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As we sat down to check in with how we are feeling at the start, it struck me what magnificent friends I have. Although the ones I interact most with vary from month to month I spent some real quality time over the weekend with a few of them and it really struck me, as I debated what to say, how important those people are and how much you can share with friends.

Today the topic for discussion was UPR, or Universal Positive Regard, one of Carl Rogers’ fundamental abilities needed to be a counsellor.

It’s still a clunky phrase and yet the concept is quite simple and we’ve touched on it already. Accept the client for who they are, setting your prejudices aside at the door and without criticism. Like your client. We show this with our body language, the way we reflect the conversation and the warmth we demonstrate. Although how exactly you demonstrate warmth is a little hard to pin down.

What blocks UPR? There’s a long list: over-identification, prejudice (large and small, yours and theirs), feeling tired or ill, having your own personal stuff you can’t quite put aside,  lack of belief in what the client is saying (whether true or not), finding their experiences so extreme you can’t accept them. Maybe they lack chemistry, or have poor social skills and you simply find it hard to develop a rapport. You might find their language inappropriate or offensive, as well as their body language. So many things by which we judge someone before they’ve opened their mouth.

How do you feel when in receipt of UPR? A warm fuzzy feeling that is trust in your counsellor, a developing belief that you can say anything and still be accepted which leads to you opening up and being more honest. Telling your story can be a great release but it can also make you feel vulnerable. A client needs to feel safe before they will go beyond the superficial.

We went slightly off course in discussing what we do when a client demonstrates bigotry. Do we challenge it, say we find it offensive, or deal with it like anything else they say. What happens when a client crosses our line, conflicting with our core beliefs. Where do we go?

There are clearly personal beliefs that are life choices such as religious faith, veganism, sobriety that it is not necessarily up to the counsellor to challenge, but how to separate those from others? Just because I do not agree with a belief doesn’t mean I should challenge it. We’re not in a session to discuss politics, but what about when a client makes a racist/sexist/homophobic/bigoted remark? What happens is they believe in white supremacy or that immigrants should all go home? What if, as someone raised as an example, they voted for Brexit? Should a counsellor educate or is that beyond the brief? If it is, where is the line drawn?

I’d like to explore these questions further. Thinking about when I challenge people as in friends or acquaintances when they come with values I fundamentally disagree with. Sometimes I shrug my shoulders and walk away from the conversation, others I challenge. Possibly I choose the latter when I think there’s a chance of making a difference and the former when I think the other person is rigid in their views. Or of course that I’m not in the mood for a big argument.

This was a more interesting session. I think maybe the group is getting more comfortable with speaking out and asking questions.

Our mission for the day was to look at qualities that we regard as positive or negative about ourselves and to explore the fact that they are just qualities and, like Marvel’s superpowers, it’s what you do with them that matters and that makes them good or bad. Our mini-group struggled to get going with this and I felt frustrated by the slowness of a couple of them to understand the concept and I’m not sure I managed that terribly well.

I had an interesting one to one with V, who chose to carry on discussing his perceived weaknesses and he had a monologue about his inability to stand up and disagree with people when necessary. He used the word confront rather than disagree or argue which I find a much more powerful word and I wanted to ask him which word he really meant. I asked him a few questions and then stopped myself in the middle of one, noticing that it was a question and I shouldn’t. Because he was exploring his own motivation and emotions I found it really difficult to paraphrase what he was saying as there were fewer facts to grab hold of and he was paraphrasing himself as well.

I then had to leave early after a phone call from school about 3son which I will write about separately.