Sie sind auf Seite 1von 12

Person-Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies

ISSN: 1477-9757 (Print) 1752-9182 (Online) Journal homepage:

Being-With and Being-Counter: Relational

depth: The challenge of fully meeting the
client / Miteinander-Sein und Gegenüber-Sein:
Tiefgehende Beziehungen: Die Herausforderung,
dem Klienten wirklich zu begegnen / Estar con y
Estar contra la Profundidad Relacional: El desafío
de encontrarse plenamente con el consultante /
Etre-Avec et Etre-Contre: Rencontrer le client
pleinement—Un défi

Dave Mearns & Peter F. Schmid

To cite this article: Dave Mearns & Peter F. Schmid (2006) Being-With and Being-Counter:
Relational depth: The challenge of fully meeting the client / Miteinander-Sein und Gegenüber-
Sein: Tiefgehende Beziehungen: Die Herausforderung, dem Klienten wirklich zu begegnen /
Estar con y Estar contra la Profundidad Relacional: El desafío de encontrarse plenamente con
el consultante / Etre-Avec et Etre-Contre: Rencontrer le client pleinement—Un défi, Person-
Centered & Experiential Psychotherapies, 5:4, 255-265, DOI: 10.1080/14779757.2006.9688417

To link to this article:

Published online: 11 Aug 2011. Submit your article to this journal

Article views: 428 View related articles

Citing articles: 10 View citing articles

Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at

Download by: [WAPCEPC] Date: 08 July 2016, At: 08:42

Mearns and Schmid

Being-With and Being-Counter:

Relational depth: The challenge of
fully meeting the client
Miteinander-Sein und Gegenüber-Sein: Tiefgehende Beziehungen: Die
Herausforderung, dem Klienten wirklich zu begegnen
Estar con y Estar contra la Profundidad Relacional: El desafío de encontrarse
plenamente con el consultante
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

Etre-Avec et Etre-Contre : Rencontrer le client pleinement — Un défi

Dave Mearns
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow

Peter F. Schmid
Institute for Person-Centered Studies, Vienna; Sigmund Freud University, Vienna;
Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco

Abstract. Following on from a previous publication (Schmid & Mearns, 2006), this paper continues the
authors’ investigation of the relationship emphasis within person-centered therapy. It explores the concept
of relational depth (Mearns & Cooper, 2005), especially in regard to work with hard-to-reach clients,
outlining the particular challenges to the therapist seeking to engage the different parts of the client, even
those in self-protective conflict with the therapeutic process. The ethical boundaries of therapeutic
confrontation and dialogue that constitute relational depth are explored as is the developmental agenda
for the therapist.

Zusammenfassung. Dieser Artikel knüpft an eine frühere Publikation an (Schmid & Mearns, 2006).
Die Autoren setzen ihre Untersuchung zur Betonung der Beziehung in der Personzentrierten
Psychotherapie fort. Das Konzept der tiefgehenden Beziehung („relational depth”) (Mearns & Cooper,
2005) wird untersucht, besonders im Hinblick auf die Arbeit mit Klienten und Klientinnen, die schwer
zu erreichen sind. Die besonderen Herausforderungen für den Therapeuten und die Therapeutin werden

Author note. This paper was presented as the second part of a double keynote lecture to the fourth World Congress
of Psychotherapy in Buenos Aires in August 2005.
Address correspondence to Dave Mearns: Email: <>.
Address correspondence to Peter F. Schmid, A-1120 Vienna, Koflergasse 4, Austria. Email: <>.

© Mearns
Person-Centered and Experiential and Schmid1477-9757/06/04255-11
Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4 255
Being-With and Being-Counter

skizziert, wenn diese die verschiedenen Anteile des Klienten zu erreichen suchen, sogar jene, die sich aus
Selbstschutz im Konflikt mit dem therapeutischen Prozess befinden. Die ethischen Grenzen von
therapeutischer Konfrontation und Dialog, die eine tiefgreifende Beziehung konstituieren, werden
untersucht sowie auch die Themen, die anstehen, wenn es um Entwicklung für den Therapeuten bzw.
die Therapeutin geht.

