THE ESSENCE OF THERAPY
By Carl Rogers (extract from his book On Becoming a Person)
I launch myself into the relationship having a hypothesis or a faith, that my liking, my confidence, and my understanding of the other person's inner world, will lead to a significant process of becoming. I enter the relationship not as a scientist, not as a physician who can accurately diagnose and cure, but as a person, entering into a personal relationship. Insofar as I see him only as an object, the client will tend to become only an object.
I risk myself, because if, as the relationship deepens, what develops is a failure, a regression, a repudiation of me and the relationship by the client, then I sense that I will lose myself, or a part of myself. At times this risk is very real, and is very keenly experienced.
I let myself go into the immediacy of the relationship where it is my total organism, which takes over and is sensitive to the relationship, nor simply my consciousness. I am not consciously responding in a planful or analytic way, but simply react in an unreflective way to the other individual, my reaction being based, (but not consciously) on my total organismic sensitivity to this other person. I live the relationship on this basis.
The essence of some of the deepest parts of therapy seems to be a unity of experiencing. The client is freely able to experience his feeling in its complete intensity, as a “pure culture,” without intellectual inhibitions or cautions, without having it bounded by knowledge of contradictory feelings; and I am able with equal freedom to experience my understanding of this feeling, without any conscious thought about it, without any apprehension or concern as to where this will lead, without any type of diagnostic or analytic thinking, without any cognitive or emotional barriers to a complete “letting go” in understanding. When there is this complete unity, singleness, fullness of experiencing in the relationship, then it acquires the “out-of-this-world” quality which many therapists have remarked upon, a sort of trance-like feeling in the relationship from which both the client and I emerge at the end of the hour, as if from a deep well or tunnel. In these moments there is, to borrow Buber’s phrase, a real “I-Thou” relationship, a timeless living in the experience, which is between the client and me. It is at the opposite pole from seeing the client, or myself, as an object It is the height of personal subjectivity.
I am often aware of the fact that I do not know, cognitively, where this immediate relationship is leading. It is as though both I and the client, often fearfully, let ourselves slip into the stream of becoming, a stream or process which carries us along. It is the fact that the therapist has let himself float in this stream of experience or life previously, and found it rewarding, that makes him each time less fearful of taking the plunge. It is my confidence that makes it easier for the client to embark also, a little bit at a time. It often seems though this scream of experiencing leads to some goal. Probably the truer statement however, is that its rewarding character lies within the process itself, and that its major reward is that it enables both the client and me, later, independently, to let ourselves go in the process of becoming.
As to the client, as therapy proceeds, he finds that he is daring to become himself, in spite of all the dread consequences which he is sure will befall him if he permits himself to become himself. What does this becoming one’s self mean? It appears to mean less fear of the organismic, non-reflective reactions, which one has, a gradual growth of trust in and even affection for the complex, varied, rich assortment of feelings and tendencies, which exist in one at the organic or organismic level. Consciousness, instead of being the watchman over a dangerous and unpredictable lot of impulses, of which few can be permitted to see the light of day, becomes the comfortable inhabitant of a richly varied society of impulses and feelings and thoughts, which prove to be very satisfactory self-governing when not fearfully or authoritatively guarded.
Involved in this process of becoming himself is a profound experience of personal choice. He realises that he can choose to continue to hide behind a facade, or that he can take the risks involved in being himself; that he is a free agent who has it within his power to destroy another, or himself, and also the power to enhance himself and others. Faced with this naked reality of decision, he chooses to move in the direction of being himself.
But being himself doesn’t “solve problems.” It simply opens up a new way of living in which there is more depth and more height in the experience of his feelings; more breadth and more range. He feels more unique and hence more alone, but he is so much more real that his relationships with others lose their artificial quality, become deeper, more satisfying and draw more of the realness of the other person into the relationship.
Another way of looking at this proves, this relationship, is that it is a learning by the client (and by the therapist to a lesser extent). But it is a strange type of learning. Almost never is the learning notable by its complexity, and at its deepest the learnings never seem to fit well into verbal symbols. Often the leanings take such simple forms as “I am different from others”; “I do feel hatred for him”; “I am fearful of feeling dependent”; “I do feel sorry for myself”; “I am self-centered”; “I do have tender and loving feelings”; “I could be what I want to be”; etc. But in spite of their seeming simplicity these learnings are vastly significant in some new way which is very difficult to define. We can think of it in various ways. They are se1f-appropriated learnings, for one thing, based somehow on experience, not in symbols. They are analogous to the learning of the child who knows that “two and two make four” and who one day playing with two objects and two objects, suddenly realises in experience a totally new learning, that “two and two do make four.”
Another manner of understanding these learnings is that they are a belated attempt to match symbols with meanings in the world of feelings, an undertaking long since achieved in the cognitive realm. Intellectually, we match carefully the symbol we select with the meaning which an experience has for us, Thus I say something happened “gradually,” having quickly (and largely unconsciously) reviewed such terms as “slowly,” “imperceptibly,” “step-by-step1” etc., and rejected them as not carrying the precise shade of meaning of the experience. But in the realm of feelings, we have never learned to attach symbols to experience with any accuracy of meaning. This something which I feel welling up in myself, in the safety of an acceptant relationship — what is it? Is it sadness, is it anger, is it regret, is it sorrow for myself, is it anger at lost opportunities — I stumble around trying out a wide range of symbols, until one “fits,” “feels right,” seems really to match the organismic experience. In doing this type of thing the client discovers that he has to learn the language of feeling and emotion as if he were an infant learning to speak; often even worse, he finds he must unlearn a false language before learning the true one.
Let us try still one more way of defining this type of learning, this time by describing what it is not. It is a type of learning which cannot be taught. The essence of it is the aspect of self-discovery. With “knowledge” as we are accustomed to think of it, one person can teach it to another, providing each has adequate motivation and ability. But in the significant learning, which takes place in therapy, one person cannot teach another. The teaching would destroy the learning. Thus I might teach a client that it is safe for him to be himself, that freely to realise his feelings is not dangerous, etc. The more he learned this, the less he would have learned it in the significant, experiential, self-appropriating way. Kierkegaard regards this latter type of learning as true subjectivity, and makes the valid point that there can be no direct communication of it, or even about it The more that one person can do to further it in another, is to create certain conditions which make this type of learning possible. It cannot be compelled.
A final way of trying to describe this learning is that the client gradually learns to symbolise a total and unified state in which the state of the organism, in experience feeling, and cognition may all be described in one unified way. To make the matter even more vague and unsatisfactory, it seems quite unnecessary that this symbolisation should be expressed. It usually does occur, because the client wishes to communicate at least a portion of himself to the therapist, but it is probably not essential. The only necessary aspect is the inward realisation of the total, unified, immediate, “at-this-instant,” state of the organism, which is me. For example, to realise fully that at this moment the oneness in me is simply that “I am deeply frightened at the possibility of becoming something different” is of the essence of therapy. The client who realises this will be quite certain to recognise and realise this state of his being when it recurs in somewhat similar form. He will also, in all probability, recognise and realise more fully some of the other existential feelings, which occur in him. Thus he will be moving toward a state in which he is more truly himself. He will be, in more unified fashion, what he organismically is, and this seems to be the essence of therapy.