Hope, not optimism

Peter F. Schmid

Hope is not about the future. Hope denotes an existential human way of being and way of being with in the present. “Dum spiro, spero (While I breathe, I hope)“ characterizes its fundamental aspect in life.
Hope is not optimism towards the outlook, not an expectation of positive outcomes. It is not an inward travel into the future imagining better times nor is it the conviction that something will turn out well. Regarding oneself, hope is neither desire nor the attitude of patience nor the wait for something. Regarding the relationship to others, hope is not a strategy to envisage and bring about positive regard by important others. Both are central abilities to hold out and endure, important competences to be learned by infants and children to bear separation, loss and isolation. Ultimately, these capabilities are aimed at regaining paradise – an illusionary omnipotent desire in situations where you feel helpless, impotent, lost. This is, as we often experience, how clients in need try to cope with their problems.
Hope is essentially different – a specific quality of being a person in the meaning of being fully oneself and being fully with others. It is more than human’s capability to counterbalance fear and despair by envisioning something better. Like her siblings, trust and love, hope is an active stance, the very opposite to death, the art of being fully present and being fully present with others.
Thus, hope is a person-centered essential. We may understand hope as the voice of the actualizing tendency. Hope rests on the belief that potentiality is as important as actuality. Can, should therapy foster hope? Or prevent so called false hope? In life as well as in therapy the task is not to give hope or to “make” hope. The task is to trust instead of aiming at or making happen. Thus, transforming the status quo by taking it seriously in its actual and potential call and challenge, hope is always revolutionary – as is the person-centered approach to life, oneself and relationship, psychotherapy and counselling included.

  • Peter F. Schmid, Austria
    Univ.Doz. HSProf. Mag. Dr. Peter F. Schmid, co-operation with Carl Rogers in the 80's, founder of person-centered training in Austria (1969); co-founder of the World Association (WAPCEPC), the European Network (PCE Europe) and the two major international academic person-centered journals, PERSON and Person-Centered and Experiential Psychotherapies; teacher at several European and American universities in the fields of psychotherapy science and practical theology; APA's Carl Rogers Award 2009 "for outstanding contributions to the theory and practice of Humanistic Psychology".
    Currently at the Sigmund Freud University, Vienna (chair department for person-centered psychotherapy science, 2006-2014), trainer at the Institute for Person-Centered Studies (APG•IPS) and group psychotherapist in private practice. Author & co-editor of 26 books (latest: Handbook of PCT, 2013) & ca. 400 academic publications; main subjects: foundations of the PCA and anthropological, epistemological & ethical issues of PCT.
    Playwright (Person-Centered Trilogy, 1990-2000; FAUST III - The Third Part of the Tragedy, 2018) and director of the theatre company BRETTERHAUS.
    Web: www.pfs-online.at, www.pca-online.net

Hope in despair: The shadows stand as proof of the light

Suzanne Keys

Most of my work as a therapist with 16-18 year olds is in the shadow lands of despair and hopelessness. They have experienced neglect, abuse, discrimination and exclusion. They are depressed, anxious, raging and often self-hating and wanting to die.

Where is the hope?
 ‘The shadows merely stand as proof of the light’ declared an image left for me by an 18 year-old after refusing to complete an end of therapy evaluation form. She had spent years wanting to die and a year in therapy barely speaking. Will she survive university? Will she be happy? Who knows, but there is hope.
The hope is in Rogers’ potatoes growing towards the light, even though the hostile conditions they are in mean that they die before they mature. Today’s conditions are hostile for human and other-than-human: disregard, indifference, domination and exploitation. Yet hope is in the potential for change and transformation, even though there is no certainty of what the outcome will be, including whether we survive or not.
Hope is in actively working to create conditions where growth might occur whilst knowing there is no certainty that it will or even what it might look like.
Creating these conditions goes beyond the one-to-one human relationship in the therapist’s room to challenging the inequalities and oppressions causing distress and destruction.  This means understanding what part I, and the therapy profession, play in perpetuating these.
Hope is in working towards being in truthful relationship to self, other and the world, even if that means facing uncomfortable realisations about my whiteness and privileged positions.
Hope is in facing, empathising and staying with what is, even if that means trying to understand how a person can drive into my neighbourhood and kill people.
Hope is connecting in spite and because of our differences.
Hope is in taking care of oneself as an ‘act of political warfare’.
The hope is that being with international colleagues sustains and resources us to bear being in the territories of despair.

  • Suzanne Keys, United Kingdom
    Suzanne was born in Haiti and grew up in Northern Ireland. After studying French and Italian at Cambridge University she worked as a teacher in the Ivory Coast and France. She has worked as a person-centred counsellor with young people in London for 17 years.
    She has been involved in the education of counsellors in the UK, France and Martinique. She has co/edited special issues of the PCEP journal on gender and eco-therapy and with PCCS Books: Idiosyncratic Person-Centred Practice and Person-Centered Work with Children and Young People.
    She has written about person-centred practice and human rights, training, disability, education, prayer, ethics and love.
    She was at the inaugural meeting for the WAPCEPC and has been on the committees for BAPCA (British Association for the Person-Centred Approach) and the NEAPCCP (Network of the European Associations for Person-Centred Counselling and Psychotherapy).
    She is currently on the organising group for Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility in the UK.