Resumen. Continuando con una publicación previa (Schmid & Mearns, 2006), este artículo continúa la
investigación de los autores sobre el énfasis en la relación dentro de la terapia centrada en la persona.
Explora el concepto de profundidad relacional (Mearns & Cooper, 2005), especialmente en el trabajo con
consultantes a quienes resulta difícil acceder. Señala los desafíos particulares del terapeuta que busca
vincularse con las diferentes partes del consultante, aún aquellas en conflicto autoprotector con el proceso
terapéutico. Se exploran los límites éticos de la confrontación terapéutica, el diálogo que constituye una
profundidad relacional, y la agenda de desarrollo personal del terapeuta.

Résumé. Suite à un article précédent (Schmid & Mearns, 2006), les auteurs continuent leur recherche
sur l’importance de la relation dans la thérapie centrée sur la personne. Le concept de profondeur
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

relationnelle (Mearns & Cooper, 2005) est particulièrement étudié dans le travail avec des clients
difficiles à atteindre. Il s’agit d’un défi à relever pour le thérapeute qui cherche à entrer en contact avec
les parties différentes du client, même celles qui sont, pour mieux se protéger, en conflit avec le
processus thérapeutique. Les frontières éthiques de la confrontation thérapeutique et du dialogue qui
constituent la profondeur relationnelle, sont explorées, ainsi que le projet de développement personnel
et professionnel du thérapeute.

Keywords: Person-centered therapy, relational depth, encounter, confrontation, dialogue, developmental

agenda, existential touchstones

In a previous paper (Schmid & Mearns, 2006) we laid down the basis of person-centered
therapy as a relationship therapy. We explored the nature of that relationship, emphasizing
that it was both alongside the client and in confrontation with them. We emphasized the
notion of achieving relational depth where the client is offered an intensity of human relating
that is experienced as affording unique safety and support such that the client might take the
risk of going behind their normal portrayal level of self to enter parts that are of particular
existential significance to them. We examined the different kinds of resonance in the therapist:
self-resonance, empathic resonance and personal or dialogic resonance and how these can
lead to confrontation and dialogue. We pointed out that such a strong relational way of
working could be particularly indicated for a range of hard-to-reach clients and illustrated
this by brief references to such clients as Dominic the drunk, Bobby the ex-gangster and Rick
who had become mute as a response to his traumatization in war.
In this paper we will go on to identify the particular challenges to the therapist in
working at relational depth — the challenge of engaging the hard-to-reach client and the
challenge to the therapist of using their self fully and in a fashion that is professionally
boundaried. Furthermore, we develop criteria for person-centered confrontation and dialogue.
Lastly, we will outline the developmental agenda for the therapist seeking to work in these

256 Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4

Mearns and Schmid


In the struggle to obtain the kind of dialogue we have been describing there are two particular
challenges for the person-centered therapist:
· Not to be relationally negated by the self-protective processes of the client;
· Struggling to meet the different parts of the client that may have come to personify
different facets of the conflict and offer relational depth to all.

Not to be relationally negated by the self-protective processes of the client

In person-centered therapy discourse we tend not to use terms such as defences or resistances
because these have come to connote a battle against the process of the client. Instead, we
more often use the term self-protective processes because this term more accurately reflects the
primary function of those processes — to protect the self as it has actualized to that point.
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

