Philosophy of the PCA

English: John Dewey at the University of Chica...

English: John Dewey at the University of Chicago in 1902. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I chose to do an msc rather than a level four diploma because I suspected that there would be a lot more theory at this level. In many ways I was right; this feels like a much better level for me. But I keep running into philosophy in a way that just hasn’t come up in my course, and I think that’s a shame – in my previous degree I remember studying ‘the philosophy of psychology’ right at the start of the degree and it was really interesting (much as I begrudged it at the time…).


It’s clear to me that philosophy has a big part to play in person-centered counselling, but even when it is mentioned, it is only in passing (I have often read that Rogers must have been affected by Buber, but beyond the ‘I-Thou’ relationship, nothing more is ever said. Or maybe I’m reading the wrong books – but I haven’t been taught about it, for sure).


Just before christmas, I found Derrida’s ‘on hospitality’. I meant to do some writing about it over christmas, but life had other plans. But the idea of being ready to welcome anything speaks volumes to me about how we must be as therapists; if we expect to get things, we often get them. I’m reminded of the argument between psychiatrists around the diagnosis of ‘Dissociative Identity Disorder’; psychiatrists who do not believe in the diagnosis will often say they’ve never seen someone with the diagnosis. A similar thing exists in parapsychology. An experiment was conducted with a sceptic and a believer as experimenters. The sceptic didn’t get significant paranormal results, but the believer did (I can’t remember if it is Chris French or Richard Wiseman who was the sceptic, but it’s within the last 3 or 4 years). It’s possible it was an experimenter effect (rather than any statement about the paranormal), but the point is, as therapists, we can do that too. We get what we think we’re going to get, and we don’t see the things we don’t think we will see (not always; not everyone, but some of us, some of the time, especially if we don’t have a concept of the thing in advance; we won’t necessarily recognise it AS a thing). As philosophy, I think it has a lot to teach us and would be interested to see it taught.


My new philosophical discovery is that of pragmatism, whose main protagonist is John Dewey (not the inventor of the Dewey decimal system – i checked). I found it last week in a book and this week have accidentally found myself reading another paper* on it. The paper lists several points of pragmatic philosophy that I think fit quite well with person-centered theory:


“Recognizes the existence and importance of the natural or physical world as well as the emergent social and psycholog- ical world that includes language, culture, human institutions, and subjective thoughts.
• Places high regard for the reality of and influence of the inner world of human experience in action.
• Knowledge is viewed as being both constructed and based on the reality of the world we experience and live in.
• Replaces the historically popular epistemic distinction between subject and external object with the naturalistic and process- oriented organism-environment transaction.
•Justification comes in the form of what Dewey called “warranted assertability.”
•Organisms are constantly adapting to new situations and environments. Our thinking follows a dynamic homeostatic process of belief, doubt, inquiry, modified belief, new doubt, new inquiry, . . . , in an infinite loop, where the person or re- searcher (and research community) constantly tries to improve upon past understandings in a way that fits and works in the world in which he or she operates. The present is always a new starting point”

I obviously don’t know enough about it yet to discuss it, but to me these things all sound like person-centered practice, and they’ve been around since before Rogers, which makes me wonder if he wasn’t only influenced by Buber, but by Derrida and Dewey, and a raft of other philosophers I haven’t found yet, and mostly, it makes me think about how much more my understanding of the philosophy of the person-centered method my have been deepened if some philosophy was taught alongside the more practical aspects that we are taught. I wonder if other courses out there teach about the philosophy of person-centered psychotherapy?




* Johnson, R. B., & Onwuegbuzie, A. (2004). Mixed Methods Research: A research paradigm whose time has come. Educational Researcher, 33(7), 14–26. doi:10.3102/0013189X033007014




Know your triggers. Especially the unusual ones


It might sound strange, coming from a (trainee) therapist to say that counsellors should know their triggers. More than that, it’s about knowing you can deal with them.

Like many people assigned female, I have a past that involves trauma. As a part of that experience I now have an odd trigger phrase. I am lucky in that it rarely gets said, but it is a fairly standard saying. It also *never* gets a content warning for (maybe I’ll discuss those another time). But because it’s rare, I’ve never really been confronted with it and just always assumed that it would be inconsequential. I hear it about twice a year, maybe and generally in situations where it’s ok to freeze momentarily and then deal with it.

Now, I have a fairly new client, and he is a client who has said this phrase to me three weeks in a row. Let’s just say, I’m somewhat more acclimatised to it now than I was a month ago! Luckily for me, I have never been someone who has reacted very visibly externally, and so even the first time I was able to catch it fairly fast and bracket it. Now I will be surprised if he *doesn’t* say it next week.

