditional love – or who has perhaps even been rejected by others. It is important to ensure that attending happens throughout the full course of therapy.

It is also important to show the client that you are attending to them. Rory offers some tips on doing this:

  • Make appropriate eye contact, remembering that what is appropriate may vary by culture.
  • Sit with a relaxed and comfortable posture.
  • Lean forward towards the client.
  • Consider moving slightly closer when the client is describing difficult material.
  • Be aware of the client’s body language and non-verbal communication.
  • Ensure the room is both accessible to and comfortable for the client, avoiding any triggering objects.
  • If possible, accommodate the client’s wishes with regard to the counselling environment.
  • Pay attention to the ending of therapy, planning this in advance and taking time to help map support available to the client afterwards.

Unconditional Positive Regard (starts at 21.25 mins)

UPR is all about freeing clients from judgement: Carl Rogers used to refer to ‘prizing’ or ‘non-possessive warmth’. This is important in all modalities, not just the person-centred approach.

Ken and Rory discuss the challenges of feeling UPR towards others outside the counselling room. There are differences between the counselling relationship and the way we need to relate to others outside this context; Rory suggests that we can choose to ‘adjust the volume’ on how we display the core conditions, turning this up or down in different contexts as appropriate.