‘In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth.’
The first entry in this regular feature on different therapeutic models is on the Person-Centred Approach (PCA). I’ve chosen to start with this because it’s the simplest therapeutic model to describe, although certainly not the easiest to practice. The band I most associate with PCA is Animal Collective, as to me they exemplify all the core qualities of this approach.
Carl Rogers, the founder of PCA, believed that the success of therapy is dependent not on the techniques or strategies deployed by the therapist, but rather on the qualities they communicate to their client. The three qualities believed by Rogers to be both necessary and sufficient to psychological healing are empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard. If a therapist exhibits these three qualities in their relationship with their client, then Rogers believed that the therapy would be successful. The focus was on ‘being’ with the client in order to understand their unique and subjective view of the world, rather than an expert ‘doing’ a therapy to the client in order to bring them around to the therapist’s view.
Animal Collective are a band that exude these core qualities throughout their work, but particularly so in their song, ‘For Reverend Green’. The song’s title is not only a reference to legendary soul singer and pastor, Al Green but also seems to be a homophonic pun on the phrase ‘forever in green’. These words suggest that humans are inherently natural and good, and that people only do bad things because of their circumstances. The following lines are a powerful exploration of the core conditions of PCA:‘Now I think it’s all right we’re together Now I think that’s a riot Now I think it’s the best you’ve ever played it Now I think that’s a riot Now I think it’s all right to feel inhuman Now I think that’s a riot Now I think it’s all right, we’ll sing together Now I think that’s a riot.’ .
I’m going to discuss these lines as though they were addressed to a client from a therapist using PCA. Firstly, they communicate empathy, an understanding of the human condition. They acknowledge the emotions present as being justified under the circumstances of the client (‘it’s all right to feel inhuman’). Secondly, the lines are genuine, the therapist gives his authentic reaction to the client’s words (‘I think that’s a riot’). There is no masking of the therapist’s real feelings. Thirdly, unconditional positive regard is given. Whatever the client does, the therapist will accept the client without judgement or rejection (‘I think it’s all right we’re together’).
Interestingly, that same song explores what happens when no psychologically healing relationship is present in an individual’s life.‘From one moment to a next Red negativity in the street Maybe it’s the earth, maybe it’s the heat A baby on the bus smiled at me so easy.’ .
This verse touches on the idea that we are all born psychologically healthy and that it is with negative experiences and particularly damaging relationships that we lose this. This is further explored in a verse that examines the freedom of childhood, where life is unhindered by poor quality relationships that fail to provide the three core conditions:‘A running child’s bloody with burning knees A careless child’s money flew in the trees A camping child’s happy with winter’s freeze A lucky child don’t know how lucky she is.’ .
An important concept held by Rogers was that people naturally have what he referred to as a self-actualising tendency. Rogers was a keen gardener and drew parallels between the intrinsic nature of plants to strive for growth and life and the basic need for humans to reach their full potential. The Animal Collective song, ‘Brother Sport’ deals with this concept. The title is another homophonic pun, as when repeated, it sounds like, ‘brother, support your brother, support’. This is in itself indicative of a loving relationship that provides Rogers’ three core conditions of empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard. The following lines are repeated a great number of times, becoming a mantra:‘Until fully grown You got a real good shot Won’t help to hold inside Keep it real, keep it real, shout out.’ .
I think that these lines acknowledge the importance of an empathic relationship which allows the individual to be fully understood by another (‘won’t help to hold inside’). and support Rogers’ plant metaphor whereby humans have an innate desire for self-improvement and growth (‘until fully grown’). This song also reflects the emotional power unlocked by such a psychologically healing relationship. By being shown the three core qualities, the client can self-actualise. Not only are these ideas explored in the lyrics, Animal Collective songs are often characterised by a honeyed warmth that gradually builds into a joyful outpouring of emotion that to me represents the achieving of increased self-actualisation. In these songs, we see the entirety of the therapeutic process in its simplest form: communicating the core conditions of empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive regard which nurtures growth and life and leads to self-actualisation.