But as much as it ‘gets’ me, it also let’s me ‘get’ him. He is using it in a different context to my trigger, but the same essence is there. It provides an easy way in to his feeling, because I have an experience where I easily recall my thought process in that moment, and I understand *some* of his experience. I’m not saying it gives me complete understanding – it doesn’t, but it is in a small way a shared experience and when I let him know some of my understanding of his use (without telling him my experience), it was clear that I had empathised with the right parts.

So in short, I guess it’s about being aware of your own triggers and being able to handle them, and at the same time, that leading you to being able to work therapeutically with them 🙂

Guest blog – Wade Miller-Knight: clients who’ve been bereaved

This month’s guest blog comes from Wade Miller-Knight who talks about working with bereaved clients

I have been a qualified counsellor since 2008. Besides private practice, I serve as a volunteer counsellor in a bereavement agency in west London. I work in a person-centered way. Independently of counselling I am an active Unitarian and secretary of their London District managing Council. Long ago I used to be an economics writer. My website is available here

Working with clients who’ve been bereaved
My first tip is: read some theory (Worden, Parkes, Kubler Ross) because it’ll help you pass your course. And leave it at your agency’s reception desk before you greet your client. Most bereavement theory is at best problem-centred (“tasks” or “stages” of grief; “complicated” grief) rather than person-centred, and at worst hooey.
The person-centred mantra that each client is unique is specifically true of bereaved people. One death: two siblings in the same family, or two parents, may grieve very differently from each other. So much so that my main benefit for some clients is has been to facilitate them to accept and allow their uniqueness within themselves. I had a client, for example, who was so glad that their very young daughter had died. A good theorist will tell you that, second only to bereavement by murder and perhaps suicide, parents whose child has died usually suffer more deeply and for longer than any other category [yuck] of bereaved people. There’s statistical evidence to support this assertion. You leave statistics outside the counselling room door too. As it happens, that client shared context for their feelings that “made sense” to me. Which helped my empathy. But even that shouldn’t be necessary – it’s their feeling, not mine, and feelings may be congruent or less or more incongruent, but never wrong.
A recently-bereaved client was loving a new partner. All they needed was to become inwardly at peace with this. Perhaps some people in their life were baying “too soon” or, worse, “you shouldn’t”. Two sessions with my UPR and the client’s mind, heart, and partner were aligned. Shortest successful counselling I’ve ever done.
In parallel for yourself, by the way, if someone in your life dies while you are seeing bereaved clients. If your own thoughts or feelings (tears, shoulds, if-onlys, etc) are intruding into the mind/heart-space between you and your clients, I’d recommend you ask for a two or three month break, then review yourself, probably with support at your own counsellor’s. If they’re not intruding, why let some rule-of-thumb conventional wisdom get in the way of continuing your good practice?
What if your client has had a spiritual experience? Such experiences are not commonplace, “normal” in the statistical sense, in contrast to, for example, tears; but neither are they rare. Over time, I’ve heard a range, from clients whose late loved one is palpably present at a place in their home, to their being symbolically ‘seen’ in the agency’s garden, to direct connection via a medium, to a visit in spirit at the moment of leaving this world  from the person who was dying (as well as a fully-down-to-earth making of a new close friend after meeting them grieving at a nearby grave in the cemetery). Again, what seems to ‘work’ for me is to welcome them all. I experience UPR as a wonderful and simple resource for receiving, and responding with, whatever the client brings, rather than having thoughts or opinions about it.
Not everyone will be free of grief by the end of their last session – even with the best counsellor, a client may not recover their enthusiasm for living, and neither you nor they can recall or replace eight departed siblings and restore an 80-year-old body to the health it had at 25 – but often through their work with you they will have made a very worthwhile difference in their lives, and it will be for the better.
Wade Miller-Knight


I know I am late with a post. It’s written. It’s waiting to be polished and posted. It’s a look back in review of my last year.
Right now I’m going through a tough time with some family stuff and my energy for things outside of what I have to do is – nil. As a family, we are waiting. As a person, I’m finding it hard to deal. ‘Happy new year’ are words I don’t need, and they are words I have learnt a lesson from, and won’t be saying in future. It is ok if your year is middling to good, but if your upcoming year looks like a horrendous year of pain, it is not, in any way, happy, and in saying to someone, you force them into the gritted teeth of a lie, or of forcing a truth that perhaps they aren’t ready to deal with yet.
I hope that the edge wears off me at some point this week and that I can post this week’s blog next week. I also have a guest post to come, so that might happen instead.