Strong foundations



As I counselor I’m often asked what methodologies I use. I do have my preferred ones, psychoanalysis (you know, the one Sigmund Freud was famous for) and narrative therapy (the one where the problem is the problem). First and foremost, before I even get to those, I’m person-centered in my approach.

What does that mean, I hear you ask.

I’ll give you example.

Betty* was grieving the loss of a loved one. He passed away several years ago and yet she has been unable to move on with her life without him there.

To most of her friends and relatives it seemed that Betty was hanging on for too long in her grief and that she “just needed to move on; it’s been ages,” or that she’s “had plenty of time to grieve.”

Alas, because Betty is an individual with her own unique relationship with the deceased, she needs to be treated in a way that shows understanding of her. Hence coming to see me.

Does it make a difference if the loved one was her husband? What if he was her son or father?

It makes no difference what the relationship was. She’s Betty and she is an individual person with her own unique set of circumstances, thoughts and feelings.

Just as everyone has, in every possible situation.

Much as each of you will experience this picture differently.

Picture from here and by Dave Meier

Carl Rogers (1980) said that “everyone has it within themselves the vast resources for self-understanding and self-directing behavior.” To aid a client, friend, student, or colleague, to get to the point of helping themselves these three basic building blocks need to be present in order to build the relationship.


I. Realness (or congruence)

II. Caring (or acceptance)

III. Understanding (or empathy)


To be person-centered in any situation where development is required, these three core capabilities need to be present in order for a successful relationship to build. Let’s look at each one in a little more detail:

Realness. This is where the therapist, teacher, mentor etc. invests a part of themselves in the relationship. Putting up a professional façade will prevent the full potential of development of the other person. This genuine desire to help will shine through in the way you communicate with the person and the way you listen to their needs, wants and desires as an individual. This will allow the person to open themselves to you without fear of judgement and with the understanding that you really are invested in their well-being and future.

Caring. Create a climate in your relationship for acceptance. The person you are working with, whatever the capacity, needs to know instinctively that they can move forward without fear of judgement or any ownership for their development from you. Rogers (1980, p.116) calls this “unconditional positive regard.” They need to know they can share ideas, secrets, and hidden parts of themselves without repercussions.

Understanding. Empathy is where you have an understanding, either through your own experience or through a lifetime of other experiences. What it may be like to be experiencing what they are experiencing and the impact. Remember though, your experience is not the same. We’re individuals with different relationships so don’t be tempted to say, “I know what you’re going through.” You have no idea. All you can do is empathize that it was a very difficult time and understand that they what they are experiencing is very challenging.

As people learn that you value them as individuals they will learn to follow and develop their own person centered relationships.

People who are listened to tend to listen more.

People who feel they are valued lean towards having higher value friendships and share their value with others.

People who have caring relationships feel they are more able to be their true self.

Regardless of your role in life, mother, husband, teacher, leader, boss, student, or counselor, you can have strong, fruitful and mutually rewarding relationships simply by being true to yourself and being conscious of building strong foundations.

One last thing: What did you think of the picture?

*Her name wasn’t really Betty.

References: Rogers, C.R. (1980). ‘A Way of Being’. New York: Houghton Mifflin Co.


Written by Frances Carleton. Edited by The Revoluzionne Team.

Frances Carleton is a change management consultant with over 15 years experience, and also The Secret Keeper, a counsellor and psychotherapist operating private practice in Jerrabomberra, NSW (just outside Canberra).

She has a specialist interest in sexual health, grief and loss, and trauma. She uses psychoanalysis and narrative therapy incorporating writing and artistic expression in therapeutic practice.

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