In access their own wisdom and restore

In this essay I will give a small background on Carl Rogers,
define the three core conditions and then discuss the contributions of Rogers
to the helping field of education, drawing on my own experiences as a teacher.

Carl Rogers has enabled a myriad of people throughout the
world to be themselves with confidence (Thorne and Sanders, 2013). The
counselling approach associated with Rogers, commonly referred to as client-centred
or person-centred, has been one of the most widely used approaches to counselling
in the past 60 years (Thorne, 1992). Rogers suggested that the therapist could
be of most help to clients by allowing them to find their own solutions to
their problems (Rogers, 1942). The fundamental truth for Rogers is that the
client knows what is best for them. They are the ones who knows what hurts and
where the pain is and it should be the client who will discover the way forward.
The role of the counsellor is to relate to the client in such a way as to allow
the client to access their own wisdom and restore self-direction (Mearns and
Thorne, 2007). In his 1957 paper on the ‘necessary and sufficient’ conditions
of empathy, congruence and acceptance Rogers formulated what would in his 1961
book, Becoming a Person, become to be
known as the core conditions; empathy, congruence and unconditional positive
regard (McLeod, 2003). Before critically examining Rogers’ Core conditions contribution
to the helping field it must first be understood what these conditions are.

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Empathy

Empathy describes the counsellor’s capacity to understand
the client at a deep level. Being empathetic is the ability to walk alongside
your client as they go through the counselling process. It involves a
mindfulness of what the client is truly experiencing.  A good rapport is developed with the client by
going on a journey with them, listening to what they say. This can create an
environment in which clients feel safe to talk about their feelings (Geldard
and Geldard, 2005). However, this does not mean that the counsellor should
experience the emotions of the client as this would be counter-productive. The
counsellor needs to appreciate what it is like to be the client and convey this
appreciation to them (Hough, 2006). In Rogers’ own words ‘the therapist
experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s internal frame of
reference and endeavours to communicate this experience to the client.'(Rogers,
1957) Rogers says: ‘To sense the client’s private world as if it was your own,
but without losing the ”as if” quality—this is empathy, and this seems
essential to therapy.'(Rogers, 1957)

Congruence

Congruence is a quality of genuineness, sincerity, honesty
and authenticity within a counselling relationship. Counsellors need to be
themselves, without any façade or pretence in order to be congruent (Rogers,
1996). Congruence is a state of being of the counsellor when the outward
responses of the counsellor to their client consistently match the counsellors
inner experiencing of the client (Mearns and Thorne, 2007). Congruence is important
as it makes it easier for the client to trust the counsellor and thus the
counselling practice itself. Not only this but if a counsellor can practice
congruence themselves they can help the client to be more open about their own
weaknesses and confusion. In this respect it can help the client to become more
self-accepting and congruent themselves (Mearns and Thorne, 2007).

Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR)

The need for positive regard is inherent in all human
beings. People need acceptance, love, friendship, warmth and respect from
others but regrettably these needs are often given on condition. Rogers
believed that counsellors should convey unconditional positive regard towards
clients if they are to feel as though they are understood and accepted (Hough,
2006). When clients experience unconditional acceptance they can become more
confident in their own abilities to cope. This does not mean that a counsellor
must approve of everything a client does. The client and counsellor can have
very different principles and views but at all times the client deserves
positive regard and respect from the people in whom they confide (Hough, 2006).
Rogers said: ‘to the extent that the therapist finds himself as experiencing a
warm acceptance of each aspect of the client’s experience, as being part of
that client, he is experiencing unconditional positive regard.’ (Rogers, 1957)

 

It has been mentioned already that Rogers has helped
countless people to be more confident in themselves (Thorne and Sanders, 2013),
but now I would like to examine how Rogers has specifically contributed to the
helping field of education. Carl Rogers
has provided educators with some interesting and significant questions with
regard to their way of being with clients, and the methods they might employ. The
strength of Rogers’ approach lies in part in his emphasis on rapport with the client. As he wrote in his book Freedom to
learn for the 80’s; ‘The facilitation of significant learning rests upon
certain attitudinal qualities that exist in the personal relationship between facilitator and learner’ (Rogers,
1983). The third edition of Freedom to
Learn takes the
principles that Carl Rogers developed in relation to counselling and modifies
them in the perspective of education. In other words, it is an assessment of
how person-centred learning can be used in education and other situations and
the nature of facilitation (Rogers and Frieberg, 1993).