If we look at two of the clients mentioned in the previous paper (Schmid & Mearns,
2006) we can see examples of their self-protective processes. One of the functions of Dominic’s
drinking (see also Mearns & Cooper, 2005) was that it could always return him to a position
of stasis thus staving off any potential threat of change. This is one of the reasons why the
person-centered therapist would not focus their work on specific client behaviors or problems.
If the work is focused, for example, on the client’s drinking, then it is too easy for the self-
protective processes to negate the therapeutic endeavor and recreate stasis by recommencing
drinking. The challenge for the person-centered therapist is not to make the therapy vulnerable
by placing emphasis on the drinking behavior. While this seems obvious in theoretical terms
it is striking how often the opposite, problem-centered approach is taken. Of course, it is
easier to relate to a problem than a person, particularly a hard-to-reach person.
Another client from the previous paper, Bobby (see also Mearns & Thorne, 2000; Mearns
& Cooper, 2005) exhibited self-protective processes that had been developed over a lifetime
of protecting himself against the danger of the loss of control that relationship might bring.
He was expert in counteracting growing intimacy with ready suspicion, cynicism and sarcasm.
Also, he was outwardly aggressive and threatening towards the therapist and where he saw
weakness, he was ready to jump on it with taunting behavior. Arguably the most violent of
his self-protective processes was the hate he would experience and manifest in response to
feeling the smallest relational warmth within himself.
During the past ten years person-centered therapists have gone a long way towards
identifying a range of client processes developed to protect the self as it is actualized to an
earlier point of stasis: for example, fragile process and dissociated process (Warner, 2000); psychotic
process (Prouty, 1994) and ego-syntonic process (Mearns, 2006). One of the main challenges
for the person-centered therapist is not to be relationally negated by those processes. Instead,
the therapist meets the person engaged in these processes, actively values them and relates
with them, and is as responsively empathic as when the client is manifesting other qualities.
The impact of this upon the client is striking — the very strategies they used to protect them
from relationship are themselves being encountered in relationship. That confrontation can

Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4 257

Being-With and Being-Counter

be so existentially significant for hard-to-reach clients that it opens doors to deeper levels of
self-experiencing and self-expression.

Struggling to meet the different parts of the client

The second main challenge for the person-centered therapist seeking to establish dialogue at
an existential level with their client is the struggle to meet the parts of the client that may have
come to personify different facets of the conflict and to offer relational depth to all, even
those who might seek to destroy the therapy or the therapist. Like many psychotherapeutic
theories, person-centered therapy has developed its own understanding of self-pluralism
(Cooper, Mearns, Stiles, Warner, & Elliott, 2004). It is interesting to see this same kind of
development coming from many different parts of the profession, yielding broadly similar
concepts such as the person-centered notion of configurations (Mearns & Thorne, 2000) but
also, from other traditions, voices (Hermans & Kempen, 1993), subpersonalities (Rowan,
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

1990), ego states (Berne, 1966) and others.

The growth of conflict within the self leading to the possibility of change is described by
Carl Rogers in terms of his concept of actualization. In his 1959 revision of his Personality
Theory (Rogers, 1959), he spoke about the conflict that arose between the self as it has
actualized to this point and the continuing promptings of the actualizing tendency. For example,
the action of the actualizing tendency will have prompted the client to achieve the best
balance they could between their own enhancement and meeting the conditions of worth
imposed upon them. However, while obtaining that resolution will have seemed like an
enormous achievement of survival for the client, the promptings of the actualizing tendency
do not cease with the winning of that apparent stasis. Having survived childhood conditions
of worth, the adult now finds themselves in renewed conflict under the challenge of implicit
existential questions such as Is this all there is to my life? Is surviving all I can do? Must I
continue to be fearful in relationships?
A more generic concept than actualization for examining this process is Leon Festinger’s
fifty-year-old concept of dissonance (Festinger, 1957). Most clients come into therapy because
the dissonance within their self has reached an intolerable level. In terms of a pluralist
conception of the self, the conflict between and among the parts has increased to an extent
that the family of the parts is in potential breakdown. In so far as psychotherapy hears all the
voices more fully and also (hopefully) equally, therapy initially tends to increase that dissonance,
albeit in a well-supported context. Dissonance is uncomfortable but it is also a secondary
motivation for change and development. This is one of the reasons why psychotherapy is a
politically radical process. Unlike symptom-reduction treatments it brings dissonant process
to the fore and does not reinforce stasis.
Within the person-centered system, where we are seeking to achieve the kind of dialogue
at a profound existential level described in our previous paper (Schmid & Mearns, 2006), the
challenge to the therapist is to enter the client’s dissonance system and find ways to meet the
different parts that have developed to house the various imperatives within that system. So,
the person-centered therapist is challenged to meet “Dominic the drunk” as equally as “sober

