The Case of Judith: Judith is a 25-year-old White female who works as a receptionist at a law firm. Six months ago she began dating Shawn, a 27-year-old man who lives in her apartment complex. Their relationship has deepened, and they now see each other two or three times a week, despite their heavy work schedules. Recently, they began to talk about getting married.
Judith came to therapy because she is concerned about what she describes as her “sexual problem.” Judith told her therapist, “When Shawn and I make love, I get turned on at first but then I just shut down. It’s like my sexual feelings evaporate into thin air. Shawn is very understanding but I know it’s difficult for him.” Judith went on to say that she thought her strict religious upbringing was part of the problem. She said, “I grew up in a small southern town, and my family was almost fanatically religious. My parents thought sex was shameful and dirty and that premarital sex was a horrible sin. If they knew that Shawn and I were having sex, they would be appalled. I left the church when I was in college, and I no longer believe many of the things my parents and church taught, but I think my upbringing has caused me to block out my sexual feelings.”
The person-centered theory posits that children, because they need the love of their parents, tend to “deny to awareness” experiences, including their own feelings, that do not fit their parents’ value system. Judith’s parents considered sex “shameful and dirty” and believed that premarital sex was a “horrible sin.” Thus, it is understandable that Judith, as a child growing up in such an environment, might learn to block out or “deny to awareness” feelings related to sexuality. Although person-centered therapists do not focus on the past in therapy, they do understand that childhood experiences often explain why adults “block out” certain feelings or other aspects of themselves. The person-centered theory says that in order to reclaim previously denied aspects of their experiences, clients must be provided with a therapeutic environment characterized by empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard. To the degree the therapist is able to provide this environment and to the degree clients perceive it, they will begin to grow. Their growth will include a natural tendency to explore and gradually allow into awareness feelings that were previously denied.
Using this theoretical structure, it becomes obvious what I need to do in working with Judith from a person-centered perspective: I must provide her with a therapeutic relationship in which she feels deeply understood and accepted. As she begins to realize that I understand how she feels, that I accept and do not judge her, and that I, too, am trying to be open and honest in my relationship with her, Judith will increasingly feel free to be her real self in therapy and to explore and access parts of herself that she had previously blocked out or denied to awareness. As a person-centered therapist, I would not use techniques in my work with Judith nor would I push, cajole, or try to persuade her to do what I thought was best. Person-centered therapists believe that human beings grow naturally when they are provided with empathy, honesty, and acceptance—just as a flower grows naturally when it is provided with sunshine, water, and soil. Thus, based on my own clinical experience and a great deal of research that supports the effectiveness of a deeply human therapeutic relationship, I would predict that Judith, if she stays with the therapeutic process, will not only recover her sexual feelings but will also grow as a person, perhaps in ways that she has not even imagined.
Questions: Answer the following questions on how you might proceed with Judith within the person-centered framework:
(1) Suppose Judith is referred to you for continued person-centered therapy. Would you find it easy to give her empathy and not judge her? What if you are religious and agree with Judith’s parents that premarital sex is wrong? Would you still be able to give Judith empathy and acceptance? At a more general level, do you think it’s possible to accept and support someone even when you disagree with their values or actions? Explain your answer.
(2) Person-centered therapists do not use therapeutic techniques. Instead, they try to create a therapeutic relationship characterized by empathy, acceptance, and genuineness. Would you feel comfortable working with clients in this way, or would you want to use techniques in your work? Why or why not?
(3) Suppose that after working with Judith for a few sessions you come to suspect, despite her physician’s assurance to the contrary, that part of Judith’s problem could be physiological in nature. How would you handle this? What specifically would you do? Get Social Science help today
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