Back at the beginning of this journey I explained why I chose the name Yellow Dot. In it I talked about Rogers’ Core Conditions; Congruence, Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathy. This is the first of three pieces I will write to expand on those concepts – starting with congruence.
In a therapeutic sense to be congruent is to be genuine, to be consistent and honest inside and outside the relationship. It is the counsellor’s job to be congruent at all times rather than to put on the cloak or mantel of “a professional therapist”. By being genuine you allow the client to see you and trust you and, therefore, to risk being open with you.
Of course a therapist has to behave professionally too, I have trained and qualified as a counsellor and a coach, I strive to use the skills carefully and appropriately and I adhere to a code of ethics. At a behaviour level counselling is what I do, in terms of congruence a counsellor is who I am. “Being” a counsellor (as opposed to just “doing” counselling) stems from believing completely in the Core Conditions and incorporating them into all aspects of my life. It is precisely because I hold these conditions as a core belief that I also bring them into my coaching and training work too.
So, perhaps an example would help.
Some years ago I worked with a client (X) who was experiencing difficulty in building and maintaining relationships. X was lonely and friendless and unhappy. Whilst working with X I found that my attention kept drifting – not a good thing in a counselling relationship but, frankly, I found X to be quite boring.
I had a choice. I could pretend not to find X boring and just focus more or I could be congruent and share these feelings. The general rule is that any persistent feelings should be shared and, as these feelings persisted over time, my choice was already made. If I found X to be dull, the chances were that other people did too and this was probably the main cause of X’s loneliness.
I reflected on why I found X boring and tried to analyse the specific behaviours so that I could give some helpful, supportive feedback. X took the feedback really well (partly because I also work with Unconditional Positive Regard and Empathy) and we were able to work together to improve things.
Congruence is not just for counsellors, it is an essential part of any meaningful relationship whether that is personal or professional. We can only hide behind a facade for a short time before the cracks begin to appear. A friend once (half jokingly) commented that she wanted to sue her husband under the Trades Descriptions Act because she thought she was marrying someone who loved participating in sports (the early part of their relationship was spent surfing and windsailing) but it turned out that he mostly liked watching sport on TV – preferably in the pub.
Being congruent can be a risk. By being open and genuine we risk hurting people and we risk being hurt in return. This is why the Core Conditions always need to be used in conjunction with each other rather than in isolation. Demonstrating empathy stops congruence from being blunt. Showing Unconditional Positive Regard ensures you always treat the other person with respect.
If you would like to work with someone who will always strive to be open and genuine, who will always be honest with you and who only has your best interests at heart, please get in touch. The first session is always free of charge.