Word count excluding front sheet and references: 4816
The purpose of this essay is to explore the development of the self in relationship within the person centred approach through drawing on developments within the broader field of psychotherapy. My principle intention is to explore intra-psychic and intersubjective understandings of self and form a view of a person centred understanding of self in relation to this dichotomy.
I will argue that person centred theory was an original, if not revolutionary, approach to psychotherapy, the origins of which are found in phenomenological and existential thought rather than the scientific and medical roots of the psychoanalytic theory dominant at the time.
I will describe how the person centred view of the self grew from the experience of how people changed and achieved growth through the therapeutic relationship. As such it was a truly relational theory from its inception and moved toward more clearly defined intersubjectivity through the development of therapist congruence, subjectivity and the wider systemic applications of the person centred approach. By contrast, the importance of relationship in psychoanalytic theory emerged over many years through a long revisionist path which led ultimately to a sharing of values between these two paradigms in respect of subjectivity and genuine encounter in which the subjective frame each participant is acknowledged. Nevertheless I do contend that both traditions inform and enrich one another and further suggest that this process is enhanced by recent developments in neuroscience. I will draw on the work of Carl Rogers in particular and contrast his work with that of theorists from the analytical tradition, including Bowlby, Winnicott and Kohut; from developmental psychology, Stern and Stolorow and from the existential / phenomenological tradition, Spinelli. I will include brief critiques from systemic and cultural perspectives and will also draw on my own practice to illustrate some of these themes.
The Development of Self - A Person Centred Context
“This above all, to thine own self be true,
and it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst then be false to any man”
(Shakespeare Hamlet; Act1:Scene 3)
Polonius’s paternal advice to his departing son Laertes suggests that being true to “thine own self” is the most important –“above all” – aspiration in life. The emphasis on “thine own” self implies that there might be other “selves” from which it might need to be distinguished. As the only organisms with conscious self awareness, understanding and knowing who we are is an exclusively human endeavour and is perhaps the most fundamental of our psychological needs. However, Shakespeare here suggests that for human beings, knowing their “own self” is perhaps more complex than it may seem.
Carl Rogers readily acknowledged that, initially, he regarded the notion of “self” as a “vague ambiguous and scientifically meaningless term” (Rogers,1959a: p.200) only changing his view later when he realised that “when clients were given the opportunity to express their problems and their attitudes in their own terms without any guidance or interpretation they tended to talk in terms of the self”(ibid) (Shakespeare, it seems, was able to recognise this human propensity more readily than Rogers.)
Always a committed empiricist, he began to research with “no reliance on a particular view of the truth” (Barrett-Lennard 1998 p.61). His readiness to “take the phenomena as given” (May 1961b p.260) and his “allegiance to processes by which the truth may be gradually approximated” (ibid)...