In order to compare and contrast both Focusing-Oriented and Experiential therapies to Classical Person-Centred theory it is important to look at each in turn to understand what they are.
Classical Person-Centred therapy, or Classical Client-Centred therapy as it is often referred to, can be considered as that which adheres to the original tenets as written by Carl Rogers in his 1951, 1957 and 1959 works. I consider that there are three important features that need to be considered as part of these works.
Firstly there is the accepting of the actualising tendency as the motivation of people to achieve, maintain and enhance their potential. The client is the expert on their life and what is best for them and not the therapist. Secondly is that there are no additional therapeutic techniques required beyond the six necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic change. By necessary Sanders (2006:9) states ‘Rogers means that in order for therapeutic change to take place all of the conditions must be present’. By sufficient Rogers means that the conditions are all that are required, nothing else is necessary. And finally, that the therapist believes in the sovereignty of the client and adopts a principled non-directional approach to therapy. The client remains in control of the process with the therapist avoiding directing the client’s experiences or focus.
Focusing-Oriented Counselling, F-OC, was developed by a colleague of Carl Rogers, Eugene Gendlin. According to Purton (2007:6) ‘this is not a school of therapy or brand of counselling. Rather it brings to any kind of therapy a distinctive atmosphere in which the activities of the therapist are always orientated towards the lived experience of the client’.
Gendlin’s F-OC is a method of working with what he termed the ‘felt sense’. According to Ikemi (2005:279) ‘it was Rogers who first observed and reported what is now called ‘felt sense’… by using the term ‘sensory and visceral experiences”.
Gillon (2007) says that Gendlin devised a method of focussing on the ‘felt sense’ as a means of contacting experiencing at the edge of consciousness that is then allowed to develop from a feeling of an unknown ‘something’ to a conscious acknowledgement of the feeling. The client is taught a six step process of focussing by the therapist and involves technical aspects including being directed by the therapist to identify the ‘felt sense’.
While the process of focussing itself is directive, Gendlin maintains the ‘classical’ view that ‘the therapeutic relationship is of utmost importance in enabling the client to feel understood and valued’ (Gillon, 2007:61). He also respects the ‘life forward’ tendency which can be directly related to the ‘classical’ actualising tendency.
Experiential therapies are therapeutic approaches that can be seen to originate from Gendlin and F-OC’s ‘felt sense’. They believe that through reflecting upon and symbolizing experiences people can form new meanings and thus change their lives. Experiential therapy is used to describe a myriad of differing approaches, and according to Baker (2008) not all of which can be philosophically considered to be person centred.
One approach is that of David Rennie. In 1998 Rennie published Person-Centred Counselling: An experiential approach. As he developed his ideas through research he later described his approach as an ‘experiential person-centered approach’ (Rennie, 2006).
Rennie aligns his approach closely to Gendlin in that his is a holistic form of experiential therapy. His approach can be defined by five features the first of which is client reflexivity. Baker (2008) describes this as being able to consider our feelings. He says ‘we can express our feelings and, simultaneously, have feelings about how the expression of those feelings is being received’ (Baker, 2008:47). This differs from ‘classical’ theory where it is necessary to build a relationship which is void of judgement, allowing the client to be less defensive and able to trust their feelings.
The second feature is client agency in that they are the manager of their own lives. It is here that the counsellor needs ‘to help the client re-engage with their own, inner skills’ (Baker, 2008:48). The loss of agency leaves the client as being passive or confused and not being in control of their lives in the same way as Rogers (1957) would describe them as being vulnerable. Here Rennie would use empathy to help the client in much the same way as the ‘classical’ therapist.
Another element is process identification. According to Baker (2004:79) ‘the identification comes when the counsellor draws the client’s attention to what they are doing.’ This is achieved by offering back themes in the client’s narrative and mirroring back to the client. While this can be done ‘classically’ with what Rennie calls descriptive responses he also uses interpretative responses which, unlike ‘classical’ theory, can carry judgement.
It is in process direction where Rennie separates his experiential approach from ‘classical’ theory. Of this he says ‘when process directing, counsellors take charge’ (Rennie, 1998:81). He argues that clients are the experts on how to live their lives, the ‘what’ they are dealing with, and that it is unacceptable to be instructed otherwise, it is the counsellors who are the experts on the process, and the ‘how’ they are dealing with it. That said, Baker (2008) points out that process direction should be invitational and always tentative in approach. As a person centred fractioned I find that this is a relatively small move away from my own way of being but it seems a giant leap from that of ‘classical’ theory of non directivity.
The final feature of Rennie’s experiential approach is metacommunication where ‘the counsellor makes visible the belief that there is a fundamental equality between counsellor and client’ (Baker, 2008:54). This idea again is a deeply person-centred view of the relationship but I find slightly contradictory to the ‘experts’ stance of process direction.
In summary, both F-OC and Rennie’s Experiential approach to therapy demonstrate their person-centred roots. That said they also clearly show their differences and the move away from ‘classical’ theory. It is obvious that both view the ‘classical’ six necessary and sufficient conditions as necessary but not sufficient with the introduction of ‘techniques’ beyond that of Rogers original tenets. They also both work in ways that cannot be considered non-directive with therapists of both approaches taking a lead and directing the sessions from time to time. Gendlin’s F-OC has a belief in the actualising tendency and this is also hinted at with Rennie’s approach with the client agency.