Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychology
Nizhni Novgorod State University, Russia
Client Centered Therapy in Russia: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
While at the theoretical level Russian psychologists share Rogers’s ideas, there is an enormous gap between theory and practice of Client-Centered Therapy in Russia. Here are some of the key issues:
1. Many of the basic Rogerian terms, such as empathy, unconditional regard and congruence, are misunderstood. Very often empathy is understood as sympathy or pity towards the client. As a result, the therapist is quick “to understand” the client and to agree with him, which makes communication superficial and does not allow for a deeper understanding and the development of real empathy. Unconditional regard is often substituted for by softness, caring and simply positive regard for the client. That prevents the client from expressing negative emotions and makes it difficult to be in touch with one’s own feelings.
Not enough attention is given to congruence. This key aspect of therapeutic contact is not a popular concept with practicing therapists who believe that full focus should be placed on the client. As a result, a therapist is not in contact with himself and has difficulty reflecting on his own emotions and physical responses, which means that the therapeutic process cannot be reflected in its entirety.
2. It is wrong to assume that a client-centered therapist must be friendly and gentle towards the client at all times. Confrontation and conflicts should not be excluded from therapeutic relations. This leads to artificial and idealistic relations with the client and creates the impression that the client can perhaps be successful in therapy but not in real life.
3. There are limitations in applying the Client-Centered Approach. Some therapists believe that Client-Centered Therapy could be used only with the intelligent and educated, who are capable of introspection. Such a misconception places considerable limits on the application of the approach.
4. There is a viewpoint that a Client-Centered Approach is effective only at the beginning of therapy for establishing rapport and trust with the client but it is not sufficient for a long-term therapeutic process and that something more efficient and productive is required. Some therapists believe that “such an approach is adequate only in short-term therapy for dealing with more or less superficial problems.”
5. There is a misconception that it is not necessary for a therapist to be trained in the Client-Centered Approach in order to practice it. Many therapists wrongly believe that they can use the approach without having any special training. Encountering difficulties, they blame the method and invalidate it.
6. Some wrongly associate Client-Centered Therapy with religious orientation.
7. Others feel that Client-Centered Therapy is a product of Carl Rogers’s personality and nobody could practice it with equally good results. There is a view that what works is not so much a special client-centered technology, but Rogers’s personality as a main instrument of therapy.
8. It is an incorrect assumption that the therapist should remain passive, limiting his responses to reflection of what the client is telling him without using therapeutic techniques. As a result, there is no goal, direction or structure to the therapeutic process.
On the whole, at present in Russia there is no deep understanding of Client-Centered Therapy. At the same time, based on superficial knowledge, the majority of practicing psychologists seem to have arrived at the conclusion that it does not work and is “not for us.”
Could this be the reason why it is not as popular as it could be elsewhere in the world these days as well?
That it is simply not being performed/applied correctly?