By Sue Flint – Retired Person Centred Counsellor & Supervisor
Do you declare your religion on Therapists’ advertising websites? Perhaps you think this is too much disclosure? Having faith and listing yourself as Christian, Catholic, Muslim or any other denomination may have an impact on your potential clients. You may however want to advertise your services as inclusive, non-judgemental and respectful of other faiths and none. So my opening question may have caused you a slight dilemma.
I was both a member of BACP¹ and ACC² working both in Private Practice and for voluntary organisations, one of which was based in a local church. In Private Practice advertising I declared I was also a member of ACC which, in essence, told prospective clients my spiritual background.
Clients who were bereaved often divulged their stance on faith when telling of the funeral service, visiting a grave or feeling the presence of their departed loved ones. Other clients would mention their Catholic upbringing, their involvement in a local church or on occasion would ask me to pray with or for them. At no time was I the first to mention my faith, but if asked a direct question would keep replies simple and brief.
Behind the face, inside the mind
I chose Person Centred Therapy because the model fitted well with my faith. I learned that Carl Rogers had a Christian upbringing, although later lost his faith. He was taking a course in agriculture at Wisconsin University when he changed his plans and studied theology intending to become a minister. He later switched to a study of psychology and went on to write many books about his humanistic theory.
I was privileged, during CPD³, to see Brian Thorne in Keswick and Dave Mearns, in Wrexham, not only talking about but demonstrating with a client the Person Centred approach; I felt it to be the perfect way to help clients find self actualisation. Also, at one point in my career, Jeff Leonardi was my supervisor. He was the Bishop’s Advisor for Pastoral Care and Counselling in the Diocese of Lichfield with a Ph.D. on the person-centred approach to spirituality, so his excellence in the field was a wonderful guide.
Spiritual experience in the counselling room
I experienced spiritual moments with clients when they reached the point of confidence and trust in the process. That moment when emotional depth is reached and a new realisation comes to mind, is so much more powerful than a ‘light bulb’ moment. It is hard to describe but awareness of a power outside of either the client or counsellor feels tangible in the room. It brings with it a change of heart and mind, knowledge of the way forward, a peace and happiness that the client usually thanks the counsellor for. As the counsellor I felt so privileged to have experienced this shift, this release, this greater understanding; it was something that happened beyond my control.
Here’s Carl Rogers’ explaining:
Book: Person Centred Counselling – Therapeutic and Spiritual Dimensions. Whurr Publishers – London and Philadelphia.
Excerpt from 1990. Chapter 14 Carl Rogers: The Legacy and the Challenge. – New Terrain
In an article published in 1986, the year before his death, Carl provided, I believe, the beginning of an answer to this dilemma¹. He wrote that his view had broadened into a new arena that could not as yet be studied empirically. He continued:
When I am at my best, as a group facilitator or a therapist, I discover another characteristic. I find that when I am closer to my inner, intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me, when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness in the relationship, then whatever I do seems to be full of healing. Then simply my presence is releasing and helpful. There is nothing I can do to force this experience, but when I can relax and be close to the transcendental core of me, then I may behave in strange and impulsive ways in the relationship, ways which I cannot justify rationally, which have nothing to do with my thought processes. But these strange behaviors turn out to be right, in some odd way. At these moments it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes part of something larger. Profound growth and healing are present.²”
¹Dilemma referred to in the section before this one in the chapter.
²Referenced by Brian Thorne and from Kirchenbaum and Henderson. The Carl Rogers Reader, London. Constable Publishers.
Before each client I silently prayed asking for strength, guidance and understanding for both myself and the person entering my room. I felt highly privileged that people were coming to me for help, to off-load, to change. Even though I was qualified and experienced I remained humble. We are all equal in this world yet some have different qualities and skills. Did my faith affect my practice? I believe it helped me believe in myself and what I was doing. I also believe that without my faith and good supervision I could not have maintained a level of stamina and competence the job requires. I am very grateful that being a therapist was a path I journeyed for two and half decades, I can look back and be proud that I was part of so many lives that needed a helping hand.
© Susan M Flint 2019
Sue Flint is a retired Person-Centred Counsellor and Supervisor. Formerly a member of BACP and Accredited with the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC) having been in private practice and voluntary counselling for over 25 years. She has written a women’s contemporary fiction novel awaiting publication, writes for a local church magazine and blogs which you will find on this website and on https://sueflintsfs.blogspot.co.uk. She enjoys crafting, reading and leads two well-being groups in Tamworth, Staffordshire where she lives.