Tag Archives: unconditional positive regard

Dear Karen: I have a professional and personal responsibility to speak out against Unacceptable behaviors

Last week I received a comment on this blog. Getting a comment is always very exciting, partly because I don’t get all that many and partly because the comments are usually positive and affirming. In this case the comment was neither positive nor affirming.

Although getting critical comments isn’t nearly as fun and ego-boosting as affirming comments, receiving criticism is important to self-examination and growth. The person who commented last Thursday was upset about my “politics.” As many of you know, I’ve occasionally written about Mr. Trump and lamented his behavior. Sometimes, I’ve felt nervous posting critiques of Mr. Trump, worrying that I may have been behaving in ways that were less that professional and worrying that perhaps I shouldn’t openly express my negative opinions about his behavior. However, in the end, I’ve often ended up deciding that my critiques of Mr. Trump aren’t really about politics anyway.

Digesting Thursday’s comment has helped me clarify my position on political commentary. Here’s a version of what I wrote back to my blog commenter.

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Dear Karen,

Thanks for your message.

Many years ago when I interviewed Natalie Rogers, I recall her telling me something very compelling about her father, Carl Rogers. She said, in her family, all feelings were accepted, but not all behaviors.

Although some of my judgments about Mr. Trump have political components, most of my judgments about him focus on his personality and behavior. Politics aside, I wouldn’t care if he was a democrat, an independent, a republican, a corporate mogul, a teacher, a coach, or a rock star. I find his behavior to be an unacceptable example for children. From my perspective it’s clear that Mr. Trump is much more focused on using and abusing power than he is on empowering others. To return to Carl Rogers: Rogers believed the best use of power was to empower others. My perception of Mr. Trump is that he’s invested in accumulating power, and not on empowering others.

I could make a list of video evidence of Mr. Trump mocking disabled people, calling women “fat pigs,” disrespecting war veterans (including John McCain, whom I’ve never written a negative judgmental word about, despite his politics), paying off prostitutes, saying positive and supportive things about dictators and racists, and his continuous flow of lies. If Mr. Trump was my neighbor or a colleague at my University, it would be wrong for me to let his behavior pass without making it clear that I find his behaviors to be a potentially destructive and negative influence on children in the neighborhood or the culture at the University. Not only do I have a responsibility to be non-judgmentally accepting in therapeutic contexts, I also have a responsibility to speak up and speak out against racism and the promotion of violence. I believe there’s ample evidence that Mr. Trump has promoted racism and incited violence. My rejection of those behaviors isn’t particularly political; I simply believe that it’s morally wrong to promote racism and foment violence.

I can see we have different views of Mr. Trump. You may not see the evidence that I see, or you may find his behaviors less offensive and less dangerous. Although it’s challenging for me to understand your perspective, I know you’re not alone, and I know you must have reasons for believing the ways you believe. I can accept that.

But to articulate my perspective further, here’s a therapy example. If I was working with a client who exhibited no empathy or said things to others that were likely to incite violence, as a psychotherapist, I would work toward a greater understanding of the client’s emotions. In addition, I would consider it my professional responsibility to question those behaviors . . . for both the good of the client and the good of people in the client’s world.

Again, thanks for your message. It’s important to hear other perspectives and to have a chance to question myself and my own motives. I appreciate you providing me with that opportunity.

Happy Sunday,

John SF

Parallel Process in Clinical Supervision

This short case example from the forthcoming 6th edition of Clinical Interviewing is a small tribute to all the great supervisors I had over the years.

Case Example 7.2:

Intermittent Unconditional Positive Regard and Parallel Process

Abby is a 26-year-old graduate student. She identifies as a White Heterosexual female. After an initial clinical interview with Jorge, a 35-year-old who identifies as a male heterosexual Latino, she meets with her supervisor. During the meeting she expresses frustration about her judgmental feelings toward Jorge. She tells her supervisor that Jorge sees everyone as against him. He’s extremely angry at his ex-wife and he’s returning to college following his divorce and believes his poor grades are due to racial discrimination. Abby tells her supervisor that she just doesn’t get Jorge. She thinks she should refer him instead of having a second session.

Abby’s supervisor listens empathically and is accepting of Abby’s concerns and frustrations. The supervisor shares a brief story of a case where she had difficulty experiencing positive regard toward a client who had a disability. Then, she asks Abby to put herself in Jorge’s shoes and imagine what it would be like to return to college as a 35-year-old Latino man. She has Abby imagine what might be “under” Jorge’s palpable anger toward his ex-wife. The supervisor also tells Abby, “When you have a client who views everyone as against him, it’s all the more important for you to make an authentic effort to be with him.” At the end of supervision Abby agrees to meet with Jorge for a second session and to try to explore and understand his perspectives on a deeper level. During their next supervision session, Abby reports great progress at experiencing intermittent unconditional positive regard for Jorge and is enthused about working with him in the future.

One way to enhance your ability to experience unconditional positive regard is to have a supervisor who accepts your frustrations and intermittent judgmental-ness. If the issues that arise in therapy are similar (or parallel) to the issues that arise in supervision, it’s referred to as parallel process (Searles, 1955). This is one reason why when you get a dose of unconditional positive regard in supervision, it may help you pass it on to your client.

 

John Rap