A short story by AC Bohart (Integrative Person-Centred Therapist, retired professor and author) that sums up perfectly how I see person-centred therapy....
I live in a society where there is a mismatch between its norms of what is valuable, right, good, or healthy, and who I am. Perhaps I am quiet. Or I am overweight. Or I am not good looking, or I am not socially very smooth, or I hear voices and see things, or I am moody and get down for no good reason or sometimes get up for no good reason, or I suﬀer loneliness intensely, or I have a high strung personality, or I do not have an easy temperament, or I have suﬀered much trauma in my life and I am quite sensitive, and have strange experiences. Or I am rebellious and nonconforming, or I am emotional, or I am not emotional, or I am extroverted, or I am introverted, or I am a creative divergent thinker in a job or society that wants conformity.
And I am told that I am wrong. I am deﬁcient, defective. If it is something like anxiety or depression or hearing voices I may be told there is something biologically wrong with me. That makes me feel even more helpless and marginalized. And perhaps I have not had the luck to have had people around me who have been able to see me and help me recognize that I am of worth no matter what others say. And so I feel helpless. I may feel deformed. I have struggled unsuccessfully to change things about myself, believing it is fundamentally me. And so I believe I am broken.
And so I come to you and hope that you can ﬁx me. And what I get is someone who ﬁnally really listens to me. I am amazed that someone really cares about my story, who really wants to hear me.
I start to tell my story. At ﬁrst I am telling you my story because you are the doctor and I ﬁgure you need the information so you can ﬁx me. You can tell me what is wrong with me or how to cope. But you listen so intently, you are so interested in me and my story, something that no one has ever been interested in before – not my story – not me – that I suddenly ﬁnd myself telling you about me. I tell you about my struggles. How broken I feel. How helpless I feel about that. How I have struggled to keep myself on this planet. And as I do that I realize that there is a proactive me inside. I do not know what that is. But what it feels like is something beyond time, something unique. There is an 'I'. And that I have hopes and dreams. It is I who have suﬀered all these things. What I get from you as you listen to my story is that I am interesting. I am valuable because there is something utterly unique about me and my story and how I have tried to cope.
And soon I come into focus. I begin to ﬁnd a way to balance things. I ﬁnd that ‘I’–a center. A valuable, intelligent center. And it is an 'I' that has hopes and dreams, and can rise above the critical voices I hear from either inside or outside, or the moods I have. It is an 'I' that can ‘own’ me. And my life direction. I am all my experiences and I can own them and mind them, and mind them for whatever value they can provide for me in my life. I am not my voices. I am not my moods. I am not whether I’m schizophrenic or borderline or shy or extrovert or introvert or conservative and quiet or creative and wild. And yet I am all these things at the same time. ‘I’ become wiser. I can take all these things, like a bricoleur or an artist, and use them to create my life. It doesn’t matter if they are biological. I can use them to paint a life.
And that happens because you listen. You take me seriously. You treat me as an authentic source of my own experience. I notice that when I am with you I become calm. There is a calming of the storm. And then I can metaphorically arise from my doubts, my suﬀerings, and walk forward. And I can ﬁnd my own place on the commons with the others. And that is what I wish for everyone.
Ref: Bohart, A. (2017). A client-centered perspective on ‘psychopathology’, Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 16:1, 14-26, DOI: 10.1080/14779757.2017.1298051