The counselling cards and accompanying questionnaire are the result of many years of academic research into the way that individuals learn in the context of counselling. The research began by combining the disciplines of counselling and learning facilitation to see whether any benefits may be evident. One of the obvious start points was to provide a kind of ‘curriculum’ for therapy clients, so that they would know what success looked like for their clients. Given this knowledge, they could then facilitate a learning process for their client. Ultimately, the client would then come to understand the learning processes in which they were engaged and be able to re-engage with them post therapy and become their own therapist.
Enabling a learning process for counselling clients has been regarded as a useful aim by therapists for a long time, and has been addressed by integrative therapeutic models such as CBT for example. In a humanistic setting such as person-centred counselling however, how clients learn is not so clear cut, nor is it necessarily addressed by therapists for fear of being directive. The research behind the counselling cards therefore sought to discover whether learning processes could be facilitated in a humanistic person-centred counselling relationship - both philosophically and practically. Carl Rogers had much to say on the subject of person-centred learning facilitation in the context of the classroom, but did not apply these principles to his Client-centred therapeutic approach. Whether Rogers’ learning facilitation principles could be beneficially integrated into a person-centred, humanistic counselling relationship provided the foundation to this research.
Firstly, in a mixed methods approach, established educationalists (who are also Person-centred therapists), were interviewed about their views on learning facilitation in therapy. It was concluded that whilst these therapists acknowledged that learning plays a key part in therapeutic change, learning facilitation is not systematically addressed in person-centred counselling. Since goal-setting helps individuals to define learning outcomes, a second study, using a Delphi approach, sought to gain consensus from 35 humanistic therapists on what characterises a ‘fully-functioning’ client. The start point for this exercise was research into what philosophers, authors, researchers and therapists had, over time, regarded as descriptors of the fully-functioning individual. The resulting list of 71 items was then developed into the card sort goal-setting exercise and questionnaire. Study 3, in the form of a quasi-experiment, involved 9 humanistic therapists and 23 of their clients in establishing whether the ‘fully-functioning’ learning outcomes could aid therapy through setting learning goals. Therapists who were most happy with being directive found the instruments useful in enabling client progress. Finally, a case study of one client in therapy (with the researcher) tested the use of person-centred learning facilitation techniques. A list of useful generic learning processes emerged including establishing client learning goals, enabling the client to understand her own learning style and processes, and planning for her own long term learning. In summary, the research established that facilitated learning processes based on person-centred principles can provide a philosophically and practically acceptable focus for humanistic therapy. Further, using an instrument to set learning goals was perceived to be useful by more directive humanistic practitioners.
The counselling cards and questionnaire instruments were developed in the second study and then put into practice in the third and fourth study. They list the outcomes considered by the researchers and the research participants to be those which define a ‘fully functioning’ individual. The items put to the participants for discussion were based on ideas from studies by Burnett and Van Dorssen (2000), Barkham and colleagues (2001), Shostrom (1964), Connolly and Strupp (1996), Klein and Elliot (2006), Timulak and Creaner (in Cooper, et al., 2012), Maslow (1943), Knowles and colleagues (2011) and of course Rogers (2004). All of their ideas, plus others from Aristotle, St. Paul, Socrates and the great philosophers such as Hume, Kant and Thomas Aquinas, were amalgamated on one spreadsheet. The output was a picture of someone you might describe as emotionally stable, ‘fulfilled’, living the good life, or in a state of Eudaimonia. Knowing what to aim for in a world of self-help books, media stereotypes and familial influences can be confusing. This research has contributed significantly to the debate on what therapists should aim for in counselling and what we all might try to aspire to over time. Having it in black and white means that goals can be set, problems defined, links made and thoughts crystallised.