Human development

Critically evaluate the significance of theories of human development and research in neuroscience in relation to your person-centred practice.

A phenomenal amount of research and writing has been published focusing on how people develop and on the effects of, pretty much everything on an individual. It would be extremely naïve and foolish to believe that human beings are solely driven and influenced by our internal forces or are a pure mould of their external influences. Human beings are inherently social and from a young age seek out relationships and interaction from others. It is inevitable that these interactions will have an impact on the people we become, and how we will behave in the future.

Unfortunately often these experiences can be damaging and in some cases detrimental to the individual causing them pain and distress in the instance and for their later lives. In these instances when a person decides to come for therapy as a person-centred psychotherapist I strive to be with that client as they feel, to follow them where they want to go and to experience them as they are at that moment. The aim of this being to help them work through these issues and to overcome their internal conflicts and to get back onto the path their actualising tendency follows. The question is, when practicing in a person-centred way, where analysis and opinion are irrelevant what use does looking backwards do?

In this writing I will look at attachment theory and its relevance in relation to conditions of worth and Rogers (1951) personality theory, psychodynamic theory in relation to the person-centred approach, as well as some biological causes of behaviour.

The fundamental belief of Rogers (1951) and of person-centred practitioners is that human beings have the innate motivational force to actualise, that this drive strives to maintain and enhance the experiencing of the individual. Rogers believed that every individual evaluates experiences in terms of how they meet their needs and this experience shapes the development of the individual. Rogers described the self as “all of the individual perceptions of his organism, of his experience, and of the way in which those perceptions are related to other perceptions and objects in his environment and to the whole exterior world” (Evans 1975, pp.16). Person-centred practitioners believe that problems for an individual occur when incongruence exists between the self-concept, and their experiencing. The self-concept develops as a child and through life based on conditions of worth placed on the person by others, namely care-givers in childhood and adolescence.

Rogers (1959) believed that the developing individual has two fundamental needs, for positive regard from others and for positive self-regard. This regard is believed to be universal to all people and continuous through life, the developing child relies on this positive regard from others in order to develop their own self-evaluative system that in later life will be used by them to judge themselves. This positive regard is what shapes a persons conditions of worth and configurations of self. If this positive regard is given from a young age for behaviours that differ from how the child see's the world or from how they want to be seen, then this can cause an internal conflict leading to troubles in later life.

For me I struggled when first undertaking the training process and going to personal therapy was the idea that even a loving, supportive and caring upbringing influences the way a person sees them self and how they see others in relation to them. This was a real problem for me as I always saw myself has having a fantastic upbringing with brilliant parents and therefore attributed my troubles as being something wrong with me and when people I had encountered in life didn't want to be with me or to treat me how I wanted to be treated, then that was my fault. Through therapy and study I realised that the positive regard I received as a child and the supportive environment had given me a condition of worth whereby I felt everyone should love me and care for me, simply because I was me as I had never experienced not being, and that if they didn't then I had done something wrong and had failed in some way.

I feel the concept of what I call the ‘too-good parent' is a widely ignored one in modern thinking and it highlights to me the fact that all upbringings influence the way we are and the way we think. One aspect for me that I found connected me with the person-centred approach was the idea that no prescription or analysis is given to people, I don't believe that you can say a person did something because this happened to them or because they experienced that. I want to understand why the individual feels the way they do, why they behave in the ways they do and why they choose to do so.

Bowlby (1969) formed the attachment theory of development, believing that childhood relationships, particularly with the mother, were the most important factor in determining how a child would develop in later life.

Both Rogers (1959) and Bowlby's (1969) theories emphasise the importance and impact of early years on an individual and in some respects are very similar. Both theorists explain human development in terms of the idea of self, and how the self fits with others. In Bowlby's theory it is the concept of the working model and that this working model is what determines how an individual relates to others in the future, stating that “in the working model of the self that anyone builds a key feature is his notion of how acceptable or unacceptable he himself is in the eyes of his attachment figures” Bowlby (1998: pg. 236). This notion of acceptance is similar to Rogers' ideas regarding positive regard and configurations of self. Holmes (1993) goes on to explain how these working models, if not developed out of a loving and safe relationship, can be of a detrimental effect in later life. He says these faulty models can lead to coping mechanisms and from this a splitting of personality and of self-concept, causing an individual to feel they do not know who they are.

However, Bowlby has been criticised for focusing too much on the relationship between child and mother, determining the mother as the sole care giver and as the only person with any real influence on the child. His theory also takes away any notion of choice and free-will of an individual, prescribing that attachment style will determine behaviour in later life, there is no alternative. Rogers sees development as ongoing and continuing throughout life, whereas attachment theorists see the formation of working models in early life as the only time period where models and behaviours are set.

Freudian theory sees human development as a series of stages through which a young child develops in a linear motion and that crises occurring in one of the five stages causes problems for the individual from that point onward. If the child can get through the stages without disruption or disturbance then they will continue to lead a healthy and happy life, whereas if they suffer a traumatic event or experience at one of the stages, this will determine the way they behave for the rest of their lives. Each stage has a different ‘type' of behaviour, for example, disruptions in the oral stage according to Freud lead a person to become orally fixated and more likely to have problems with food, or drink or smoking.

Like Bowlby, Freud (1962) also saw the parents as the main influence on a child in early infancy, however for Freud the main influence was determined by the sex of the child, in that the child sought out the attention of the opposite gender parent and develops an unconscious resentment for the other. Freud saw humans as driven by their unconscious desires and that as they develop they begin to govern themselves unconsciously as the ego and superego develop. The concept of the unconscious mind is one that has widely been accepted and is a part of modern day thinking and speech. Rogers also believed that individuals are driven by an unconscious drive, that being of their actualising tendency and the need for them to grow in a way that is positive and enhancing for them.