258 Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4

Mearns and Schmid

Dominic” even although “Dominic the drunk” is extremely wary of relationship because of
its potential to challenge his imperative of restricting Dominic’s further actualization. As well
as Bobby’s self-protective processes already described, he had two main configurations: sad
me and frightened me. The challenge of encountering sad me was the pure depth of that
sadness. Interestingly, one of the powerful therapeutic experiences for Bobby was his therapist
being able to meet his frightened part without, in turn, feeling fear (Schmid & Mearns,
2006). This simultaneously increased Bobby’s own fear but also raised his hope. Existentially,
fear and hope are often two faces of the same coin.
All the time, while struggling to work within the client’s dissonance system and form
therapeutic relationships at depth with all the parts, the person-centered therapist is aware that
there are different ways in which the massive dissonance may be reduced. All systems of
psychotherapy, including person-centered therapy, tend to hold to the hope that the result of
our therapeutic work will be that the dissonance will tend to be reduced by the client’s changing
in a growthful direction. However, there are no such guarantees — dissonance can also be
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

reduced by the client’s beating a retreat to an earlier point of stasis and balancing the movement
with a strident negation of the therapy process and the therapist. Such is the radical politics of
psychotherapy that we cannot and should not seek to control the client’s outcomes.



As outlined at the end of the previous paper (Schmid & Mearns, 2006) we need criteria to
determine when confrontation, disclosure of personal resonance and dialogue are person-
centered and when they are not. This is necessary not only in order to correctly understand
what is meant by these terms but also important in order to have a guideline to check for
oneself and to be able to discriminate between one’s own need for encounter and the client’s
(maybe tacit) invitation to enter an encounter relationship in therapy.

What confrontation and dialogue are not

As a matter of course, confrontation and dialogue have nothing to do with expert behavior such
as “the way I see it is more correct than the way you see it.” They are also different from “you
could/should go in this or that direction with your further exploration of your experiencing.”
They do not intend process direction or process guidance. Furthermore they are definitely not for
the satisfaction of the needs of the therapist stemming from outside the therapeutic relationship.
They have nothing to do with diagnosis. They must not be mixed up with blaming, reproaching,
insinuating or attacking the client’s self-protection (“resistance” or “defence”; Rogers, 1971, pp.
277–278). And not at all have they to do with rude or insensitive behavior.
It seems particularly necessary to emphasize that confrontation and dialogue are also
substantially different from so-called self-disclosure (Carkhuff, 1969) — at least in its common,
widespread meaning and use, or better: excuse, where it is often mixed up with the idea that

Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4 259

Being-With and Being-Counter

everything the therapist says or does can be justified by the idea of congruence. This is a
confusion of congruence with thoughtlessness, lack of empathy, self-portrayal and self-
performance, selfishness or even coarseness and misuse.

Devoting one’s awareness to the service of the Other: Criteria for working at
relational depth

The overall criterion is: Whatever the therapist does should be towards the assistance and
facilitation of the client. This means that the therapist is devoting their whole awareness to the
service of the Other. This includes the awareness of self and relationship, the whole consciousness.
The general criterion is defined in terms of a number of sub-criteria as follows:

On an encounter level client and therapist are touching and are being touched. Existentiality
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

denotes a personal quality which has to do with significant experiences and their interpretations.
Dialogue can never be made or produced (see also Barrett-Lennard, 2003, chapter 5); it
evolves out of being touched on a personal level and the willingness to share this.

