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TitleResponding to a Serious Mental Health Problem: Person-Centred Dialogues
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Document Text Contents
Page 2

LIVING THERAPY SERIES

Responding to a Serious
Mental Health Problem
Person-centred dialogues

Richard Bryant-Jefferies

Radcliffe Publishing

Oxford � Seattle

Page 99

‘I’m feeling more and more for Fareeda. Since our last supervision session I think I
have felt generally more sensitive and open to her. The issues we discussed last
time I feel I have been able to put to one side, and I feel I am much more in touch
with her, particularly after she shared some Islamic prayers and sayings with
me. Ali’s poem also touched me deeply, he has felt more present too. It was a
poem about hopelessness, really, very powerful. And in a way this brought me
more into the sessions. I think it is something about being a mother myself,
perhaps we became two mothers rather than counsellor^client, to some
degree. Whether that’s OK or not, I’m not sure, but perhaps as I think about it
now that is the nature of what occurred. This has enabled me to empathise I
think more fully, not just with Fareeda, but with the situation that she ¢nds
herself in.’

William nodded and wanted to explore this further. ‘So, the sense of your being a
mother, how speci¢cally does that help you? How might that a¡ect you as com-
pared to a counsellor who, say, isn’t a mother, or a parent even, for instance?
She might have been seen by a male counsellor.’

Carla thought. ‘Interesting question, that. What do I bring as a mother? Maybe
there is something that makes my . . .’, Carla paused, ‘I’m not sure how best to
describe this . . .’

‘Well, maybe just think out loud and see what emerges.’
Carla nodded as she sought to clarify for herself what she felt in response to Wil-

liam’s question. It was a good one, and she was aware of how it was really
focusing herself on exactly what she was o¡ering, and how, in a sense, that
was linked to her own identity.

‘I think that it has something to do with how I can be, how I may respond. I think I
can come from a place of knowing from my own experience of what being a
mother can be like, and yet, as we know, all experiences are unique, with
each person taking their own meaning. So it isn’t like I’m an expert on Fare-
eda’s experience because of my own. It’s not that at all. But it’s like, well,
maybe it a¡ects something of the tone of what I say, maybe the part of me that
if you like is associated with my mothering experience somehow reaches out to
the client who has their own similar, yet unique, identity as a mother.’ Carla
paused to re£ect on what she had said. Did that sound right? Was it what she
wanted to say?

Wiliam re£ected her words. He didn’t add his view or opinion, simply allowed
Carla to hear what she had said. ‘So, the part of you that is associated with
being a mother somehow reaches out to the part of the client that is their iden-
tity as a mother? That what you mean?’

The words weren’t exactly her own but, yes, it was something like that. ‘Yes,
and I’m back thinking of con¢gurations here. If we think of person-centred
theory then yes, why shouldn’t there be some kind of relationship created
between parts of me and parts of my client? If we take the idea that the struc-
ture of self is made up of parts, some more discrete identities than others, then
why shouldn’t the fact that within me is present a ‘‘mother part’’ have sig-
ni¢cance in some way for clients who either have their own version of the same
part . . .’ Carla paused as another idea struck her. ‘But it’s more than that,

84 Responding to a serious mental health problem

Page 100

isn’t it? Because if I work with a client who, as a son or daughter, has
their sense of self shaped by their experience of being mothered, they will per-
haps be responding to the part of me that is the mother. Oh, this is complex,
isn’t it?’

William nodded. ‘Yes, it is, and yet there is also a fundamental simplicity, and it
all comes back to our congruence. Can I as a person in the counselling role be
fully aware of myself to the point that I can recognise all the di¡erent parts of
me and understand my own process in response to what the client is presenting
to me?’

Carla took a deep breath. ‘For me that emphasises even more the challenge of
working to a theory in which we use ourselves, where the therapeutic process
is very much centred on the relationship, on how the counsellor and client
relate to one another.’

‘Mhmm, so the mother part in you will have its own associated thoughts, feelings,
behaviours, yes? The mother part in you, the fact that it is present and the form
it takes, will convey something to the client.’

‘And it may be quite subtle, mightn’t it? I mean, it might simply a¡ect the way
that I speak. I may not need to disclose whether or not I am a mother, but
simply my presence as a mother, how I am because of my experience, may
convey something to the client who will then take from that, well, whatever
they take from it. I can’t de¢ne what that will be.’

‘So, yes, something is conveyed . . .’ William empathised with Carla and left his
response in the air, being aware that whilst they had acknowledged something
was conveyed exactly what hadn’t been identi¢ed.

Carla was still trying to identify the illusive ‘something’. What did she bring into
her relationship with Fareeda because she was a mother? What did the mother-
ing part of her contain? ‘I don’t think I’ve voiced this to Fareeda, I’m not sure,
but I don’t think so. But it seems to me that what she pulls from me, and maybe
this is from the mothering part of me, is a real sense of her devotion ^ no, hear-
ing myself say that I know I haven’t used that word. But it is a sense that I have,
and I can relate to that, of her dedication, yes, that’s an important word, her
dedication to her son. I think that links with my experience as well. As a
mother I know I will put my child ¢rst, I know that. It’s what I do.’

‘So devotion, dedication, both resonate with the mother in you?’
‘Very much so. I have re£ected on how I would be in her situation. Not in the

session, but wondered how would I be? Would I be any di¡erent if my son had
similar problems? Would I see them as a problem, ¢rst of all? And I’m sure I
would. I’d want to help, be there for him, help him to get the help he needs.
And even if I don’t say this I am sure that the mother part of me brings a
certain, I don’t know, I nearly said authenticity, but I don’t mean that. You
don’t have to have been a mother to be authentic. But it brings a certain ^ I’m
almost tempted to say solidarity, but perhaps I mean something more in the
way of commonality.’

‘A commonality . . . , of experience, you mean?’
‘Something like that, a kind of commonality of . . .’ Carla paused. A commonality

of what? ‘It’s something about recognising that a part of me has developed out

A mother seeks counselling 85

Page 197

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Wiener M (1989) Psychopathology reconsidered. Depression interpreted as psychosocial inter-
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Wilkins P (2003) Person Centred Therapy in Focus. Sage, London.

Wyatt G (ed.) (2001) Rogers’ Therapeutic Conditions: evolution, theory and practice. Volume 1:
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Wyatt G and Sanders P (eds) (2002) Rogers’ Therapeutic Conditions: evolution, theory and practice.
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182 Responding to a serious mental health problem

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