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Limitations

Person-centered theory may suffer most from the fact that it appears so simple to learn. The concepts are relatively few, there is not a long list of details to remember, and one does not need to recall a specific tactic for each diagnostic problem a client might have. The counselor can be lulled into a feeling of security by this apparent simplicity. For example, simple listening and reflecting of words and surface feelings are usually beneficial at the very beginning of a session. However, continued surface-level interactions that do not attend to the many dimensions of both the client and the practitioner quickly become seen as repetitive, nondirectional, and trite.

The few basic concepts in person-centered theory have a virtually unlimited complexity because counselors must be fully aware of both their clients' and their own changing phenomenological worlds. They must respond to the interactions between these worlds in ways that best fit the genuine natures of the client and themselves. This difficult task requires excellent understanding and continuing awareness of oneself and the client. New counselors in particular have a difficult time with this complexity. Feeling the pressure to remember and do a "new thing" or a "right thing" naturally makes it more difficult to be genuine and aware of all that is happening around and within themselves and others.

The supportive nature of person-centered theory is often misinterpreted to mean that one should not be confrontational with clients. Counselors often need to do more than listen and reflect. Effectively functioning people confront themselves all the time, and counselors must recognize that appropriate confrontation is a natural part of an effective helping relationship. Person-centered theory makes room for such confrontation, but it gives few specific guidelines as to where, when, and how it should occur.

A great deal of trust in the positive motivation and abilities of oneself and the client is required of the person-centered counselor. Without this trust, many person-centered concepts lose their true value, and a therapeutic interaction can degrade into little more than polite conversation. Such trust in people and a process is not easy to provide in all circumstances. Human beings have difficulty suspending their mistrust because of fears, previous experiences, and preconceived notions common to everyone. The more extreme one's negative experiences and reactions are, the more difficult it is to act fully on the person-centered belief system. The result is that most practitioners can place confidence in a bright, college-educated, law-abiding, depressed client but have more difficulty maintaining a similar confidence in a depressed rapist or murderer.

There are few techniques or activities to fall back on if the counselor does not have or cannot act on a great deal of personal knowledge, understanding, and awareness in the helping relationship. Many other theories provide more activities or tactics that allow the practitioner to give the process a boost when the relationship is not all it could be.

 
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