How can I create a helping relationship?

When we were producing one of April’s Business Newsletter, we touched on the work of Carl R. Rogers. He was renowned as one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy research and this piece is taken from “On Becoming a Person”. It articulates how our ‘being’ in a relationship is paramount – whilst his writing was from a therapeutic aspect, it has lessons for any relationships we wish to work well.

These are 2 of the questions that came up for him from his own clinical experience.

Rogers writes:

  1. Can I be in some way which will be perceived by the other person as trustworthy, as dependable or consistent in some deep sense? Both research and experience indicate that this is very important, and over the years I have found what I believe are deeper and better ways of answering this question. I used to feel that if I fulfilled all the outer conditions of trustworthiness – keeping appointments, respecting the confidential nature of the interviews etc. – and if I acted consistently the same during the interviews, then this condition would be fulfilled. But experience drove home the fact that to act consistently acceptant, for example, if in fact I was feeling annoyed or skeptical or some other non-acceptant feeling, was certain in the long run to be conceived as inconsistent or untrustworthy. I have come to recognize that being trustworthy does not demand that I be rigidly consistent but that I be dependently real. The term ‘congruent’ is one I have used to describe the way I would like to be. By this I mean that whatever feeling or attitude I am experiencing would be matched by my awareness of that attitude. When this is true, then I am a unified or integrated person in that moment, and hence I can be whatever I deeply am. This is a reality which I find others often experience as dependable.
  2. A very closely related question is this: Can I be expressive enough as a person that what I am will be communicated unambiguously? I believe that most of my failures to achieve a helping relationship can be traced to unsatisfactory answers to these two questions. When I am experiencing an attitude of annoyance toward another person but am unaware of it, then my communication contains contradictory messages. My words are giving one message, but I am also in subtle ways communicating the annoyance I feel and this confuses the other person and makes him distrustful, though he too may be unaware of what is causing the difficulty. When as a parent or a therapist or a teacher or an administrator I fail to listen to what is going in me, fail because of my own defensiveness to sense my own feelings, then this kind of failure seems to result. It has made it seem to me that the most basic learning for anyone who hopes to establish any kind of helping relationship is that it is safe to be transparently real. If in a given relationship I am reasonably congruent, if no feelings relevant to the relationship are hidden, either to me or the other person, then I can be almost sure that the relationship will be a helpful one.

Creating helping relationships

One way of putting this which may seem strange to you is that if I can form a helping relationship to myself – if I can be sensitively aware of and acceptant toward my own feelings – then the likelihood is great that I can form a helping relationship toward another.

Now, acceptantly to be what I am, in this sense, and to permit this to show through to the other person, is the most difficult task I know and one I never fully achieve. But to realize that this is my task has been most rewarding because it has helped me to find what has gone wrong with interpersonal relationships, which have become snarled, and to put them on a constructive track again. It has meant that if I am to facilitate the personal growth of others in relation to me, then I must grow, and while this is often painful it is also enriching.

written by

Rose Dixey