Freedom of choice
The therapist has the freedom to choose the level of their relationship to the client within the
possible spectrum. They are free to choose the existential level or a more presentational one
(see Mearns, 1996, p. 308; cf. Schneider & May, 1995). They are not forced to bring themselves
into play; they deliberately can decide. The therapist has more than one option to continue.
Although the moment of being touched is never chosen purposefully, the way to proceed in
the encounter relationship happens with full consideration.

Encounter is just the opposite of preconceived techniques, methods and trained skills. True
dialogue happens im-media-tely, without media or means. As dialogue is a process, immediacy
is a process, too, as Martin Buber (1923, p. 19) states: “Immediacy is born through the fact
that all ‘media’ that separate us ‘decay’, become unnecessary, surplus.” (See Schmid, 1994,
2002.) (Apropos true dialogue: at the encounter level, at existential depth a person cannot
lie; see Mearns & Cooper, 2005.)

Communication in an encounter relationship always more or less explicitly says something
about the relationship between those involved. In a communication of this quality the therapist
always also communicates — explicitly or implicitly — about how they see their relationship
with the client. For example, this can be their personal feeling towards the client that is
stirred up by the client’s expressions or their personal acknowledgment of the person of the
client, or their deep empathic understanding of the client by referring to a comparable
experience of themselves etc.

260 Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4

Mearns and Schmid

The therapist’s communication allows that a mutual exchange can occur, if the client chooses to
enter this mode. What the therapist utters shows that it is an invitation (not an obligation) to
respond on the same level. Here it is where true dialogue can commence, if the client desires.

Openness to risk
In the encounter mode there is always a risk (of being touched, surprised, hurt, loved, etc.).
Like every personal relationship, psychotherapy at the level of relational depth includes the
danger of being misunderstood, hurt, rejected or ignored. This goes for the therapist, but
also for the client.

Encounter and dialogue happen without calculated intention, they are never “in order to”;
they can never be used. They are characterized by a principled non-directiveness or to name
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

it in a positive way, by a facilitative responsiveness (Schmid, 2005). They are answers to given
situations. They rest on the belief that it is always the very moment that is the source of
change, development and decision (making up the “kairotic quality” of encounter; Schmid,
1994, 2003).

Addressing all parts of the self

Meeting at relational depth means to encounter and address all visible and sensed parts of the
other person, although usually not at the same time (see above).

Since we are talking about personal rather than naïve encounter (Schmid, 2004), the
relationship includes the joint reflection of the relationship. Thus co-reflection (or
metacommunication or metadialogue) is an essential part of dialogue. This means to view
the dialogue from within the dialogue: therapist and client reflect their relationship.

The criterion for whether something is personal confrontation or dialogue is not a matter of
intensity. The difference is qualitative rather than quantitative. Confrontation and dialogue
can be very unspectacular. To encounter a client, to meet them at relational depth, means to
touch the client in(side) their experiencing as opposed to an approach from the outside (see
Mearns, 1996, p. 309).

The phenomena and processes we talk about, although precious and maybe rare for a lot of
people, happen within the world, not outside of it. It is extremely important to be aware of
the context. Personal words may have a specific meaning to a specific client and/or in a
specific situation. This implies being aware of who else is listening or involved. For example,
it is very important in groups to be conscious of the fact that the person addressed by a

Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4 261

Being-With and Being-Counter

statement may well understand it as it was meant and another person, listening and seemingly
not involved, can be hurt or can take it the wrong way. To be aware of the context also means to
be attentive to the client’s relational life outside therapy and to the wider socio-economic and
cultural context of the enterprise and microcosm of therapy itself (see Barrett-Lennard, 2005).

