Passion and Purpose in the Person-Centred Approach Lecture given to the Adlerian Society

12th December 2006, Conway Hall, London

Jan Hawkins

I was honoured and quite excited to be asked to come this evening to talk about my work. This is something of a departure for me, as I am usually talking about a particular issue, for example abuse or self harm or leaning disability etc. To focus on my work – and especially my passion and purpose, has given me the opportunity to reflect on what exactly does drive me in my work . What I have recognised more clearly is that my deepest principles and values in my professional life are the same as those in my private life. This evening, I will try to share where this reflection has taken me.

Firstly I will talk about what I mean by my own passion and purpose, and how love fits in with it all. I’ll briefly talk about the person-centred approach as I understand it before looking at the different aspects of my work: therapy, supervision and training. I will say a little then about an activity which is outside of my professional life, yet is another example of passion and purpose in action. Finally, I will share three brief case studies, each highlighting a slightly different dimension of my therapeutic work. We will then have time for you all to consider what passion and purpose mean in your own work, and life more generally. I feel the Adlerian and person-centred approaches have much in common – I’ll be interested to hear from you during that discussion, what commonalities you perceive and what differences. There will then be time for questions, before we finish.

What do we mean by passion? - The Collins English dictionary defines it thus: ‘any strongly felt emotion; a strong enthusiasm for something’
What do we mean by purpose? – The dictionary says: ‘the reason for which anything is done, created or exists; determination’.

Neither of these definitions really captures for me the power of passion and purpose.

My passion is freedom from oppression – by that I mean for those who have been bullied, threatened, stunted, abused, neglected and often left feeling worthless, repeating patterns set by their oppressors. My passion involves growth, development, connection, belonging, community (inner and outer – more about that later!), finding and removing obstacles, seeing potential and encouraging it – most of all it involves love.

In my work my purpose is to provide an environment and relationship in which individuals are able to make the changes they want to make in their lives. I trust that, given a relationship which is real and genuine, which is accepting and where understanding is communicated, people grow in trust of themselves. Part of my purpose involves the need to continue to work on myself – I used to think, when I was ‘cured’ I would work with others. The day I realised I would never be ‘cured’ was very liberating, and I now prefer to think in terms of the wounded healer.
  ‘Fortunately the human psyche, like human bones, is strongly inclined towards self-healing. The psychotherapist’s job, like that of the orthopaedic surgeon, is to provide the conditions in which self-healing can best take place’. (Bowlby, 1968 in Steele & Pollock 2000, p 152)

The idea of self healing is at the heart of my work. But self healing can only occur in an environment that supports it. If a person has spent their entire life experiencing abuse and denigration, their sense of who they are has been defined by other people’s ideas and requirements. To make contact with their own organismic valuing process and begin the process of becoming themselves, there needs to be an environment and relationship that does not repeat the same undermining patterns – however subtly. What I mean by "organismic valuing process" is the process by which the organism (or person) decides what is important or essential and how conflicted that is with what other people or influences think the person should be doing. My purpose as a therapist is not to make people better, but to provide the circumstances in which the person can contact their inner resources to grow.

If we pause here for a few moments to think about what qualities you want in a therapist? supervisor? trainer? Think about synthesising all these qualities into one word if possible – what would that word be?

For me the key component that allows all else to be growthful and healing is love. Of course, love need not be there for me to learn and to develop – but when I feel love is energising the relationship, then growth, development and healing seem to take on deeper and broader dimensions.

What characterises the most important relationships I have, which support me in my work is love. I am fortunate and very blessed to have relationships with my supervisor, therapist and colleagues which have love at their core. Far from making these relationships cosy and cuddly – though there may be cosy and sometimes even cuddly times, these relationships allow me to experience challenge in the most productive way. Because the energy is flowing freely between us, I am able to be open to my inner experiencing and share this even when my thoughts and feelings are dark and confused.

The kind of love I am referring to is defined by Rogers using the word agape to describe love which
  “respects the other person as a separate individual, and does not possess him. It is a kind of liking which has strength, and which is not demanding” (Rogers, 94:94)’

Erich Fromm (1956) points out that “most people see the problem of love primarily as that of being loved rather than that of loving, of one’s capacity to love”. There is something about opening the heart which allows us to fully appreciate the pain and suffering of the other without being overwhelmed by it. Another aspect is not about the therapist feeling that love, but whether the therapist is able to receive the love of the client. David Brazier highlighted the fact that for children who are abused, it is not so much that they are not loved that harms them, but that their love is not received. As therapists, can we open our hearts to truly receive the love of the client when it exists, without feeling overwhelmed, or in danger of transgressing boundaries?

