The quality of relationship is what determines the effectiveness of the therapist, teacher, counsellor, social worker, and the parent. It is Rogers’ belief that the quality of the relationship is much more important than is one’s knowledge of theoretical issues, the availability and use of assessment data, the nature of his professional training, or the technique and orientation of the counselling process to which he adheres. There are several aspects of this relationship which, because they are susceptible to development, are worthy of attention. Bearing in mind that the counsellor must help as well as to understand, it is important to distinguish between sympathy and empathy. One can feel sympathy without comprehending the meaning of another’s behaviour.
Rogers suggests that empathy is a matter of sensing the counselee’s private world as if it were the counsellor’s own world; but the “as if” must be preserved. Empathy is an essential part of an effective interpersonal process because it gives access to the counselee’s perceptions, feelings, and behaviours. The concept is limited in the sense that we can never share completely the feelings, attitudes, and actions of another—through it does seem that identical twins often come very close to it. Rogers asserts that empathy is rarely received and rarely offered because one runs the risk of being changed in the process. But the effort to be empathic is appreciated. Counsellor-education programmes are increasingly coming to recognise that empathy can be enhanced by experience when “sensitivity training” or “process sessions” are part of the programme. This is but another way of saying that the counsellor’s personality development should be a central focus of counsellor education.
The value of the counsellor’s being congruent, real, genuine is such that it can be reiterated that counsellor preparation programmes should place strong emphasis on the understanding of oneself. Counsellors should be involved in sensitivity sessions, interpersonal dynamics, and self-examination. It may be called a variety of names and should entail a variety of approaches. Involvement, as was suggested in the discussion of empathy, is perceived by many to be essential to an optimally productive counselling process. Being subjectively involved tends to keep the counselee emotionally involved. It is a matter of being keenly interested in helping another resolve some of his difficulties; it involves human warmth and psychological closeness. Subjective involvement must, however, be balanced by professional objectivity.
Skill in listening is an essential aspect of the counsellor’s effectiveness. It is a difficult skill to teach because 1. People think they know how to do it, 2. There has been no distinction made between hearing and listening, and because, 3.
One is in such haste to help another that he must speak his words of wisdom—to which the counselee will probably not listen because of limitations quite similar to those listed. Listening as a technique has two advantages in a counselling milieu. One is that we can become aware of—and formulate hypotheses, if not draw conclusions from—changes in speech rate, accompanying breathing patterns, levels of intensity, and varying choices of words. But the technique is much less important that is the process of counselling, in which the matter of feeling becomes ascendant. Meanings flow from the ‘feeling’ which is aroused in the counsellor. In addition to the mechanics of being objective one must also listen with his “inner ear” by his willingness to make a subjective investment, to become personally involved.
Listening might conceivably include giving attention to visible signs such as clenched fists, finger twisting, facial mobility, posture and leg and arm movements. Attentive listening, to the person and not just to the words, will be an approach to the understanding sought. The other advantage is that listening provides assurance to the counselee that he is not alone, that there is someone who will give him time, and share feelings, without criticism or moralising. Even the experienced counsellor will do well to recall those numerous instances in which he did not give suggestions or hints but was only mentally exploring possible ways to help. Nevertheless, at the end of the session the counselee would say, “This has helped me so much”. Even if no plans were formulated the ventilation was helpful, psychoanalysts use the word catharsis to indicate what has taken place. The assurance aspect of listening is related to another element of counselling—that of encouragement and support. This does not necessarily mean endorsing the things a person does, though there are occasions when one persisting in the face of devastating odds deserves that endorsement.
It also implies an emotional acceptance of the counselee as a person with whom fellowship is established. It suggests that it is understandable that one would react to situations as the counselee had been doing. Persons who look for therapeutic counselling are quite frequently lacking in ego strength. Support is afforded by calling to attention, in some way, a particular trait or behaviour of the individual which is commendable.
We have found that support can be expressed merely by allowing children and teenagers to be with us—taking them out for a hamburger, letting them walk to the parking lot with us, or giving them some minor chore or errand to perform in the office. Spontaneity is to be sought as a goal of counselling because the goal is to free the individual to become his own best self. He must then get from behind his blinding masks. We are, however, not talking about discarding all one’s defenses.
The concern is to help the individual appreciate his unique qualities and aptitudes— to see that he is unique and also that he possesses much in common with others. Because spontaneity is sought in the counselee’s behaviour it is advantageous for the counsellor to be spontaneous—to be real. It has been noted from observations of numerous counselling sessions that when the counsellor is trying to play a role he and his counselee are ill-at-ease and the session is not characterised by flow.
Spontaneity leads to consideration of the need for the counsellor to be himself as a basic aspect of counselling. It was mentioned above that some persons, or introspection, find they like to counsel with athletes, honour students, poor readers, potential dropouts, or those interested in art, music or some other special interest area.