I have a client I haven’t seen in a while today. The space is prepped, the kettle is on, and I’m chatting to God.
“Anything I need to know? What do they need from me today?”
I ask the question, and then simply listen.
“Be the oasis. Be warm, be loving. Remember – Unconditional Positive Regard. That’s what they most need today.”
All too often, I hear those around me wondering what the point of talk therapy is, what they might have to gain from giving it a try. Whilst I believe that not every therapist, or indeed type of therapy, is for everyone, I have a multitude of answers as to the value of finding the therapeutic space that somehow clicks, that fits you.
Some of these answers I discovered from my own experience as a client – the way that having my feelings mirrored back to me helped me understand where my boundaries were, for example, and the way that the question “who takes care of you?” helped me clarify my needs.
Some I found a quick affinity for as a practitioner – like my capacity for asking what I call the “difficult questions”, the questions my clients have shied away from, which supports them in seeing their situation through clearer eyes.
And some of the benefits of talk therapy have unfolded subtly in my practice over the years, revealing themselves time and time again in little ways, until I finally saw the bigger picture.
One of these arises from what Humanist Psychologist Carl Rogers defined as Unconditional Positive Regard, a term I first remember coming across through the writings of Amy Mindell. Rogers talks about Unconditional Positive Regard as being accepted and loved as who we are, regardless of our mistakes or perceived shortcomings. For me that regard can be taken a step further, so that it begins to look like faith; I not only seek to offer unconditional acceptance to each client in the present moment, I also cultivate faith in them and their future. The approach becomes an attitude of belief, of holding a deep knowing that each individual is an extraordinary creative being, full of potential, and capable of whatever they set their mind to.
Imagine for a moment what it is to be in a space where the underlying belief, the message that you are receiving from your environment, is that you are capable of being the person you wish to be, living the life you long for, and empowering yourself to make the changes you desire. Imagine seeing that belief written in another person, session after session. We have a natural tendency to mirror the behaviour of those around us, especially those we interact with regularly; imagine how it would be to find yourself, over time, beginning to mirror, to integrate and feel, this belief in your own power.
For many, particularly those of us who inhabit states of shame and low self-esteem much of the time, Unconditional Positive Regard can be a difficult mirror to look into. It can be hard to face up to that vision of us that someone else is holding, when we have spent years building a very different picture of ourselves.
As a sex coach, I inevitably end up working with that kind of shame on a frequent basis. I get approached by clients whose desires, needs, and experiences fall outside of the norms or rules of their social or home environment. They have encountered what Rogers would term Conditional Positive Regard, which is doled out according to other’s perception of our behaviour, rather than our intrinsic value as human beings. These clients have been used to thinking of themselves as “too much”, as somehow “kinky” or “perverted” in the not-so-reclaimed sense of the terms, but have found that their attempts to subdue their desires has not in fact made them go away.
In my sessions, they come face to face with someone who believes their desires are valid, that they are fundamentally good, and whose intention is to help them integrate and meet the parts of themselves they have sought to ignore or escape for so long. Not to mention point them towards the workshops, festivals or play parties that will allow them to actively enjoy those aspects of their sexuality. It can be something of a shock to the system.