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




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