Awareness of power
Last but not least, dealing carefully with the power issue involved is an unrenounceable
ethical task for therapeutic confrontation and dialogue. Particularly when at the level of
encounter, clients are vulnerable and may be misused. The therapist must keep in mind that
psychotherapy is for the client and therefore always carefully reflect on the relationship — in
the relationship itself, as just mentioned (partly together with the client) and outside the
relationship (most commonly in supervision). If the therapist fails to do so, they might
confuse interest with curiosity, being touched with self-therapy, confrontation with correction,
sharing with advice, in a word: encounter with abuse.
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016



How do person-centered therapists meet these challenges? What is it that makes a therapist
the kind of person with whom a client — any client — would be prepared to risk an
engagement at relational depth where they would enter these areas experienced as fundamental
to their existence? The answer we have been developing is that such a therapist is someone
who is not trapped into relating only at the presentational level of self but can respond to the
client from their own depths. They can offer empathic resonance and also personal resonance.
They can be both receptive and expressive: they can take people in and they can reach out to
people. In both these activities they are not deterred by clients’ various systems of self-protection.
They honor these, but they do not collude with them. They can receive a wide range of
others — the client who is incredibly fragile (Warner, 2000), another who protects himself
by seeking to put down the other (e.g. Bobby), and even clients who have essentially retreated
from the world (e.g. Rick in chapter 6 of Mearns & Cooper, 2005). As well as being able to
receive, this therapist can also reach out to the other. In reaching out they are not deterred by
fear — fear of the other; fear of how they are seen; fear of getting it wrong; fear of losing
themselves. They are utterly committed to congruence — to being transparent as well as self-
aware — to show the other what is going on in the therapist; why they are trying; and the
feelings they are experiencing in the act of trying. In all of this, the aim is to offer something
truly different to the client, something that the client might begin to accept as moments of
relational depth and, as these moments add up, accept in terms of the continuing relationship
where they can more easily dip into material from the depths of their self-experiencing
whether that material is already symbolized or is at the dimmest edge of awareness.
How can we help therapists to become this kind of person? Certainly, we cannot do it by
giving them a manual of interventions, treatment plans and therapeutic tools. The endeavor

262 Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4

Mearns and Schmid

is so firmly tied to who the therapist is as a person — their personal awareness and security —
that it is their self that must be the developmental agenda. We want the therapist to be able to
use their self fully, in the sense of personal resonance, with their clients. Furthermore, we want
them to be able to do this with a wide range of clients, including many that will be hard to
reach for a variety of reasons. So, the self of the therapist that is likely to achieve this is one
that has both breadth and depth and is accessible to being used by the therapist in the
therapeutic endeavor. Many human beings have a considerable breadth and depth of self-
experiences and self-configurations, but these are not necessarily safe places. The developmental
agenda for the therapist is discovering these self-experiences and configurations, gradually
integrating them in the sense of overcoming the fear that may initially be associated with
them and coming to accept them as actual or potential strengths that may offer breadth and
depth in relationship with clients.
This developmental agenda may challenge the person-centered therapist to integrate
the different configurations within their own self so that these become accessible for use
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

