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Conditions of Worth

As a counsellor I need to be aware of how I am being while sitting with my clients. That is obvious. If I am judging someone, that will come across in my attitude and the client will pick that up. This will hinder the counselling process and the client’s experience or might even harm the client’s psyche.

Some people think counsellors simply switch on a way of being when in the counselling room. In my opinion that is correct. We are definitely more attuned and available to the client when we’re face to face (or listening on the telephone). However, were we to be vastly different in our own private lives, there would be quite an adjustment to be made in the session. Many counsellors live the philosophy they practice.

Some feel that is totally impossible, so why try to? So if we are judging the client’s behaviour or personality, we are not accepting part of them. This means we are not being unconditional towards them. Therefore there are conditions being given off by us, which implicitly say, I do not accept you if…. or because you…. are not behaving or being according to my conditions of acceptability.

These are called conditions of worth. Everybody has them. We grow up with them being given to us by our parents. Often these conditions exist in order to protect us, as we grow up. For example, my parents told me clearly not to touch anything on display when we went into shops. That way I would not break or dirty anything which was not mine. This had a practical benefit that my parents would not end up paying for the thing, but it also taught me respect for what was not mine. Conditions of Worth

Conditions of worth imply, “if you want me to like you, you will behave the way I like you to behave”. Or put another way, “if you want to keep me calm and happy, you will please me. Otherwise I will not like you”. In the extreme, any conditions of worth are quite excessive if delivered frequently or harshly. It’s really important for any client to feel comfortable enough relating to their counsellor in order to begin the process of telling what’s on their mind. Usually this involves difficult emotions. Often people are not at all used to speaking about how they feel. So if a counsellor in some way reacts, (from their own values), however subtle towards what they are hearing or seeing from the client, it usually means the counsellor has a different point of view. Sensing that at some level, can prevent a client from saying all they need to say.

'The trick is, to work out what it is you’re feeling and what you want to do with your feeling'

For example, when in a training environment with colleagues, we can become aware of new or old concerns arising for us, which make it difficult for us to hold our emotions without showing them. These feelings which arise are likely to be as a result of our own conditions of worth. Differences in beliefs, values, attitudes, and ways of being, can cause difficulties in understanding and tolerance.

The trick is, to work out what it is you’re feeling and what you want to do with your feeling. Taking ownership of our own feelings is important as we do have choice in processing our options. If we’re not used to reflecting on our feelings and behaviours then our choices seem limited.

I generalise in saying that, for most people, accepting the other person for who they are and what they are trying for is often easier said than done. Being alongside difficult behaviour which sometimes needs to be tolerated for a greater good requires perception and understanding.

Our capacities to like others is limited to a set of behaviours we feel OK with.

These musings today are incomplete and are likely to raise thoughts in agreement or disagreement in any readers mind. It will all depend on your experience in life. Please feel free to comment constructively.

Authors Bio


Annie Fallaize is a Counsellor in private practice in Leeds where she runs Opportunity 4 Counselling. Annie is passionate about the Person-Centred approach as "it can be applied in many walks of life" and is additionally qualified as a Practitioner in Neurolinguistic Programming (N.L.P.) With a background in Education; working with children of all ages and adults as Counselling Tutor for a local charity she enjoys helping to remove barriers to learning. Find Annie via her website or on Twitter

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