THE CASE OF MARIA: A PERSON-CENTERED APPROACH
The use of a client case study to view person-centered theory raises several problems. To begin with, the standard case study concept suggests that a collection of historical factors will be used to describe and diagnose an illness. However, person-centered theory places more emphasis on clients' perceptions of and feelings about their world as opposed to the facts as seen by others. It disdains looking at work with clients as illness focused. In addition, the relationship with the counselor is much more critical to the success of therapy than the client's specific historical case development. Some person-centered practitioners might therefore choose to ignore the concept of a clinical case history (Seligman, 2004).
The fact is that the reason person-centered practitioners attend so closely is precisely because they want to understand the client's perceived experiences and worldview as much as possible. They use that understanding within a therapeutic relationship that is unique to the particular phenomenological worlds of the client and the counselor. Finally, like all good counselors, person-centered practitioners must also evaluate the progress of clients both inside the therapeutic relationship and in the outside world.
The modified case study that follows examines potential phenomenological aspects of the client's situation as though the information had been acquired within the therapeutic relationship. It further emphasizes Maria's relationship with the counselor and suggests potential directions that her growth might take as a result of a positive therapeutic relationship.
Maria's Phenomenological World
Maria has a phenomenological view of the world that is incongruent with her true feelings, abilities, and potential, as would be expected with clients entering counseling. She has incorporated unattainable conditions of worth that come from a mixture of culture, religion, family, and personal relationships. In her currently perceived world, she will never be able to be a good enough daughter, mother, Catholic, teacher, or partner to satisfy those whose approval she desires. The harder she tries to please, the further she gets away from personal feelings of self-worth. She has lost trust in her own ability to feel, think, decide, and act in productive ways and is consequently trying to act in a world as others see it, which will not bring her feelings of success.
The fact that Maria's phenomenological world is frequently out of line with the world that actually affects her causes Maria great anxiety. She looks outside herself for ways to act, only to find that what others point to as the "right" way does not satisfy anyone and particularly herself. She knows that who she is and what she does are not working, but she cannot identify other ways to view the situation.