FOCUSING AND VALUES

PART ONE

I have been struggling yet again with the chapter on values in Gene's PROCESS-ORIENTED PSYCHOTHERAPY.

He says: "[We] must be value neutral .... this value-neutrality should indeed be maintained .... there is no basis for .... trying to impose .... preferences .... individuals must direct their own lives", and later, tellingly, "This seems to be the opposite of the previous example."

Well, in the first place, this "value-neutrality" is itself a value. (I think Gene says, we should not rest content with a paradox, and is it not highly uncomfortable to try and rest content with this one?)

Secondly, the idea that one might be equally happy with apparent opposites points to a kind of looseness, which worries me. Like this:-

"Every child should be cared about." - I doubt if any of us would ever say the opposite of that. We are (I hope) not "value-neutral" about that at all, ever.

Here are some other values, about none of which would I myself be even slightly neutral (I think):-

I tend cautiously to believe that a helping person can be most useful if their values, both explicit and implicit, are:-

Would it be a "carrying forward" if the "finer experiential differentiation" led to [say] the murder of a child? The person might say, ".... Hey, thank you so much! .... That feels so much better! .... It is so helpful when you listen for me .... NOW I know what I have to DO! .... Whew! ...." (I would feel gratified) ".... I have to murder the little sod! .... " (I would say, "I can't let you do that.")

There's something I find very troubling here, and I should be deeply grateful to hear the insights of others on this topic ....

PART TWO

A reader comments that Part One could be seen as an attack on Gene, especially by people who love him. Let me address this briefly.

I felt a need to write it, and to write it pretty much as it is, which is how it's been haunting me for some years. Recently, I had a thoughtful and delightful conversation in the depths of the night, which colours how I now see the issue of value-neutrality, but I am not yet ready to take much account of that.

Last time I got wound up about this issue (in The Focusing Connection), Mary Armstrong thanked me for making her distinguish between being "value-neutral" and being "agenda-free". The second is what she intended.

We can all agree that the Listener must be agenda-free.

Well, mostly. When is "agenda-free" a nice name for indifference or collusion, I wonder? (There's a sharp comment on this in GAMES PEOPLE PLAY, I think in the chapter called "Alcoholic".)

I hope it's totally clear to readers of Werewolf that I love Gene dearly, and that there isn't an attack on him (at all), or on his practice (with minor but interesting exceptions), and especially not on his feeling-and-thinking (which he, of all people, wishes to see carried forward, rather than merely accepted).

Actually, there's an attack on Carl Rogers, I suppose. The ideas of "non-directiveness" and of "unconditional positive regard" may be the immediate source of the confusions that I think I (murkily) see.

There's always a sense with the person-centred stuff: that YOU (the client) can be any way you want to be; but I (the counsellor) have to be just this way. This leads to confusions.

For example. As a counsellor, I only deserve to be regarded positively if my own positive regard is unconditional. It follows from this that when I am in supervision, the supervisor is mandated to regard me BOTH conditionally AND unconditionally, at the same time.

For that matter, in supervising myself, I am in the same double bind.

Similarly, my supervisor is (non-directively) directed (by the Person- Centred theory) to non-directively direct me to direct myself to be non-directive!

The intentions are broadly fine. But the expression in words seems to me to be fatally knotted.

Does expression in words matter, really? I think it does. (Would Hitler have happened without Rousseau, Byron and Nietzsche?)

But expression in action matters a whole heap more, of course.

In relation to Carl, as to Gene, I intend no personal attack. His dedication to letting people direct their own lives can only be respected: it has been a huge contribution to both public and private life. His commitment to verifiable truth is admirable. His personal qualities, his empathy in particular, are deeply loveable.

Issues to do with therapy and ethical values are extremely difficult. My own feeling is that helping relationships of all kinds are be-devilled by the primitive state of our thinking on these issues. I don't see much prospect of a Copernican Revolution in the field of ethics.

But let us at least be aware of the absurdities into which our ethical conceptions lead us, as soon as we begin to trace out their contradictions.

2nd August 2001

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