This slim volume is an account of David Rennie’s approach to person centred counselling. The book started as a set of training materials, its ideas tested in the training room, but the book is also informed by Rennie’s own practitioner-research and by the suggestions of peers such as Mearns and Thorne. We are left with a short, lucid and well written account of Rennie’s ideas for developing the person centred approach and one that will undoubtedly improve the therapeutic skills of every reader.
At the heart of Rennie’s understanding is the client as reflexive agent. In other words the client’s job in therapy is to reflect on their experience and from that reflection arrive at a deeper understanding of the issues that confront them and the choices they can make. Rennie believes that greater understanding can lead to greater agency.
The therapists job is to keep the client on track with their reflections and to use empathic and process orientated interventions to deepen the client’s exploration. Empathic communication includes paraphrasing and reflecting, the interventions one would expect from a person centred therapist. But Rennie also advocates presenting the client with visual imagery and metaphors, symbolic representations that can emerge out of the clients experience as reported to the counsellor, or from the counsellor’s unconscious, in tune with the client’s experience.
There is an excellent chapter on transparency with sound advice on when counsellor’s ought to express congruency; but Rennie’s greatest contributions to person centred therapy are in his chapters on process identification, process direction and meta-communication. Rennie argues that therapists are able to deepen the clients exploration of their experience and the felt-sense associated with it by encouraging reflexivity, and this can be promoted if the therapist appropriately comments on the client’s process issues. At its simplest this involves pointing out what the client is doing: “As you said that you raised your eyebrows”. This brings into the client’s awareness thoughts and behaviours that were out of awareness and as a result the client becomes more self-aware. Rennie’s discussion of metacommunication invites therapists to deepen their relationships with clients by commenting on the meaning behind their own or their client’s communication.
There are some things I disagree with in Rennie’s book. I do not think, as Rennie does, for example, that it’s OK for the contracting process to become a “five minute routine”. I see the contract as part of the therapy and an opportunity to explore with the client their anxieties about therapy and issues such as confidentiality. But this small book has a great deal to offer therapists looking to deepen their contact with clients and I will be urging my students to read it.
Rennie, D.L. (1998). Person-Centred Counselling: an Experiential Approach, London: Sage