Beyond Psychology: Person-Centered Techniques Put You Back in Control of Your Destiny

The following excerpt makes the Introduction of the book Beyond Psychology: An Introduction to Metapsychology, 4th Edition Beyond Psychology(Applied Metapsychology International Press, 2013) by Frank A. Gerbode.

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In any discussion concerning help, it is necessary to clarify who or what is being helped and who is to decide what constitutes “help”. A policeman, a judge, a politician, a philanthropist—all clearly have a mandate to help a group, a nation, or mankind as a whole. The results of their interventions must therefore be judged by their overall effects on the target group, not by their effects on any one person. People who are in the business of personal enhancement—teachers, counselors, therapists, priests, ministers, and personal consultants—are aiming to help a client (a person who has come to them for help) and their responsibility is to the client, not to anyone else. In personal enhancement, a successful outcome exists when the client is satisfied, not when, for instance, a group of people surrounding the client are satisfied with his/her behavior or personal characteristics. When a client is not satisfied with the “help” s/he has received, personal enhancement has not occurred, even if the counselor is content with the effects of the intervention.

Let us look at a situation a school counselor might be confronted with. Suppose a bright student, being bored, is always annoying his/her teachers by fidgeting, talking, or asking challenging or irritating questions. If the counselor, through behavior modifica­tion or medication, succeeds in creating a docile child out of this bored intellectual rebel, the counselor and the teachers may be happy, but has a good result really been achieved if the child feels dull or intimidated? If a client comes to a counselor in order to achieve happiness and completes the counseling miserable but externally functioning or behaving well in life, that is not a successful outcome for this kind of help. In other words, help, to the client, results in a more satisfactory life as experienced by the client, independent of anyone else’s judgments. It is therefore necessary at least to consult the client to determine what constitutes help for him/her and, subsequently, whether the proffered help is really effective. That is one reason why individual help is of necessity client-centered, or “person-centered”, to use Carl Rogers’ more recent term.

There is another sense in which personal enhancement is necessarily person-centered. Personal enhancement occurs when clients become more able, when they have greater potential for success—a clearer idea of their goals and improved means to achieve them. Anything, then, that would tend to lower awareness or ability is detri­mental, rather than helpful. But how does one go about improving awareness and ability?

Consider what goes into teaching a person to play better tennis. It does not help to give the student a course in the physiology of muscle movement and a vector analysis of the forces and movements involved in a tennis stroke, nor to teach aerodynamics and the Bernoulli principle as applied to spinning balls, even though these are amongst the physical determinants of a tennis game. Such descriptions are useless toward improving a person’s tennis game. In order to improve someone’s tennis game, or any ability, one must address:

  • Things that a person can experience directly.
  • Things that a person can do knowingly.

If you tell a person to exert a tension force of 25 lb on his/her right latissimus dorsi, s/he will not be able to do so because the latissimus dorsi (though it exists physically) is not part of his/her experience as a tennis player. Nor can a person successfully calculate the torque s/he would have to exert on the handle of the racket in order to create an appropriate angular velocity on the tennis ball. Or, more technically, how to get the Bernoulli forces to operate in such a way as to cause the ball to curve downward at a rate of speed calculated to cause it to land inside the court, given its initial velocity and direction of flight. Rather, you must tell student tennis-players what sort of movement they can be aware of making that will eventuate in a successful stroke. They can and must learn how it feels to hit a ball properly. Unless the action of playing tennis can be brought down to an experiential level, they cannot improve their tennis game. Similarly, people cannot learn mathematics by learning about the chemical or electrical changes that might be occurring in their brain in order for a certain piece of mathematical knowledge to be there, assuming that anybody knows what those neurological changes should be. Also, it may or may not be the case that mental events are caused by neurological events. The causation might be in the other direction; in fact, it might go both ways. Fortunately, since we are dealing with experiential matters, and people don’t experience their brains, we don’t need to decide this question.

Rather, students must learn how it feels to solve a problem; they must learn how to think mathematically. They must learn how to experience mathematics. The brain may or may not act as a complex electronic calculator, but it is impossible to get a person to directly “input information into the neurons” in order to get a result. A person cannot experience the act of calculating that way, even if what is happening does involve the firing of certain neurons.