Carpe diem: A transformative turn for person-centered practice?

Maureen O'Hara

In a 1969 talk to the Sonoma State University graduating class Carl Rogers surveyed the radical changes that had taken place in his lifetime and concluded that a dramatic cultural shift was under way that was changing not only the external world but the inner world of the human psyche. Though many regarded the cultural unraveling of those times with anxiety—fear of social upheaval, loosening social mores, loss of social control-- Rogers focused on the creative and emancipatory opportunity it presented. Though then, as now, conservative forces even within psychology mobilized to resist these emancipatory movements Rogers heard a generation reaching for ways of responding to the challenges of their times not merely by application of old solutions but by inventing strategies that reflected new ways of being. For many, PCT offered a potent new technology for better outcomes in education, counseling and psychotherapy, challenging the then dominant psychoanalytic and behaviorist practices. But for Rogers and colleagues it represented something all together more radical. These new ways of being and thinking broke with the philosophical givens of modernity and made a radical turn in the direction of postmodernity--a shift away from modernity’s objectivist and transactional concepts about the behavior of discrete “things” towards a relational and contextual view where reality is understood as an holistic emergent,  process.  Many observers believe human societies and the multiple planetary systems on which we rely for survival and wellbeing are reaching crisis levels that may soon be irreversible. But another more hopeful scenario is feasible.  It is often from within seemingly chaotic contexts where there is sufficient diversity and unbounded energy for creative breakthroughs to occur. Freedom from constraints often opens spaces for innovation and human ingenuity. Forces once locked-up sustaining large rigid structures become available to nurture true transformation. Presenting actual examples this presentation will address how the PCA community might become part of the transformative momentum showing up in humanizing initiatives worldwide that embody the basic person-centered principles identified over 60 years ago.

  • Maureen O'Hara, USA
    Dr. Maureen O'Hara is Professor of Psychology, National University, La Jolla, CA, President, International Futures Forum-US, and President Emerita of Saybrook Graduate School, San Francisco. Working with Dr. Carl R. Rogers, John K. Wood and Natalie Rogers, Maureen helped develop the PCA. She trained psychotherapists in the US and Brazil for many years. More recently her work has examined the bigger picture issues such as the psychological challenges of climate change, the shadow side of virtuous organizations, the relationship between culture change and depth psychological adaptation. She has been honored with the Donald N. Michael Award, the APA’s Carl Rogers Heritage Award, and the Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award. Maureen served as President of APA Division 32 2009-2010, the Society for Humanistic Psychology and is a Distinguished Clinical Member of the CAMFT, Fellow of the World Academy of Art & Science, Fellow of the APA, Fellow of the Meridian Institute, and founding member of the International Futures Forum in St. Andrews, Scotland. She serves on the Board of the International Association for Humanistic Psychology. She has published over 50 chapters and articles.

Taking Rogers Seriously

Bernie Neville

Commentators on Carl Rogers work focus on his contribution to psychology. Even commentators who identify with the person-centred approach do not, as a rule, take him seriously as a philosopher. Nevertheless, as Rogers himself points out, therapists’ ways of working are a manifestation of their personal philosophy ─ the attitudes and concepts which are deeply embedded in their sense of self and their understanding of what sort of world we dwell in. He asserted that a personal philosophy is fluid and open to be influenced by experience.  This is clear in his own case.  Ideas that are undeveloped in his early formulations are articulated more strongly as his experience reinforces them. His organic philosophy shifts its focus from client autonomy to our immersion in a cosmic process.
Rogers’ ideas have remained influential in counsellor training, and not only in programs provided within a person-centred framework. Unfortunately, the contribution of Rogerian theory to such programs is regularly limited to presentation of the necessary and sufficient as components of therapeutic technique, in spite of Rogers’ warning that the counsellor who employs them merely as technique is doomed to be unsuccessful. Furthermore, within the person-centred counselling community, there are many who are more comfortable with a conventional humanistic understanding of Rogers’ position, as articulated in his earliest formulations. There are many who think that Rogers ‘lost it’ in his later years and exchanged his solid, scientific, evidence-based approach for an interest in transcendence. They feel that if the person-centred approach is to maintain any credibility we need to ignore or forget much of what Rogers was saying in his later writings.
I want to argue that Rogers’ organic philosophy, like his psychology, was radical from the beginning and needs to be taken seriously.  I believe that through his body of work he takes his place, like Spinoza, Goethe, Jung and Whitehead, among the philosophers of the radical enlightenment.

  • Bernie Neville, Australia
    Bernie Neville’s introduction to counselling was as an untrained school counsellor in the 1960s. He soon discovered Carl Rogers and the person-centered approach and this has framed his approach to both education and counselling ever since. As a university teacher in both of these fields he has had a keen interest in applying Rogerian, Jungian and ecopsychological thought to the practicalities of teaching and counselling. His books include Educating Psyche: emotion, imagination and the unconscious in learning, Olympus Inc.: intervening for cultural change in organizations and The life of things: therapy and the soul of the world. Until his recent retirement he was Professor of Holistic Counselling at the Phoenix Institute of Australia. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Counselling at the Auckland University of Technology.