There are a number of criticisms of Freudian theory namely that he focused a large amount of his theories on sexual urges that there is no evidence to support exist within a child of that age. In fact most of his theories are based solely on his ideas and interpretations of cases, there is very little scientific evidence to support the idea of the five stages or of the existence of the id, ego and superego. The prescriptiveness of the stages and the rigidity of them makes it very difficult to relate to person-centred practice yet it is worth noting that Freud was the first psychotherapist to emphasise the importance of talking with clients and of allowing them the time and space to explore and divulge their most inner thoughts in order to help them.

Gerhardt (2009) has produced a whole book on the way in which early love and affection influences the biological development of a babies brain and how this goes on to affect their behaviour in later life. Unfortunately cases such as that of Genie (Rymer, 1994) show the developmental effects that lack of attachment and love can have on a child. In the case of Genie it was shown that she could not form language or learn to interact with others at all due to the nature of her early life, the abuse and neglect she had suffered had actually altered her brain structure to a point where new learning was nearly impossible.

Gerhardt (2009) shows links between human interactions from parents and other care givers towards babies on their cortisol levels, the nervous system and brain structure. It seems that every other day on the news and in the media new studies are being conducted showing links between early influences, people and relationships and later behaviour patterns. When I first started studying psychology at A level, the nature-nurture debate was at the forefront of psychological discussion and I can see it continuing for years to come. I think it is only right to assume that both influence an individual and make us into the people we are.

For me when I see clients I am not really interested in where they've come from, I do not want or need to know what they're parents were like or how many siblings they had. I want to know how they are feeling, what they think has brought them to me and where they feel they want to be. I have an unwavering belief in the strength of the actualizing tendency and although I agree that a persons past, particularly their early years does have a huge impact on the person they become and how they see themselves, I do not want to use this analyse and ‘sort' them into a category.

To conclude I feel that there are similarities between a number of different approaches and person-centred theory regarding human development and behaviour. Bowlby's (1969) attachment theories regarding the working model and splitting share very similar threads with person-centred beliefs about conditions of worth and configurations of self. Similarly psychodynamic theorists beliefs in the power of the unconscious drives mirror the innate force of the actualising tendency from the person-centred approach.

As I mentioned at the start of this writing it would also be foolish to assume that a person is in no way a product of their biology, evidence in Gerhardt's book shows the impact that social influence can have on the formation of the brain and the impact the structure of the brain can have on a child's behaviour.

Whereas Rogers' believed development was a continuous and varying process, other modalities work in a more linear stage-like manner, which is a little too prescriptive and rigid for me as a person-centred practitioner. However the similarities between the theories and the body of supporting evidence has to suggest a certain amount of truth behind them and personally, I believe that as long as other theories and information are not used for an analytical purpose and simply to inform thinking and understanding then no knowledge can be too much.

As long as when practicing with clients I continue to work in a person-centred manner and offer the clients the safety and warmth they need to explore themselves, then being aware of other theories and ideas can be no bad thing, because after all I am not the expert, I do not offer the client any insight or information I think is relevant, they know everything they need to know already.

References

Bowlby, J. (1969). Separation. London. Pimlico.

Bowlby, J. (1998). Separation. London. Pimlico. pp. 236.

Evans, R, I. (1975). Carl Rogers: The man and his ideas. New York. Dutton. pp. 16.

Freud, S. (1962). Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.

Gerhardt, S. (2009). Why love matters: How affection shapes a baby's brain. East Sussex. Routledge.

Holmes, J. (1993). John Bowlby and Attachment Theory. London. Routledge.

Rogers, C, R. (1951).

Rogers, C, R. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Koch (ed.), Psychology: a study of science (Vol. III). New York: McGraw Hill.

Rogers, C. (1961). On Becoming A Person: A Therapists' View of Psychotherapy. Constable. London. pp. 125-159.

Rogers, C. (1986). A client-centred/person-centred approach to therapy. In I. L. Kirtash & A. Wolf (eds.) Psychotherapist's Casebook (pp. 197-208). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Rymer, R. (1994). Genie: A Scientific Tradgedy. London. Penguin.

Tudor, K. & Merry, T. (2006). Dictionary of Person-Centred Psychology. PCCS Books. Ross-on-Wye. pp. 114.

Bibliography

Bowlby, J. (1969). Separation. London. Pimlico.

Bowlby, J. (1998). Separation. London. Pimlico. Cooper, M., O'Hara, M., Schmid, P, F & Wyatt, G. (2007). The Handbook of Person-Centred Psychotherapy and Counselling. Hampshire. Palgrave Macmillan.

Evans, R, I. (1975). Carl Rogers: The man and his ideas. New York. Dutton.

Freud, S. (1962). Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books.

Merry, T. (1998). Person-Centered Therapy: A Revolutionary Paradigm. Herefordshire. PCCS Books.

Rogers, C, R. (1959). A theory of therapy, personality, and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centered framework. In S. Koch (ed.), Psychology: a study of science (Vol. III). New York: McGraw Hill.

Rogers, C, R. (1961). On Becoming A Person: A Therapists' View of Psychotherapy. Constable. London.

Rogers, C, R. (1980). A Way of Being. New York. Houghton Mifflin Company.

Rogers, C, R. (1986). A client-centred/person-centred approach to therapy. In I. L. Kirtash & A. Wolf (eds.) Psychotherapist's Casebook (pp. 197-208). San Francisco, CA. Jossey-Bass.

Rymer, R. (1994). Genie: A Scientific Tradgedy. London. Penguin.

Tudor, K. & Merry, T. (2006). Dictionary of Person-Centred Psychology. PCCS Books. Ross-on-Wye.

 

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