I had a few moments this afternoon to do some tidying up in my office in-tray and I came across something that I had written down on a scrap piece of paper many, many years ago written by Elke Lambert. I had highlighted in green:
Congruence is not about telling the client how you feel or think. It could be, but much more congruence is to allow the conflicting and complex experiences into awareness so more of me is present.
I have forgotten when or why and the context of me writing this down many years ago, but sitting here today after developing all the training modules that we have done so far, it remains an important point especially relevant when working with disabled people.
Most of us as therapists and support workers are trained in congruence, for those who are person-centred trained, it is one of the building blocks of Carl Rogers’ approach.
It applies to working with disabled clients because of what I’ve discussed in our training, that for any client from a minority group, the repetitive negative experiences they have in society and with people means that often they develop a 6th sense around other people’s feelings of uncomfortableness.
Even if as therapists we do not say anything verbally about the challenges we might personally experience when faced with disability or a disabled client, the client usually still picks up on this and so, against our best intentions, we come across as incongruent.
Many professionals that are new to working with disabled clients understandably have a fear of getting it wrong and not knowing when or how to broach the topic of disability with their client.
To know that, if from this place of fear, you choose to do nothing, you are being and are likely to be seen as incongruent, can feel like an additional pressure on you as a therapist.
This quote then offers us a tool on how we could proceed.
It is not always about being honest that challenging and taboo thoughts may have been triggered in ourselves when confronted with disability. It may be at times that you do need to own this and take responsibility for this by acknowledging that is our stuff so that we do not project this onto the client.
However, at other times this explanation of congruence gives us strength to sit in the awkwardness that sometimes occurs in disability, to allow both ourselves as the professional (and the human being!) and the client to express conflicting views, different sides of the same coin without needing or expecting there to be an answer. To share that you know you ‘should’ feel, think or talk a certain way about disability, but that your body is giving you a different response.
True congruence is also political because we cannot truly be congruent with our clients unless:
- we acknowledge and express how society treats disabled people and those from other minority groups;
- we express that we understand that being part of an oppressed group is naturally going to have physical and psychological consequences;
- we express that we as professionals and human beings are also duly affected by the negative messages that abound in society around this minority group.
I hope this quote from Elka gives you more confidence to explore the edges of our comfort zone with our clients.
You can find out more about our free and low-cost training at our pre registration page here.