Actualizing Tendencies

It should be obvious that Maria has never fully given into the conditions of worth that direct her in nonactualizing ways. She keeps experimenting and succeeding at new challenges even as significant others disapprove of her actions. Decisions to attend the college of her choice rather than the one her parents wanted, marrying outside the religion, and eventually getting a divorce may or may not have been good decisions, but they do demonstrate an actualizing tendency that keeps Maria moving forward even in the face of disapproval and rejection. The fact that she has come for counseling is further confirmation that she wants more out of herself and will take the necessary actions to make that happen.

Maria is working hard to actualize her most appropriate self and has clearly demonstrated that she has the tools to succeed. This is a person who took responsibilities as a teenager that should have been handled by adults, achieved academically, proved herself as a teacher, made it through an abusive marriage, and managed to care for two children on her own. Her actualizing abilities should be clear even as her success is frustrated owing to distorted views and the absence of caring relationships in which she could be accepted for who she truly is and wants to be. This situation stops her from recognizing other alternative views of herself that could potentially lead to much greater self-actualization. The growth Maria seeks demands that she take exploratory risks into uncharted waters that are frightening and not easily undertaken.

The Counselor's Role

A counselor valuable to Maria will empathically work with her situation, see her inner strength, trust in her willingness and ability to move in positive directions, and provide the core therapeutic conditions that will allow her actualizing tendencies to flower. These conditions will help Maria both clarify the intricacies of her own feelings and see the value in sharing her views accurately with another person. Maria also needs a counselor who is not burdened by false fronts so that she can trust the legitimacy of the human interaction (genuineness).

Providing unconditional positive regard for Maria can be conveyed in part by consistently showing confidence in her as a competent person who can think and act effectively. The counselor will not lead Maria to specific topics; suggest ways to act; identify her problems for her; or direct, reward, or punish her. Demonstrating attention, active listening, and a keen sense of empathic understanding without placing judgments on the information will help demonstrate this condition.

The counselor will listen and observe closely to grasp all verbal and emotional aspects of Maria. By regularly conveying back to Maria what the counselor sees, hears, understands, and feels will be the way they check on the accuracy of their communications. Mistakes, underestimations, and overestimations are common in this process of developing accurate empathic understanding. It should be viewed as a learning process in which the client presents ideas, the counselor tries to reflect them and possibly tie them into other previously recognized concepts, and both parties negotiate to reach mutual understandings. It is only from such struggle that accurate empathic understanding arises.

Unconditional positive regard and accurate empathic understanding begin to look false and misleading unless genuineness is also conveyed. Maria needs to see herself in a relationship that is open and honest. It must be made clear that what the counselor thinks, does, and says are consistent and that taking on the role of counselor does not mean one cannot be a real person at the same time. Such consistency will allow Maria to trust the relationship as well as the ideas, skills, and behaviors that develop from it. As progress continues, Maria will recognize that because this is a real human relationship with genuine people, the ideas and actions can be transferred to her life outside counseling. The relationship, therefore, will be viewed as an immediate, natural, real, and dependable experience that can be duplicated in many respects outside the helping relationship.

The person-centered practitioner is often considered to be caring and kindly, but it must also be recognized that the core conditions offer a great deal of challenge to the client. Maria will not always want to hear how the counselor is reacting to her as these are aspects of herself she may find difficult to accept. Only the truly empathic counselor, who is also genuine, can successfully overcome such difficult issues. The many challenging times and confrontations in a person-centered approach are those that would be expected in any genuine human relationship.

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