Etty Hillesum was a young Jewish woman writing her diaries in Amsterdam from 1941 to her death in Auschwitz on 30th November 1943. Etty reports what her own her therapist and later her lover, Julius Spier says on this subject: "You cannot heal disturbed people without love". (p 73)
Her experiences with her therapist – particularly those involving naked wrestling and later becoming his lover – need to be understood in the context of living a life where humanity was being stripped away all around them. I am not suggesting that love in therapeutic relationships should extend to this kind of physicality. The kind of loving I am referring to is that of a non possessive nature, where boundaries are acknowledged and held. And because boundaries are clear, and where necessary overtly stated, the experience of loving and being loved are of a different order than is often experienced in today’s world. Within the therapeutic relationship, loving should never be sexualized physically, to do so is not only damaging to the client and unethical, but it also prevents the healing that is possible where love exists.

So, for me, my passion and purpose find expression through the Person-Centred Approach. This approach to the understanding of personality development, therapy and other applications has at its core the belief that all living organisms have it within themselves the drive to develop to their own best potential – given a facilitative environment. Many examples in the natural world demonstrate this potential. Unfortunately, we do not all have the benefit of a ‘good enough’ environment to develop in. Many of us have had conditions of worth imposed upon us so that we have had to divert from our own organismic developmental process and behave and even think in ways which are demanded by those we desperately need to approved of us, accept us, love us. Our need to belong and feel useful can be in conflict with our organismic being. The person-centered practitioner aims to experience and embody certain attitudinal qualities which provide a reparative relationship in which the person is able to reconnect with their own inner being again. It often fascinates me how simple it seems when reading about these core attitudinal qualities - if only it were so! Doing these attitudinal qualities (sometimes known as the ‘core conditions’) is easy. Experiencing them – being them – is something else entirely. This is why sometimes we hear of the person-centred therapist employing reflections, paraphrasing and oozing warmth and support. No wonder many people fail to make the changes they desire if that is all they receive! For me, embodying the core attitudinal qualities is a continual struggle – it’s what puts the practice in the word practitioner! The key attitudinal qualities are empathy – which is experienced as a deep understanding of the other’s feelings; congruence- which has two levels – the first is the ability to track one’s own inner experience moment by moment at the same time as tracking the other’s, and the second level is the discernment of what to share of that inner experience and when. The third quality is that of unconditional positive regard – this is experienced as acceptance – this is not a total, unambiguous acceptance – for example, if I am faced by an individual who beats his or her partner, I do not accept that behaviour – I have been known to say quite clearly ‘#hat has got to stop’.

Acceptance and deep respect is for the person, though there may be certain behaviours we cannot and should not accept, we can still accept the person. It is the blend of these core attitudinal qualities which can be profoundly healing. Having congruence without empathy or acceptance can lead to a harsh, punitive and rejecting relationship. Empathy without congruence and acceptance can lead to collusion and sometimes to the therapist sinking into the pit the client is in and being no use at all. Acceptance without congruence and empathy can lead to an experience of a rather wishy washy, unreal and wet relationship. As I said, it is the embodiment of the core attitudinal qualities which provides the possibility for healing and change. Where – in addition to these – the therapist experiences prizing or loving their client – and is open to accepting the love of their client – this seems to enhance the process.

The person-centred approach is not confined to therapy, but has applications as a way of being in the world. For this evening, I will focus on my working life, though I do want to bring in one aspect outside of that where I find similar elements in my way of experiencing people with whom I spend some of my time.

When I feel at my best in any of the relationships I will describe, there is something other happening – something releasing. I witness people shift in their thinking and experiencing. I particularly feel an energy present which is beyond those of us present when I am experiencing love or tenderness, and noticing that the other person or persons are feeling that too. In particular when I feel – and this cannot be forced or engineered – love or tenderness towards the other, and I am receiving love from that other person towards me – moments like that are of enormous significance., and often mark a shift of gear in the work.


