Peggy Natiello is a psychotherapist who worked with Carl Rogers and who continues to work with and teach the Person Centred Approach. Although the word ‘therapist’ is used here, I believe the nature of the relationship she describes to be entirely appropriate to chaplaincy work.
Incidentally, Natiello’s chapter on ‘Collaborative Power and Social Change’ could be straight out of Truth or Dare.
There is considerable difference between the practice of psychotherapy that is based on authenticity as well as deep connection between client and therapist, and one that depends on the expertise and authority of the therapist. For the purposes of this paper, an authentic, connected, therapeutic relationship is characterised by realness, openness, respect, empathic understanding and cooperation in striving for a common goal, and the uncompromised authority of the client. The common goal is always the growth and healing of the client although the effort tends to increase the satisfaction and personal effectiveness of the therapist as well, by generating increased energy, empowerment and creativity for both.
Such a relationship is continuously being co-created. As each interaction between client and therapist unfolds, both persons adjust, respond accordingly and thus reconstruct the relationship. There is no room for technique here. This is a relationship between two real people and it evolves as a conversation or a dialogue evolves.
Therapist understanding, acceptance and respect for the client must be absolutely genuine from the outset of therapy. As the therapeutic process matures the interactions between clients and therapist sometimes precipitate encounter within their relationship. Sometimes those encounters include conflict or friction. Facing conflict that is dealt with openly is not only crucial to the growth of client and the relationship, but also to the authenticity of the therapist. On those occasions of personal encounter the connectedness between client and therapist becomes more real and thus more trustworthy.
Carl Rogers often spoke about the realness of the therapist. In 1959 he said
It is expected that the relationship with the therapist is the meeting of two live, real human beings, with the therapist fully present to his client. This situation is at the furthest pole from the therapist as an expert, analyzing the patient as object. It is a living together in communication that breaks the isolation of the patient.
Rogers, C. (1959) The Way To Do Is To Be. American Psychologist, 4, 197.
Natiello, P (2001) The Person-Centred Approach: A passionate presence. UK: PCCS Books.p.26 – 27