The Handbook of Person-Centred Therapy and Mental Health

ISBN 9781910919316, £27.99, Stephen Joseph(Ed), PCCS Books

In terms of sentiment this remarkable 500-page tome sits somewhere between Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing and Carl Rogers’ “fear and trembling”. Its authors range from the astutely radical (by mainstream standards) to the collaborative and stoical. What starts off as a refreshingly unrestrained rollercoaster ride courtesy of Pete Sanders (Opposition to the medicalisation of distress) middles out with the delicate brilliance of Jan Hawkins (Living with pain) before coming to a near-halt with the thought-provoking revisionist Lisbeth Sommerbeck.

For what is at stake is not just the future of person-centred therapy in its grab for a warranted slice of the mental health arena, but also its past. Sommerbeck manages to destroy the myth that has persisted since the late 1960s and ultimately dogged this “eminently suited” mode of therapy: that, following Rogers’ Wisconsin project, it was shown that PCT (or, as it was known, client-centred therapy) has limited scope and offers only disappointment when it comes to dealing with complex cases e.g. schizophrenia.

A project in which motivation for help was low, the style of CCT questionable and the therapists inexperienced was bound to fail though, Sommerbeck asserts. She then manages to turn the tables and do battle with the psychiatric fraternity, peppering her work with subliminal messages (“psychiatric back wards”) whilst pointing out their shortcomings: ‘reality correction’ in order to avoid colluding – through empathy – with severe / psychotic clients; believing that ‘non-directive’ equates to ‘unstructured’, ‘passive’ and ‘laissez-faire’.

This method of attack is a relief as, too often, those with the Rogers baton in hand settle for a meek and grateful ‘draw’ with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and solution-focused therapy (SFT) citing research which shows that “no particular model of therapy is more effective”. The heavyweights R D Laing, J M Shlien and T Szasz would beg to differ and it is encouraging that they are still inordinately referenced here.

Handbooks can, at times, be excuses for jumbling together obsolescent articles with no obvious foothold in contemporary thought. This, along with its similarly mighty brothers, The Handbook of Person-Centred Psychotherapy & Counselling (Cooper et al) and The Person-Centred Counselling and Psychotherapy Handbook (Lago et al), is a pivotal purchase for any library though if only to discover the swathe of erudite books sourced.

There are moments when the inclusion of counter-arguments from other schools would help the reader more fully understand why the NHS, IAPT, clinical psychology and psychiatry stridently and subtly rebuff person-centred approaches, but these are outweighed by the inside knowledge that Rachel Freeth, Stephen Joseph and particularly Gillian Proctor, among others, bring.

This review was first published in Private Practice, December 2017 issue & Therapy Today, September 2017 issue (abridged version), © BACP

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