The Confusion About Connection
“Thus, the relationship which I have found helpful is characterized
by a sort of transparency on my part, in which my real feelings are
evident; by an acceptance of this other person as a separate person
with value in his own right; and by a deep empathic understanding
which enables me to see his private world through his eyes.”
Carl Rogers from On Becoming a Person
The Legacy of Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers has left psychotherapists with a wonderful legacy. When he defined his key concepts of acceptance, empathic understanding and transparency, it is clear that he was describing a real engagement at the deepest human level. Rogers’ three concepts have served psychotherapists extremely well over the years.
At the same time, I imagine that many therapists have had an experience similar to mine. After my training in the mid 1990’s,–I was very clear about the importance of acceptance and empathic understanding, but less clear about the role of genuineness, and less clear even still about the role of love or connection in the psychotherapy process.
Love as the Missing Fourth Dimension
Because there was no official professional terminology for describing this fourth dimension—that of connection or intimacy—I was left with some confusion and even guilt about whether real connection or a pure type of love was a legitimate part of psychotherapy. Should therapist and client connect on a deep level, or would acceptance and empathic understanding be best achieved with some professional distance?
Most experienced therapists have probably come to the same conclusion I have, that the experience of loving connection in psychotherapy is not only appropriate but also desirable. I am not speaking here about being “in love” in a sexual or romantic way; that is a whole separate topic. My focus is on the feelings of a pure type of love that are often generated in psychotherapy and are frequently an important part of what makes it successful.
Psychotherapy as an Incubator for Unconditional Love
We could say that the role that the therapist is taking on, if successfully executed, is about as close to a definition of unconditional love as could be imagined. Of course this unconditional love is delivered within very well defined boundaries, taking place within one hour, requiring the therapist to maintain a professional role, and requiring payment by the client. But, in fact, these boundaries are an essential part of what makes it possible for therapists to provide unconditional love.
Whether what Rogers is describing deserves to be called love is a matter of debate, but there is little question that the role he advocates for therapists requires that we behave in a loving manner. And when we behave in a loving manner toward someone, that behavior tends to generate feelings of love, not only in them, but also in us. If we as therapists are successful in following Rogers’ advice, we can expect that our clients feel not only accepted and understood, but also, at least on occasion, loved, and that they will respond in kind to our attentiveness and commitment, which feeds back into a virtuous cycle.
For a more detailed discussion visit “The Confusion about Love in Psychotherapy” and “Establishing the Parameters for Unconditional Love: The Contribution of Carl Rogers.”