within the therapy room. So, a therapist in their early development might readily employ
their confident part, but can they also come to accept their diffident part to the extent that it
can potentially be useful in some therapeutic encounters? Many clients will find easy uses for
“confident” but there will be some that at times can also benefit from an engagement with
“diffident”. Similarly, a therapist will readily find that her “grown-up woman” is a major
player in the therapy room but are there also times when her “little girl” is useful too —
perhaps for the particular acuity she has for parts of the client that struggle to be grown-up?
It is not only full-blown configurations of self that add to the breadth and depth the
therapist can offer the client. Each therapist will have a range of self-experiences that potentially
can become what we call existential touchstones (Mearns & Cooper, 2005) that can be used to
meet clients. The interesting feature of existential touchstones is that some of them may start
their life as negative or even damaging experiences for us, but with the process of self-acceptance
they become integrated and offer us powerful aspects of our self to use as bridges into the
experiencing of our client. For example, a therapist’s earlier intense experience of powerlessness
in the face of abuse would not obviously be regarded as a potential strength for her as a
therapist. Nor would it be a strength while she was still racked by fear or anger from the
experience. But if her development takes her to a point beyond that fear or anger then she has
won a potential touchstone that could broaden as well as deepen what she can offer as a
therapist. That self-experience of fear or anger could now be a part of her self she can enter as
a bridge into her client’s experience of fear or anger. It is not the same as her client’s experiencing
but it is in the direction of the client’s experiencing — it has the same flavor. By this means
the therapist can more fully enter her client’s world and offer a powerful depth of relating.
This phenomenon is qualitatively different from the exercises of projective identification (Rowan
& Jacobs, 2002, pp. 41–46) or cognitive social perspective taking as challenged by Binder
(1998, pp. 219–220) where there is an effort to imagine the world of the other but it is a
purely cognitive reach rather than an affective/cognitive one. This personal resonance — actually
going into different aspects of our sense of our own existence as stepping-off points into our
client’s experiencing — might seem dangerous to those who are concerned about losing the

Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4 263

Being-With and Being-Counter

as if quality of empathy and getting lost in their own self-experiencing. In fact this is the kind
of worry that evaporates in the reality of the events. What does “getting lost” actually mean?
If it means finding our own tear for ourselves and that being shared with our client while
acknowledged as our own, then that can be a most powerful moment in relationship.
The developmental challenge to the therapist is to convert earlier self-experiences, many of
which would initially have been difficult, into aspects of their self that actually strengthen their
spirit and broaden the self they have to offer their clients. In person-centered language we talk
about this in terms of increasing self-acceptance. Many self-experiences detract from our relational
functioning perhaps because we feel bad about ourselves in relation to them or we have doubts
or even fears about ourselves in relation to them. The gradual process of self-acceptance during
the person-centered therapist’s development reviews and re-evaluates these self-experiences,
gradually removing the fear and doubt and obtaining a realistic appraisal of the self.
Initial training in person-centered therapy faces this self-acceptance agenda, creating an
intense relational environment where trainees find themselves encountering each other in a
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

climate of shared learning. Gradually, self-doubt is challenged by the review of old self-
experiences and by new self-experiences reinforced through the challenge and feedback from
others. By this process the intrinsic negativity is chipped away under the challenge of reality
testing and replaced by a growing self-acceptance. But initial training is only the beginning of
the developmental process for the therapist. That development goes on, ideally supported by
continuing supervision. Such developmentally oriented supervision is qualitatively different
from casework supervision. Instead of the primary focus being on the client, it is on the
therapist and their ongoing development (Lambers, 2006).
So many of the clients we meet have become damaged in relationships or by the loss of
relationship. So much of our poetry, our music, our drama and our literature is grounded in
the centrality of relationship. Yet we have an ambivalence towards our use of relationship in
psychotherapy — we sense its value but we also worry about how we can be professional in
our use of relationship. That ambivalence is what we have been seeking to challenge in this
and our previous paper. Rather than allowing our practice to become ever more relationally
detached and reliant on observations, analyses and techniques, might we take up the challenge
and explore how we could more fully harness the power of human relationship while
simultaneously laying down the ethics for its professionalism?


Barrett-Lennard, G. T. (2003). Steps on a mindful journey: Person-centred expressions, Ross-on-Wye: PCCS

Barrett-Lennard, G. T. (2005). Relationship at the centre: Healing in a troubled world. London: Whurr.
Berne, E. (1966). Transactional Analysis in psychotherapy. New York: Grove Press.
Binder, U. (1998). Empathy and empathy development with psychotic clients. In B. Thorne & E.
Lambers (Eds.), Person-centred therapy: A European perspective (pp. 216–230). London: Sage.
Buber, M. (1923). Ich und Du. Heidelberg: Lambert Schneider, 8th ed. 1974; orig. 1923.
Carkhuff, R. (1969). Helping and human relations: A primer for lay and professional helpers. New

