I have been thinking this week about a component of humanistic (person centred) psychotherapy known as ‘client phenomenology’. I would not consider myself any more challenged with the travails of this world than the next person, however I have been considering the different counselling approaches that I learned about during my degree in relation to improved wellbeing.
Phenomenology stems from the word ‘phenomenon’, which means to be manifest of itself. Phenomenology thus becomes the study of subjective experience, or experiences which manifest themselves, of themselves. When I studied it in class, I saw it as little more than an offshoot from the need to show unconditional positive regard. However, now that I consider it more intricately, I now perceive it to be quite a profound attribute relating to human wellbeing.
Let us be philosophical for a moment. Is there such thing as a right answer? Strictly speaking, nothing can be proven. The scientific method has verified certain relationships such that there is little need to dispute them, but even so, it is strictly a process of knocking out the alternate explanations. Then there are religious and ideological directions too. These are far more subjective. The choices of how one lives can come from a variety of situational cues and philosophies, as well as the scientific evidence. There is not a right answer concerning how to live.
People learn to supress certain feelings and thoughts. A child may supress the urge to cry, so as to attain respect from our peers. An adult may supress thoughts of an employer may taking advantage, in order to be viewed favourably for a job. This suppression inevitably leads to crisis, and draws us away from what Goldstein (1936) described as self-actualisation (Rogers, 1951).
Self-actualisation is the point in your being that you are at one with your ‘organismic self’ (Rogers, 1951). It really means being as close to your true self as you can get. Your organismic self is the origin of your phenomenology – the root of the things that manifest just because they do. Rogers described this this experience of self-actualisation as ‘the good life’ (Rogers, 1961).
I would say that the real meaning of respecting the phenomenology of oneself and others is not to punish that being for the challenges or questions they have. Whether they be mental or physical, they have occurred as a phenomenon, with a reason for which we know not why. There are those who believe that individual experiences and convictions ought to be swept aside to make way for the social norms society has come to accept. In fact, I would say that it is this belief that contributes to wilful blindness and the evil talked about by Zimbardo (think: Stanford Prison Experiment).
Whether on a large, social or political scale, or on a small and personal scale, it strikes me that not respecting the phenomenology (or conscience?) of any individual will ultimately lead to subdued happiness and wellbeing. This makes me wonder how much happier schools or businesses could be if we stopped subscribing to traditional schools of thought and began to re-empower the individual?
I know that it often makes me feel better to address, rather than repress. I regard it compelling that a major school of thought in psychology and psychotherapy also advocates this principle. It seems to me that this principle is perhaps more global than just being a neat trick to support the worried well. If personal self-exploration leads to improved wellbeing, should this not be allowed also within peoples’ occupations? Of course, pragmatically speaking, there is a big force opposing that, namely the hierarchical structures of today’s world. But the humanistic evidence implies to me that people were never intended to be ordered such.
Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory.
London, UK: Constable.
Rogers, C. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London,
Goldstein, K. (1934). The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from
Pathological Data in Man. New York, US: Zone Books.