Freud started out as a neurologist, but he eventually recognized that talking about neurological structures or mechanisms was not going to help people handle their difficulties with life. He concluded that one had to talk with the client and consult the client’s experience. Thus the idea of the “therapeutic alliance” was conceived. It seemed also that experience itself followed certain laws. Freud coined the term “metapsychology” to describe the study of these rules, or the study of “that which leads behind consciousness” (Freud, 1966a). Others (such as Jung, Adler, and Horney) followed, each with his/her own theoretical schema to explain the organization and laws of experience.

After a time, however, it became apparent that a peculiar phenomenon was occurring. Freudians began having Freudian dreams; Jungians began having Jungian dreams: clients always seemed to “find” those structures or entities postulated by their therapists. Concomitantly, it seemed that clients tended to resent the interpretations and interventions of their therapists, which they sometimes experienced as dehumanizing and manipulative. Also, these methods often failed to achieve a satisfactory result in a short period of time. It seems that the imposition of a theoretical framework creates an artificial view of the world and in certain ways prevents clients from arriving at their own insights.

Enter the founder of person-centered therapy, Carl Rogers (1951). Rogers realized that clients somehow have to discover their own truths, that it is not helpful to spoon-feed insights to clients concerning supposed mental entities that clients cannot perceive. He saw the debilitating effect of expressing therapeutic interpretations or judgments. Such judgments tend to blunt clients’ ability to perceive the truth for themselves, since a person has to arrive at his/her own truth. If the client merely accepts a therapeutic judgment (even a correct one) without perceiving its truth directly, it has only intellectual validity for him/her and not the experiential validity needed for a truly therapeutic result.

Further, it was found that when a therapist invalidates clients or their observations by expressing disapproval directly or through facial expression or manner, or by using belittling judgments, clients seem to become fearful and less open. In this state, clients are less communicative and less perceptive. Rogers therefore introduced the concepts of non-directive therapy and of “unconditional positive regard” for the client as a therapeutic necessity. In the Rogerian scheme, the role of the facilitator or therapist is merely to make it very safe for clients to think and say anything, and to let clients know their communications are understood, by repeating or paraphrasing these communications back to them. The Rogerian counselor acts as a companion on the client’s quest toward self-understanding and self-realization.

When this approach is properly done, clients have found it very helpful and congenial, and they have achieved a certain degree of improvement with it. For many, receiving Rogerian counseling must surely be a unique opportunity to think and feel freely and to express freely these thoughts and feelings. This approach, however, also seems to be fairly slow and limited in what it can achieve. Clients may feel good about having companionship, but frustrated at not receiving much in the way of help or guidance. A similar difficulty exists in the Freudian free-associative approach. Although the analysand has to view and relay the material to the analyst, for most, analysis appears to be rather aimless and inefficient in the absence of a clear-cut theory of how experience is formed and in the absence of direction from the analyst. It appears that in helping another person one is caught between the Scylla of interpretation (or judgment) and the Charybdis of aimlessness.

Is it possible, then, to have a non-judgmental, non-interpretive method, one that matches the experience of the client every step of the way but uses a directive approach to achieve rapid and profound results? The answer lies in the fact that being directive is not necessarily the same as interpreting experiencing for the client or being judgmental. It is possible to direct a person’s attention without telling the person what s/he is to perceive. One can show a person a painting without telling him/her anything about the painting, or ask a son to examine his relationship with his father without telling him anything about that relationship. But in order to be directive without being judgmental, it is necessary to know what the client’s world looks like from the viewpoint of the client, and to know what the client (or any person) does to build up a particular world of experience. If all the rules governing experience can be expressed in a way that corresponds to people’s own perceptions, and if people can see what they are doing to handle their world or to construct it, then they can be given the means—in a way that is non-judgmental—to alter their experience (their life) to a more satisfactory one. If one can describe the actions a person must consciously take to relieve depression, directing a client to take these steps constitutes an effective, directive, but non-judgmental method. It can be done without referring to anything (such as the Id, Ego, Anima or Animus) of which the person cannot directly be aware.

