As It Is or As I Am – the Art of Becoming

A journey … towards … being

Time limited, brief person-centred counselling

Serendipity: the art of finding something good or valuable while searching for something else – the faculty of making happy discoveries by accident.

Tonight while googling for Rogers XIX Propositions came across the below article on Allen Turner’s web site.  I was viewing the web page on my Blackberry, finding that the links to each Question and Answer were not jumping down the page.  Consequently I had to scroll down.  Doing so I came across a few topics that were of interest, in particular this one on brief, time limited counselling.

Time limited counselling has perplexed me so far as person-centred counselling is concerned. If you’re centring on the individual how can you limit the number of sessions they may want. Allan, to me explains how and the benefits too.  For me a case of serendipity. The subjects are related, in that they are both connected person-centred counselling, but still separate.  There is a link Allan’s website at the end of this post.  Well worth a look, as you will find many other gems there.  This is taken from a Q&A section, written in 1999, though for me still relevant, where Allan answers questions people had presented:

Q. Is it possible to do brief therapy from within the person-centred approach? Given that the person-centred approach’s central premise is non-directiveness (and this means that the person-centred therapist must have little by way of a “game plan” before a session but rather must start from where the client is and accompany the client) how is it possible to formulate a helpful, person-centred way of being with the client for a set number of sessions? I ask this because I am working for one day a week in a clinic which offers the maximum of 12 weeks’ counselling/therapy. For the first time I am having to deal with issues around ending when the client may not feel ready to end. This is not a problem in my private practice, because I start and work from the assumption that my clients will know when they are ready to finish and they and I contract to work together until that time. I have therefore never felt it necessary to broach the subject of ending with my private clients; I work hard to create an accepting environment where they feel able to discuss the matter without fear that they are disappointing me in any way. SV. England.

A. The question you ask interests me very much because I do a lot of short term work and I only work in a Person Centred way. The real point is that you must see the limitation of session as a boundary and you must be careful to ensure that this boundary is communicated to your client. Therefore, right from the first session, the client must know that she only has a maximum of, in this cases 12, sessions. I regard 12 sessions as a luxury, the shortest number I work to is 3 and the maximum allowed under the EAP Charter is 8. Therefore in the first session I tell the client that we have a MAXIMUM of 12 sessions, we don’t have to use them all, but we can use them all if that is what the client would like. The scheme we are seeing each under means that we can not exceed 12 sessions. I say words like these to new clients about 4 times a week. I have various observations which may interest you:

1. By seeing the limitation of sessions as a boundary imposed by others, not a condition imposed by me, and clearly communicating this to my client, I believe that I am very much leaving her in control of how that time is used. Therefore this not a condition of worth that I have imposed. This is very different from a “six session contract, which is reviewed and extended”. I see this as totally unacceptable from a person centred point of view. I translate that to “I’ll see you 6 times and if you are good I let you come a bit longer” – clearly a condition of worth and therefore more a part of the problem than the solution.

2. I have a sneaky suspicion that the number of sessions necessary to complete the work expands to fill the amount of time available.

3. I am constantly amazed by the degree to which people take enormous strides in the few sessions available, even in as few as 4 sessions sometimes. (Also there is a lot of research to suggest that most movement takes place in the first few sessions. I think this so for much counselling, but not so for deeper work with badly damaged people who may take many months to even build up trust. Added in Jan 2004.)

4. If you have a limited number of sessions available I believe that the PCA is overwhelmingly the best approach to use. By making clients very aware of the externally imposed session limitation on US I expect my client to take responsibility for choosing what subject to talk about. I do not want to waste her time going off on jaunts of my own when the client already knows what hurts and what isn’t working. Contrary to the popular misunderstanding by other approaches I think the PCA is the approach of choice when time is limited – if you have the courage to trust your client.

5. Sometimes with this short term work I get the feeling that there is time for the client to explore the issues, rehearse the arguments, but I do not get the luxury and privilege of watching them do it – which I think I often do get with long terms work.‬

Allan Turner. 24Jul1999


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