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Friday, August 29, 2008

Influence In Therapy

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Influence in therapy and counselling
(or why the non-directive approach is non-sense)
Mark Tyrrell
"I had counselling but the counsellor just sat there occasionally nodding
their head! I felt frustrated."
"I wanted my therapist to give me some advice or at least some ideas but
they wanted me to do all the talking!"
"I've had two years of counselling and now I think I know why I have panic
attacks but I've still got the panic attacks!"

What's is going on with psychotherapy? Why do some counsellors `just sit there' without
offering ideas or opinions?
In my own practice, about one in ten clients makes reference to a previous counsellor or
therapist who has listened to them without making any suggestions or giving direction ­ which
is usually why they end up coming to see me! Those in distress need direction ­that is why
they go into therapy. So how did this approach to counselling develop?
Person centered counselling and people as `flowers'
In 1928 a book called The Child Centered School was published. This book was to determine
US (and to some extent British) education for many years to come.
The Child Centered School borrowed many ideas from 19th century German and Swiss
philosophers such as Fredrick Froebel who believed that children are like flowers in a garden
(Kindergarten literally means `a garden whose flowers are children').
Froebel felt that children, when given a `non-threatening' environment would develop their
potential through an automatic `self actualizing' principle. Self actualization is an abstract term
meaning the process of establishing oneself as a whole person able to develop one's abilities
and to understand oneself.
Left to grow
Self actualization, he believed, could only occur if the child was left to develop in its own way.
Too much discipline, direction and laying down of boundaries would impede this process.
Nature should be allowed take its course and the `flowers' left to grow unrestrained. (You can
imagine what would happen if this approach were taken in a real garden!)
The self esteem industry ran apace with ideas of child centered education. It was thought to
be potentially damaging to limit children's `free expression', to set boundaries on behaviour
and to deliver punishment.
Rates of childhood depression, suicide and school criminality have soared since the 1920's.
Rates of educational attainment have dropped. Maybe flowers need skilled gardeners after
all! Gardeners need to make judgment calls, set limits and when required, apply fertilizer!
Influence in Therapy and Counselling


Therapy clients as flowers
In the 1950's, Carl Rogers borrowed principles from child centered education and applied
them to psychotherapy. His idea was that if you truly listen to somebody with a problem by
feeding back or `reflecting' what they are saying then they have the opportunity, given enough
time, to `self actualise'
On no account could the therapist influence the client. Any expression of opinion or hint of
direction from the therapist was forbidden as far as client centered therapy was concerned.
The therapist was to be a blank screen.
Certainly listening to someone in a safe environment is an essential part of therapy. However
it is just a part. People who are depressed, anxious, angry etc need to learn skills to stop their
suffering. Listening is important initially but people generally seek therapy because they do
want to be influenced by someone in ways that help.
Just listening and reflecting back to a depressed client may deepen the depression. This is
why person-centered counselling is contraindicated for treating depression (1)
Non-influence impossible
Is it even possible not to influence others? Michael Yapko, a leading researcher into the
treatment of depression said: `It is not a question of whether a practitioner influences a client
but how they influence a client. They will influence them merely by being in the same room.'
Charisma and influence
Charisma is a measure of how expressive and emotionally infections we are. A charismatic
person is likely to make you feel the same way as them. They lead the emotional
atmosphere. High charismatics tend of course to be more expressive (often conveyed non-
verbally through micro facial expressions). They have `something about them.' A low
charismatic's mood is less `infectious'.
Contagious emotion
Emotion is contagious (2). If I smile at you, even a micro smile lasting no more than several
milliseconds will influence you.
I may not be conscious of that smile. You may not be conscious I have smiled. However the
emotion is still passed from me to you outside both of our conscious awareness.
Emotional `senders'
You may have noticed that certain people are accomplished at expressing emotions and
opinions. Often, these people are more emotionally contagious than the rest of us.
Psychologists call these people `senders.' Malcolm Gladwell in his revealing book The
Tipping Point writes about senders:
`They are physiologically different. Scientists who have studied faces for
example, report that there are huge differences among people in the
location of facial muscles, in their form and even in their prevalence. It is a
situation not unlike medicine. There are carriers; people who are very
expressive and there are people who are especially susceptible. It's not
that emotional contagion is a disease but the mechanism is the same.'
Influence in Therapy and Counselling


Are you charismatic?
A psychologist at the University of California, Howard Friedman, has developed a charisma
test known as the Affective Communication Test. His test measures your ability to send
emotion to others.
Friedman conducted an amazing experiment around his test. He picked a few dozen who had
scored very high on the test, above 90 and a few dozen who had scored very low, below 60.
He asked them all to fill in a questionnaire measuring how they felt `at this instant'.
He then put all the high scorers in separate rooms and paired each of them with two low
scorers. They were told to sit in the room together for just two minutes. They could look at
one another but not speak (remember the person-centered approach to counselling).
Then, once the session was over, they were asked, again, to fill in a detailed questionnaire on
how they were feeling. Friedman found that in just two minutes, without a word being spoken,
the low scorers picked up the mood of the charismatic high scorers!
If the charismatic person started out depressed, and the inexpressive person started out
happy, by the end of the two minutes the inexpressive person was depressed as well. But it
didn't work the other way around. Only the charismatic person could infect the other person in
the room with his or her emotions. And remember, this occurred without any verbal
Here at Uncommon Knowledge, we are of the opinion that psychological research and
therapeutic practice need to be aligned so that psychotherapy can move away from personal
opinion and toward a validated, supported methodology. Psychotherapists and counsellors
need to know about psychological research. Many don't.
1 Yapko, M (1992) Hypnosis and the treatment of depression. Danton, W, Antonucci, D and
DeNelsky. Depression: Psychotherapy is the best medicine. Professional Psychology
Research and Practice, 26, 574.
2 Emotional Contagion, Elaine Hatfield, John Capioppo 1994


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