Friday, 3 March 2017

What Is A Person And Why Does It Matter?

Why is ‘Person Centred’ counselling not called ‘People Centred’? And what’s this got to do with class?

The definition of  ‘A Person’ is ‘A human individual, an autonomous being.’ In law, a person is ‘An individual guaranteed of equal protection of laws and Due Process of Law.’  “A human being considered as capable of having rights and of being charged with duties; while a "thing" is the object over which rights may be exercised.”

Being an individual, being autonomous, is absolutely fundamental to the Person Centred model. It means that we aim to be with the people we meet as equals, both of us self-governing, free persons and as a matter of principle we aim to meet every single person in the same manner. We meet persons, not patients or clients and whilst most of us will use shorthand to avoid torturing language therapists, health care workers and social workers have very different understandings of the Person Centred Model.

As therapists we understand that the person in front of us knows what is best for them. That we do things for reasons that make good sense to us. Whilst that may be a philosophical foundation for social workers and nurses and (god help us) businesses who are trying to use this model to increase their profits, nurses and social workers require levels of compulsion that therapists will be opposed to in their own work.

All therapy models recognise that culture is kingWe know that the idea of free will is a bit of a red herring: we may think we’re making choices based preferences but those preferences are seldom our own. They will be different from home to home, country to country and change over time. It’s why older people across cultures tend to think that younger people are not doing things properly and why we don’t hang criminals any more.

However open and liberal a culture we all treat each other differently depending on our culture. We are, after all, just mammals responding to pheromones and other unconscious cues as well as cues that we have become aculturated to. It’s something that many Person Centred therapists can get a bit defensive about because our own culture can tend towards the cheery in ways that the psychodynamic model tends not to. We can be inclined to prefer optimism over pessimism: many of us think about Rogers’ potatoes in terms of an unstoppable urge for growth rather than a desperate struggle to survive, and forget that the actualising tendency is just that, a tendency: a predisposition rather than an absolute fact.  

So how is our own culture affecting us as therapists?

Have you noticed how EU nationals who are currently feeling threatened by deportation are described? Do a search for “Hard working deportation.”

Do you care how hard anyone works? If you just go to work but don’t break a sweat are you less valuable? What about if you’re not employed but have a spouse that supports you? What if you work hard but don’t earn enough to pay tax? Are you still as valuable as a Hard Working Tax Paying EU National?

Fear and loathing has spread across the Western world blossoming into Brexit and Trump after steadily growing for 40 years. We know that working class communities were destroyed and their remnants abandoned in the 80’s and a majority of the country voted for that. A majority of us voted to buy our own council houses and were shocked when a broken boiler or an old roof forced us to sell the home we were born in and move to somewhere that would need even more upkeep – with no hope of return to social housing. Most of us voted to scale unions down and have accepted steadily worse terms and conditions. When I first entered employment in 1983 the average working week was 37.5 hours; 34 years on it’s 43.6. We voted for that.

What on earth made us vote this way?

It used to be that living on the dole was a way for people who could not or did not want to work regularly to survive. Artists, musicians, writers, people who frankly were a pain in the arse in conventional employment could function happily, if frugally, on benefits. With bullying a normal part of working life you’ve got to wonder how many very miserable people are now forced into shapes they hate and take it out on everyone around them. It’s become taboo to say that living on benefits could be a valid choice for some people, absolutely outlawed. 

Over time it’s been acceptable to brand the poor, to put hot pokers through their ears, to whip them, to confine them to their parish, to starve them, to prevent them from sleeping, to separate husband and wife, parents and children and make them work in degrading, harmful jobs for no pay. Their deaths were not much mourned, if they were noticed at all. Today it’s much the same other than the physical assault, and instead of confining them to one area we will force them to move far from their homes, schools and communities.

 “An individual guaranteed of equal protection of laws and Due Process of Law.” “A human being considered as capable of having rights and of being charged with duties; while a "thing" is the object over which rights may be exercised.”