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There are many different types of therapy. A common misconception people have about therapy is that they will need to lie on a couch and talk about their parents. This is just one type of therapy known as psychoanalysis. It is the oldest “talking cure” and was developed by Sigmund Freud at the end of the 19th century. Whilst there are still some therapists who practice using this approach, most modern therapists only use a couch when they watch Netflix at the end of the day.

The person-centred approach is a form of counselling which puts the client’s experience and innate knowledge about themselves at the heart of the process. After all, who knows the client better than themselves? Whereas some other forms of therapy might involve the therapist assuming the role of an ‘expert’ and interpreting the client’s behaviour to fit in with a particular psychological model, the person-centred counsellor aims to work within the client’s own frame of reference. In other words, the therapist does not lead, but travels alongside the client as they explore whatever issue they have chosen to raise in the session.

The furniture used in a person-centred therapy session reflects the equality of the therapeutic relationship. Both client and counsellor sit in chairs facing one another. The chairs are comfortable but, most importantly, identical. No chair is taller or larger than the other, just as no person in the therapeutic relationship is ‘above’ the other in status. There is no desk creating an artificial barrier between the two chairs. Client and counsellor face one another as equals.

When working with a person-centred therapist, it is worth bearing in mind that the sessions can feel curiously directionless. You might come to an appointment wanting to discuss a particular issue but find that over the course of the session the focus changes and you end up talking about a completely different subject. Many people get used to this ‘wandering’ approach quite quickly and come to embrace the fact that the sessions give them an opportunity to explore their thoughts and feelings with such freedom. It is up to them what they talk about and they can really take their time to explore themselves.

However, for those clients seeking a more directive approach, the person-centred approach can be a bit disconcerting, even off-putting. This is why a number of therapists, myself included, offer an integrative approach, using a mixture of non-directive and more directive approaches (such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), adapting their practice to meet the individual needs of the client. No one therapeutic approach can realistically be said to be ‘better’ than another. The important factor when entering therapy is to find the approach that works for you.

Taigh Sàmhchair: professional counselling and psychotherapy

Hereward Proops MBACP, registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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