Practising Congruence and the Art of ‘Being Real’

Kain Ramsay
Mar 29, 2019 · 4 min read

“Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?” — Carl Rogers

In 1957, Carl Rogers published an article, ‘The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change’ in the Journal of Consulting Psychology [1]. This was to launch the school of psychology known as ‘Person-Centered Therapy. This article set out what Rogers believed were the circumstances needed to effect meaningful change in a client.

Rogers observed that ‘incongruence’ was a state of being in which the person experiences a discrepancy or difference between the experience they have and the self-picture they develop in response to that experience.

Rogers gives an example of a mother whose self-image is that of a good mother. However, whenever her only child makes plans to leave home, she develops an illness. This is because to tell the child not to go would not match her self-image of the good mother. Her actual desire is to hold on to her source of satisfaction. Instead, the self-image of the ill mother who needs attention represents an incongruence with the experience, which is her desire to hold on to her child.

Rogers also said a therapist should be in a congruent state to best serve their client within the confines of that therapist-client relationship. He said,

“It means avoiding the temptation to present a facade or hide behind a false mask of professionalism or an attitude of superiority. It’s certainly not simple to achieve such a reality. Being genuine involves the often challenging task of becoming fully acquainted with the flow of experiencing that’s going on within oneself”. — Carl Rogers

So how can we go about achieving congruence in our own lives? It is undoubtedly a continual process, and we have to develop good habits to move toward it. Here are several helpful pointers:

1. Pay attention to what you are feeling and thinking

A necessary start for achieving congruence is to notice our internal state. This also means going beyond what your rational mind might want to say about your state to what you really feel. If your job is boring and unfulfilling, yet you keep doing it without looking for an alternative, then you are incongruent.

2. Be yourself

If you’re aware of yourself, then you need to be it. I’m sure you know many people who ‘put on an act’, especially in their jobs, but possibly in social situations also. If a client can experience you as a real person, they’ll be far more likely to trust you.

3. Don’t hide behind facades

As a therapist, it might be tempting to produce elaborate academic theories for the client, but what you might be doing is hiding from a situation that you find challenging, or a tricky question. This is known as ‘defensive psychotherapy’. The only thing you might achieve is to make the client anxious or draw back from your relationship.

4. If you’re wrong, own it!

As a human being, you will make mistakes. We all do. They can make us feel bad, but they are learning opportunities you can reflect on and use in your personal and professional development. So if you have made a mistake, own it, admit it and apologise if necessary . A swift apology quickly negates the negative feeling you may have. Covering up or not telling the truth because you are hoping the mistake will go away will likely lead to more difficulty. If justified, offering an apology to a client at an early stage may strengthen the therapeutic relationship, and you may avoid a complaint!

5. If you don’t have an answer to a question, admit it.

Sometimes a client will ask you questions you don’t know how to answer. If you are congruent, then saying ‘I don’t know’ is far more authentic than pretending you know. Incongruence can lead to dishonesty or facade building. As the philosopher Socrates once remarked, the wisest person is the one who says ‘I don’t know’.

Allow your clients to experience the real and unabridged version of you.

“What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.” ― Carl R. Rogers

References:

  1. Rogers, Carl (1957). ‘The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change’. The Journal of Consulting Psychology, Vol. 21. Retrieved from: https://app.shoreline.edu/dchris/psych236/Documents/Rogers.pdf

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