Portrait of Ian MountfordIan Mountford

What is the theoretical basis for the way I work?

The most influential component of my theoretical framework is Rogers' theory that change will necessarily occur if the core conditions of empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence are conveyed to the client, as this will facilitate the operation of their inherent tendency towards growth and wholeness.

Carl Rogers (Wikipedia link)

This approach emphasises the client's ability to help themselves, rather than suggesting that they need an external expert to impose remedial action.

In my experience, distress is often a consequence of a discrepancy arising between what a person thinks, feels and does, and what they think they should think, feel and do, and by the doomed endeavour to live the ideal through will power. (This is what Rogers called incongruence.)

Therefore, my way of working is to encourage the client to discuss and explore whatever they are experiencing as being problematic with the aim of facilitating the development of a new paradigm featuring greater self acceptance, and recognition that "symptoms" such as anxiety and depression are not simply aberrations to be corrected or eliminated, but intelligible signs of where balance has been disturbed by attempts to artificially skew experience in favour of a partial evaluation of what is "good" or "right," thereby paving the way for greater congruence or integrity.

I draw upon other theories because certain elements of these theories fit in with the paradigm I describe in the preceding paragraphs, and can be useful in facilitating greater self acceptance and understanding in the client.

Thus, the discrepancy between what a person thinks, feels and does and what they think they should is reflected in Freud's formulation of the Id (what I want) and its battle with the Superego (what I should want) resulting in the Ego (what I am). The idea that this process can be influential despite the individual being unaware of it is supported by psychodynamic belief in the unconscious, and the idea of splitting and projection is useful in understanding what can happen to parts of the self denied by the Superego.

Sigmund Freud (Wikipedia link)

The T.A. formulation of Parent, Adult and Child being roles we switch between, partly in response to which is being presented by another is a development of Freud's model, supporting the idea of fragmentation of the self and projection in a way clients can readily identify in their experience.

Transactional Analysis (Wikipedia link)

From the above, it can be seen that I work with a client's understanding or thinking, and therefore can be regarded as a cognitive approach, although I do not use CBT.

Importance of self-awareness

Self awareness is the foundation upon which my ability to work as a counsellor is built for two reasons. Firstly, my belief that unhappiness can be alleviated by better self understanding and acceptance achieved through candid self examination and improved integration or congruence is based on my own experience of having worked in this way on myself. Although I continue to wrestle with a tendency towards depression, it is not the crippling obstacle that it has been for me in the past. I have accomplished things which I am proud of, and have been able to do so because of having cultivated and developed good self awareness.

Therefore, I am both able to advocate self awareness as a desirable goal based on my own experience, and relatively adept at the process of developing self awareness, through having had a great deal of practice, and, crucially, through having developed faith in the fact that self awareness is achievable and beneficial.

Secondly, self awareness is a vital ingredient in the counselling relationship. Obviously, it is important to be as acutely aware of what the client is telling me as possible. What are they saying and what does it mean? What are they not saying, and what does that mean? But it is also important to be acutely aware of how I am reacting to the client. What do I think about what they are saying? Why do I think what I'm thinking about what they are saying? What am I saying about what they are saying, and why am I saying it? This last point is, I feel, particularly crucial. Am I saying something that is useful to the client, or am I saying something in order to make me feel that I am clever, or doing a good job, or because I'm feeling uncomfortable with a silence, or for some other spurious reason?

Links to further information on counselling:

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy (Wikipedia link)