For me supervision is about growth of confidence and development. Witnessing this growth and development feeds my soul. However - my keen ness to provide an environment where persons may grow has meant I have sometimes over extended myself. For example: I supervised a counsellor who managed to avoid any continuing professional development opportunities and clearly had unresolved issues of her own. I had worked very hard on my acceptance and empathy – but my congruence was lagging behind! It was only when I felt I had to insist the supervisee have some sessions of her own and she announced ‘I don’t believe in therapy’ that I knew the writing was on the wall. There is just so much encouragement one can give in the hope that supervisees will want to develop their practice and insights. I have come to recognise that I can spend too long focussed on the potential I see, rather than on the reality. Supervising therapists who are conscientious in their desire to develop and grow, and who are a joy to supervise What I have learned from this how important the relationship between myself and my supervisee is for them to feel able to bring the most difficult, embarrassing or celebratory issues from their practice. I have recognised too, the danger of empathy being perceived by the client as agreement, or of collusion. Without the blend of the core conditions, this is a very real danger.


Experiential opportunities – no counselling training can cover everything. The Diploma courses I teach each focus on a particular area: childhood abuse; loss and bereavement; learning disabilities. The development of these accredited (by Middlesex University) course began with a conviction that without experiential opportunities to deepen empathy and explore attitudes and beliefs, people who need particular accompaniment may be let down by their therapist. I’m especially thinking of those who have suffered childhood trauma. As one example – and one I feel very passionate about – people who have been abused attract any number of labels and pathologising beliefs. To heal from abuse, Survivors need a therapist who is able to provide a reparative relationship. Without exploring our own attitudes, beliefs and experiences in this particular area, it is impossible to deeply accompany. I learned a great deal from a very experienced therapist who was employing selective empathy in our work. I realised that any time I tried to talk about issues that were troubling me that related to childhood abuse, he did not respond, though he was a very responsive therapist. When I raised this he said ‘I feel guilty, because I am a man’. Though we were able to do much useful work, the healing work had to wait till I found a therapist who did not feel guilty, and was able to meet every one of me.

Alice Miller (1991 p10) says "The repression of our suffering destroys our empathy for the suffering of others.”

Rogers suggested that we cannot go further than our therapists have been. With this in mind, I feel it behoves us to continue our own personal development when we work as therapists. It feels like personal hygiene for therapists to me! On the other hand, as Yalom ( 2001) points out, there are times when we experience our clients resolving issues that we, ourselves, have yet to resolve. Somehow, our ability to companion and to work with our clients to remove obstacles, sees them naturally growing. I like too what Eric Fromm says about ‘mature’ love – it is a love of the being and the growth of the other. Loving is an art to be practiced.
The other strand of my interest is people who have SLD. Many of my clients who have SLD have also experienced abuse. The training I engage with aims to empower the participants and to deepen their understanding and skills in supporting clients with SLD to connect. So often the basic connections human to human are impossible – not because the person with SLD can’t make the connection. It is because those of us whose cognitive apparatus is intact find it so hard to meet with empathy the person whose cognitive impairment is alien to us. The training for support workers and therapists aims, through experiential work, to deepen the individual’s ability to meet the person with SLD who is trying to connect in the only way they know how, often presenting great challenges to those who support them. It is here that I find Dreikurs work on the mistaken goals of behaviour very useful – trainees can always relate to them and begin to shift their thinking about the challenges presented by their clients. Applying the core attitudinal qualities within educational environments of all descriptions provides the individual with the freedom to learn. Witnessing that learning and development is a great joy to me.

The choir

A choir I have been leading for seven years now has only one requirement – that the person loves to sing or at least would love to be able to sing. This choir has developed over the years into one which performs regularly and which has become a loving group for all connected with it. For many it provides the community and social interest in their lives. We are an integrated group and have three autistic men as well as several women who have suffered varying degrees of difficulties, ailments and depression. For me, being with the choir is a joy – once again it reminds me of what can happen when an environment of acceptance, understanding and genuineness are present. The transcendent quality I referred to earlier is present at times. I know the individuals feel my love as I feel theirs of me. Sometimes I think this choir has the most potent form of group therapy – I see and feel people blossoming. People finding their voices and their connections with each other through the music. My continual encouraging cry is ‘more pash!’ and they give more pash. One member of the choir shyly told me, with just one tear – that she had suffered from bouts of severe depression requiring in hospital treatment for over twenty years – ‘the choir’, she said, ‘is the only medicine that works’. I did not start the choir with the purpose of creating such a healing environment. But I have come to recognise that the same core attitudinal qualities of the person-centred approach are what I bring to that endeavour, and people just grow.