 

When I hear stories of how my grandparents or parents were
educated in an environment of fear, fear of being physically and emotionally
abused for misspelling a word or getting an answer wrong, I can’t imagine a
situation further from the true meaning of education. The educational circumstances which most successfully promotes
significant learning is one in which 1) threat to the self of the learner is
reduced a minimum, and 2) differentiated perception of the field of experience
is facilitated. (Smith, 1997, 2004). Rogers’ definition of teaching is one that mirrors my own. ‘I see the facilitation of learning as the
aim of education, the way in which we develop the learning man, the way in
which we can learn to live as individuals in the process. I see the
facilitation of learning as the function which may hold constructive,
tentative, changing, process answers to some of the deepest perplexities which
beset man today.’ (Rogers, 1983). I believe that ‘We cannot teach another person
directly; we can only facilitate his learning’ (Rogers, 1951) and it is this belief that has
served me well so far in my career. In order to facilitate learning I believe
that Rogers’ core conditions of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive must
be met.

I have found in my own practice of teaching that Rogers’ core conditions
of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard have the upmost
importance in the classroom. If a student doesn’t have their homework done or
hasn’t learnt their definitions or studied for their test, is there a reason
for this? One cannot simply assume that the student is lazy. As a teacher I try
to be empathetic towards the students. I have often found out simply by asking
the student that there is a lot going on in their lives, and that they have
even managed to get up that morning and come into school is a massive success
for them. Instead of punishing the students I prefer to find out what the
reason behind their apparent lack of effort is. Sometimes the student is going
through a difficult personal situation other times the student didn’t
understand the material and felt like they couldn’t ask in front of the rest of
the class.

 

Congruence is something that I struggled with early in my career. I was
quite close in age to my students and I tried very hard to build a professional
boundary. In doing so I became incongruent and disingenuous. I found myself
becoming overly strict with the students to the extent that I was exhausted at
the end of the day from all of the acting I had done in class. It was weighing heavily
on me so I changed my perspective. I started to ignore the advice of some older
colleagues ‘Don’t show weakness’, ‘Don’t smile until Christmas’. This was
particularly difficult for me as I am a genuinely smiley, caring person. I
stopped listening to the advice and became more congruent. If I don’t know the
answer to a students’ question I don’t make up an answer for fear that the
student will sense a weakness in me if I don’t know the answer to every single
question. I am honest with a student if I don’t know an answer I will tell them
I will find out for them. From my experience the students respect this honesty
and don’t mind waiting until the next class to find out the answer. Being
genuine with my students is something I strive for every day. I think it is one
of the most important features to building a relationship of trust. How can I
expect my students to be open and honest with me if I am not doing the same for
them?

 

To me having unconditional positive regard for students is as important
as knowing the subject content. The students need to know that what they offer
up in the classroom will be met with respect, no matter if their answer is
right or wrong. There is an old saying in the teaching profession ‘There is no
such thing as a silly question’; this to me is practicing unconditional positive
regard. That a student knows that it is okay to ask a question, no matter how
obscure, and that they will be met with respect and not laughter or humiliation.
This is extremely important in facilitating the learning of another. If a
student is too afraid to ask a question how will they be able to learn? It is
also important to know that your students are more than just maths students or
science students, they are someone’s child, sibling, friend, they are into
sport or art or drama. How they behave in my classroom is not all that they
are.

 

The themes
Rogers developed were general enough to be applied to therapeutic work with
groups and in education (Rogers, 1970). Crucially these conditions struck a
chord with the interests of significant groups of people. Psychologists wanting
to enter the field of psychotherapy; pastoral, case and youth workers wanting
to improve their practice; lay people wanting to understand or help those with
‘problems’ – all could get something from Rogers and significantly, Carl Rogers
took up the challenge to explore what a person-centred form of education might
look like. (Smith, 1997, 2004)