An effective directive helping technique, then, consists of giving tools to clients that they can consciously use to change the quality of their experience. It need not involve any manipulation on the part of the person helping (whom we shall call a “facilitator”), nor any act of perceiving or acting for the client. The client consciously does all the needed actions and perceiving for him/herself, under the direction of the facilitator.

The facilitator, then, acts like an expert car mechanic talking to the owner of a car over the phone and helping him/her repair it. The mechanic, like the facilitator, must get the car owner to describe to him/her what the car looks like, perhaps what it sounds and feels like, what the various instruments show, and how the car behaves when the owner does certain things. Perhaps the mechanic gets the owner to rev the engine or turn on the headlights and describe what happens. The mechanic can suggest various actions, like “Open the hood and take the lid off the big, black round thing sitting on top of the engine,” to help the owner get a better view. Finally, from the owner’s description of what s/he sees, the mechanic can decide what is wrong and can then describe the various tools needed to fix it and where they can be found. The mechanic can then walk the owner through the steps necessary to repair the car, all the while having the owner report on what’s happening.

Similarly, an effective facilitator gets the client to do various things to assess the situation and find the problem areas. S/he then walks the client through various techniques to correct the problem. The client applies the techniques, not the facilitator, though the client does report frequently on how things are going.

My purpose in writing this book is to propose what I believe to be a clear description of what a client—a person—is, and the nature of his/her experience as perceived by the client (not by anyone else), a clear description of the nature of his/her intentions, actions, and judgments, as experienced by the client, and a clear description of the rules that the client can be aware of that affect identity, intention, action, judgment, and perception.

The individual person and his/her experience, as seen from his/her point of view, make up the proper subject matter of metapsychology. Metapsychology is the study of the person and his or her abilities, the origin, structure, and function of the mind, and the relationship between person, mind, and physical universe. It is the discipline that unifies mental and physical experience; it seeks to discover the rules that apply to both. Central to metapsychology is a study of how the person, the mind, and the world are seen from a “person-centered” viewpoint in the absence of any external viewpoint or judgments.

Thomas Kuhn (1970) made the point that, before a science comes into existence, there is a critical stage in the development of a discipline when a diverse group of thinkers and experimenters find themselves groping towards an understanding of the subject. Then, often abruptly, a paradigm or model appears that is so appealing and useful that it becomes almost universally accepted as the “truth” that defines the current state of the subject. At this point, a science is born, where before there was only a “proto-science”—a mere collection of conflicting ideas and unaligned data.

I feel that we are on the brink of such a revolution in the study of personal experience. Arnold Lazarus (1985) makes the excellent point that the field of psychotherapy is in a “pre-paradigmatic phase”.  He says that without an agreed-upon theory to work from, we must simply observe what works and use that, without worrying, for the time being, about why it works. I feel, however, that the study of human interaction and helping has remained “pre-paradigmatic” for long enough. The basic data and observations needed to understand the subject have always been available to us—as our own experiences. No special instrumentation is required to observe these data. What I would like to propose in this book is a long-overdue paradigm—one that is sufficiently based on intersubjectively agreed-upon observations to be crystallization point for the formation of a new science: metapsychology.


ISBN: 978-1615991235

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About the Author

Gerbode is an Honors graduate of Stanford University who later pursued graduate studies in philosophy at Cambridge University in England. He received his medical degree from Yale University, and completed a psychiatric residency at Stanford University Medical Center in the early 1970s. Gerbode is the author of numerous papers and articles, which have been published in the Journal of Neurochemistry, the International Journal of Neuropharmacology, the Journal of Rational Emotive and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and elsewhere. He has taught and lectured internationally, and is the author of the book Beyond Psychology: An Introduction to Metapsychology, published in 1988. In 1986 he founded the Institute for Research in Metapsychology (now Applied Metapsychology International (AMI)). He is now retired, but still serves on the Board of Directors of AMI, as well as several of its committees including the Development and Editing Committee.

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