264 Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4

Mearns and Schmid

York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Cooper, M., Mearns, D., Stiles, W. B., Warner, M. S., & Elliott, R. (2004). Developing self-pluralistic
perspectives within the person-centered and experiential approaches: A round-table dialogue. Person-
centered and experiential psychotherapies, 3, 176–191.
Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Evanston, IL: Row Peterson.
Hermans, H. J. M. & Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The dialogical self: Meaning as movement. San Diego,
CA: Academic Press.
Lambers, E. (2000). Supervision in person-centred therapy: Facilitating congruence. In D. Mearns & B.
Thorne, Person-centred therapy today: New frontiers in theory and practice (pp. 196–211). London: Sage.
Lambers, E. (2006). Supervising the humanity of the therapist. Person-Centered and Experiential
Psychotherapies, 5, 266–276.
Mearns, D. (1996). Working at relational depth with clients in person-centered therapy. Counselling, 7,
Mearns, D. (1999). Person-centred therapy with configurations of self. Counselling, 10, 125–130.
Mearns, D. (2006). Person-centred therapy: A leading edge. 2006 Masterclass. Presented at Metanoia,
London and elsewhere. (See
Downloaded by [WAPCEPC] at 08:42 08 July 2016

Mearns, D. & Cooper, M. (2005). Working at relational depth in counselling and psychotherapy. London: Sage.
Mearns, D. & Thorne, B. (2000). Person-centred therapy today: New frontiers in theory and practice.
London: Sage.
Prouty, G. F. (1994). Theoretical evolutions in person-centered/experiential therapy: Applications to schizophrenic
and retarded psychoses. New York: Praeger.
Rogers, C. R. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships as developed in the
client-centered framework. In S. Koch (Ed.), Psychology: A study of a science (Vol. 3) (pp. 184–256).
New York: McGraw-Hill.
Rogers, C. R. (1971). On facilitating encounter groups. The American Journal of Nursing, 71, 275–279.
Rowan, J. (1990). Subpersonalities: The people inside us. London: Routledge.
Rowan, J. & Jacobs, M. (2002). The therapist’s use of self. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Schmid, P. F. (1994). Personzentrierte Gruppenpsychotherapie: Ein Handbuch. Vol. I: Solidarität und
Autonomie. Cologne, Germany: Edition Humanistische Psychologie.
Schmid, P. F. (2002). Presence: Im-media-te co-experiencing and co-responding. Phenomenological,
dialogical and ethical perspectives on contact and perception in person-centred therapy and beyond.
In G. Wyatt & P. Sanders (Eds.), Rogers’ therapeutic conditions: Evolution, theory and practice. Vol 4:
Contact and perception (pp. 182–203). Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
Schmid, P. F. (2003). The characteristics of a person-centered approach to therapy and counseling:
Criteria for identity and coherence. Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, 2, 104–120.
Schmid, P. F. (2004). Back to the client. A phenomenological approach to the process of understanding
and diagnosis. Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, 3, 36–51.
Schmid, P. F. (2005). Facilitative responsiveness: Non-directiveness from an anthropological,
epistemological and ethical perspective. In B. Levitt (Ed.), Embracing non-directivity: Reassessing
person-centred theory and practice in the 21st century (pp. 74–94). Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
Schmid, P. F. & Mearns, D. (2006). Being-with and being-counter: Person-centered therapy as an in-
depth co-creative process of personalization. Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, 5,
Schneider, K. & May, R. (Eds.) (1995). The psychology of existence: An integrative, clinical perspective. New
York: McGraw-Hill.
Warner, M. (2000). Person-centered therapy at the difficult edge: A developmentally based model of
fragile and dissociated process. In D. Mearns & B. Thorne, Person-centred therapy today: New frontiers
in theory and practice (pp. 144–171). London: Sage.

Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies, Volume 5, Number 4 265