Integrating the Core Conditions of Person-Centred Therapy and Personal Consultancy

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Coaching and counselling are two very different one-to-one therapies. I was always aware of this, but I hadn’t thought much about the ways that they could be used together to create a more well-rounded way of working with clients. During my foundation year in counselling and psychotherapy I would get frustrated with the way that practical issues were skirted around and after so many sessions of ‘exploring’ the problem I felt like there should be a way of moving forward, rather than sometimes feeling like the work/issue was becoming stagnant. Even if you fully understand the emotional cause of your behaviour and have explored that thoroughly in counselling – how do you break a habit you feel so comfortable being in? Equally, if a coaching client wants to break their drinking habit but discover some deep, underlying emotional issues related to that, would you have to refer them to a counsellor to deal with those issues separately? Emotions and behaviour, as well as thoughts and feelings, are intertwined and often completely inseparable. So it seems just as natural to integrate counselling and coaching. This is a very simplistic way of explaining the relationship between coaching and counselling, but it is how I learned to understand the relationship, and the importance of using both of these powerful practices together.

Training in the Personal Consultancy model involves a year of training in counselling and psychotherapy, while the coaching element is integrated later on. The first thing most counselling students learn is about Carl Rogers, the Person-Centred approach and these core conditions, which was taught in my foundation year in Counselling and Psychotherapy. However, the Personal Consultancy model also has its own core conditions. Learning these has helped me to understand the differences between other models of therapy and Personal Consultancy.

Personal Consultancy is a therapeutic framework, within which different one-to-one practices and theoretical approaches can be assimilated, allowing the integration of coaching and counselling. It is an open system model of integration and delineates stages, which helps both the therapist and the client keep track of where they are and what they are doing in therapy. These stages are: authentic listening, Rebalancing, Generating and Supporting. The authentic listening and Rebalancing stages employ counselling tools and interventions; while the Generating and Supporting stages are more akin to coaching and mentoring. As well as delineating stages, the Personal Consultancy model splits into ‘dimensions’, and looks at the issues of ‘surface vs. depth’, ‘being with vs. doing with’, and ‘restorative vs. proactive’.

The core conditions of Person-Centred Therapy (PCT) are generally accepted and integrated into many other one-to-one talking therapies. These conditions are: Congruence, Unconditional Positive Regard, and Empathic Understanding. The three core conditions for the Personal Consultancy model are: Genuineness, Compassion and Attention. Considered side-by-side with the PCT core conditions I noticed that there are nuanced, but substantial differences between the two.

Firstly, the name for the core conditions of Personal Consultancy and PCT of ‘Genuineness’ and ‘Congruence’ respectively, are largely interchangeable. Congruence/genuineness is a central ingredient to creating and maintaining an effective therapeutic relationship. It means the extent to which we are being ourselves and relating to others sincerely and in a non-defensive way. In PCT, this core condition is a prerequisite to Empathy and Unconditional Positive Regard (the other two core conditions).

Compassion is Personal Consultancy’s core condition that is most comparable to PCT’s Unconditional Positive Regard in that they both centre on valuing and respecting the client as a unique human being. It is my understanding that although the term ‘Unconditional Positive Regard’ has changed over time, ‘positive’ was really a keyword for Carl Rogers. He suggested loving, and praising the client, communicating to them any positive judgements. This involves bracketing any negative thoughts relating to the client. Compassion, however, means listening to the client and accepting them without any judgements. Positive judgements are also to be bracketed along with negative ones. Perhaps the overall focus of Personal Consultancy’s Compassion is to see the client as ‘essentially human’, nothing more and nothing less. Whereas in PCT, in order to ‘love’ or feel ‘positive’ towards your client, you must intentionally find aspects of the client that you can judge in a positive light.

Initially it seemed like a strange idea to make a concerted effort not to actually ‘like’ the client. It took a little while for me to be won over to the idea of bracketing all, including positive judgements. However, I understand that the danger of positive regard from the perspective of Personal Consultancy, is that the practitioner can easily be seen as ‘colluding’ with the client, or taking sides. For example, your client is going through a rough patch in their marriage, and convinced that his wife is too critical and that actually, she is completely wrong 99% of the time. Would your unconditional positive regard for the client dictate that you openly agree with him? Not only is this unprofessional, you would be doing him an injustice by not encouraging him to explore his viewpoint, and perhaps explore a different one. There is also a possibility that the practitioner’s communication of positivity towards the client can come across as fondness, and the client may feel that there is a risk of ‘ruining’ this. Feeling this way could lead to a client not telling the practitioner everything, or hiding things from them. If they have been judged positively, the assumption might be that they could also be judged negatively.

Empathy is at the heart of PCT, and it is an intrinsic element of one-to-one therapies whereby the therapist senses and conveys his or her emotional understanding of the client’s experience. Attention, as a core condition in Personal Consultancy, also promotes and incorporates empathy. However, Attention is much broader, and in this context, requires the ability to bracket unrelated or intrusive thoughts, which Empathy does not necessarily stipulate. Attention incorporates cognitive understanding, as well as an understanding of the clients’ emotions (empathy). This therefore leads to a broader, more comprehensive understanding of the clients’ experiences. Having said this, some Person Centred Therapists would argue that you cannot have understanding of experience without cognitive understanding, that this almost goes without saying; so in this sense, empathic understanding subsumes cognitive understanding. However, Attention also relates to the existentialist idea of phenomenological reduction, where assumptions and judgements are bracketed, so as to gain insight from the client’s experience, rather than the practitioner’s own already existing mental constructs. An example that helped me to understand the basic premise of this idea is that, if someone tells you a story that involves them going to a supermarket, you immediately picture the supermarket that you would normally go to. There is no basis for this, that is not their experience at all, but you instantly have your own mental images because of your own experiences and recollections of being in a supermarket. Through bracketing these assumptions, and in combination with Compassion and Genuineness, a deeper, more ‘I-thou’ relationship between therapist and client can be achieved. Empathy is, of course, fundamental to a positive therapeutic relationship. Whilst it is a core condition of PCT, it also forms the basis of one-to-one practice in the Personal Consultancy model, and so is by no means ignored or undervalued.

The Personal Consultancy model integrates some attitudes and strategies of PCT, but there are some significant differences between the philosophical standpoints of the two. For example, PCT assumes that everyone is ‘born good’, which Personal Consultancy does not subscribe to. These differences can also be seen in the core conditions of these two models, as can the similarities, however, such as the idea that the therapeutic relationship is paramount. The differences between these two sets of core conditions, to me, are significant, and their importance equal, so it seems futile to put one under the umbrella of the other. They illustrate to me the importance of integration, as PCT is only one of the many approaches that can be incorporated into the Personal Consultancy model; making it a comprehensive and flexible model to work within.

Reference: Popovic, N., Jinks, D. (2014) 'Personal Consultancy: A Model for Integrating Counselling and Coaching' Routledge: London.

[This article was originally published in the AICTP journal Feb2016]

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