Inner/outer community

The future for all peoples depends on our ability to meet each other – to connect – to share our planet’s riches. For me the embodiment of the person-centred approach offers a way of making those connections within the worlds of therapy, supervision, training, family and the choir, to mention but a few. A way of being which communicates deep respect and non possessive love. For me it has been easier at times to offer this to those outside of myself than to those inside but I am working on it.

Case studies:
Peter –
Robert –
Josie –

It is difficult for me to describe the kind of loving I felt in my relationships with Josie and Robert – and others. Brian Thorne captures the essence of it when talking about the quality of tenderness:
  “What does it mean for a person to possess the quality of tenderness in all its fullness? In the first place, it is a quality which irradiates the total person – it is evident in the voice, the eyes, the hands, the thoughts, the feelings, the beliefs, the moral stance, the attitude to things animate and inanimate, seen and unseen. Secondly, it communicates through its responsive vulnerability that suffering and healing are inter-woven. Thirdly, it demonstrates preparedness and an ability to move between the worlds of the physical, the emotional, the cognitive and the mystical without strain. Fourthly, it is without shame because it is experienced as the joyful embracing of the desire to love and is therefore a law unto itself. Fifthly, it is a quality which transcends the male and female but is nevertheless nourished by the attraction of the one for the other in the quest for wholeness.

It will be evident that so breath-taking a quality is rare. What is more no one person can hope to embody it more than fleetingly and intermittently, for to be irradiated by it is to achieve a level of humanness which belongs to the future and not to now.”

                                                                                                                                     Thorne (2004, p 9)

I would like to end with the words of the poet W.H. Auden

                                                            ‘We must love one another, or die’

Now we have time to discuss what your own passion and purpose is about. Perhaps if you would talk to the person next to you and see what arises for you?

As I said, I think the Adlerian and person-centred approaches have much in common though we each have a different language. I would be interested in hearing what you think about that.

Any questions?

References: Bowlby in Secure Base: Clinical Applications of Attachment Steele B.F. & Pollock, C.B. 2000 p152 (Bowlby 1968 cited in Steele & Pollock ‘A Psychiatric study of parents who abuse infants and small children’ Routledge.

Fromm, E. (1956) The Art of Loving. HarperCollins Publishing Inc. Hillesum, E. (1999) An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-1943. Persephone Books Ltd. London Miller, A.(1991) Banished Knowledge. Virago

Rogers, C.R. (1980) A way of Being. Houghton Mifflin. Rogers, C.R. (1994, p94)The Interpersonal Relationship: the Core of Guidance’ in C.R. Rogers & B. Stevens Person to Person: The Problem of Being Human, London Souvenier Press (first published in 1967)

Thorne, B. (2004) The Quality of Tenderness. A Norwich Centre Occasional Publication. Revised Text 2004. Yalom, I.D. (2002) The Gift of Therapy: Reflections on being a therapist. Piatkus, UK

Relevant quote from Rogers: “When I am at my best, as a group facilitator or as a therapist, I discover another characteristic. I find that when I am closest to my inner, intuitive self, when I am somehow in touch with the unknown in me, when perhaps I am in a slightly altered state of consciousness, then whatever I do seems to be full of healing. Then, simply my presence is releasing and helpful to the other. There is nothing I can do to force this experience, but when I can relax and be close to the transcendental core of me, then I may behave in strange and impulsive ways in the relationship, ways which I cannot justify rationally, which have nothing to do with my thought processes. But these strange behaviours turn out to be right, in some odd way: It seems that my inner spirit has reached out ad touched the inner spirit in the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes a part of something larger. Profound growth and healing and energy are present.” (Rogers,1980: 129)

Jan Hawkins
Contact Details:
The Foundation for the Developing Person
376 Hale End Rd,
London, E4 9PB

Tel/fax: 020 8 531 9760
Copyright © Jan Hawkins 2006.

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