I remember the topic of authenticity coming up in my graduate degree training and I was a bit puzzled on why this wouldn’t be a given, an automatic in counselling as you should be authentic with your clients. The world english dictionary defines authentic as 1. of undisputed origin or authorship; genuine 2. Accurate in representation of the facts; trustworthy; reliable. From these definitions, I gather being authentic would be to demonstrate your professionalism, your credentialism, your ethics and your therapy process in an honest and reliable fashion. I also gather from this definition that not only should you represent yourself in such an honest fashion on paper, but as a counsellor, in person, as well. How can you expect to effectively practice if you are not honest and trustworthy as a counsellor? Clients are looking for authenticity, are they not? Many clients have been lied to, abused, mistreated and are seeking a trusting, reliable therapeutic relationship in which to heal. Many clients come into therapy to process and treat interpersonal difficulties and injustices. This is why being authentic has value.
Authenticity in counselling is a moral ideal that stems from humanistic and existentialistic therapies. Carl Rogers would probably call this “congruence”. Rogers promotes that the more congruent a counsellor is, the more they are themselves in the therapy relationship, putting up no professional front or facade which will be the most beneficial for the client (Donaghy, 2002). I practice from Rogers’ Client Centered Therapy or Person Centered Therapy as it is sometimes called. Rogers believed that congruence was one of three core essentials to practicing psychotherapy. For me, as a counsellor it is the upmost importance for me to be congruent with the client, thus being authentic in our session. Honesty and authenticity are values that hold true to me. My hope is that my clients are being authentic themselves, as I believe it is a two-fold process. I envision being authentic in session as not only exploring my perspective of the clients issue in hopes to gain a deeper understanding into who they are and what there perspective is. I also believe being authentic is using self-disclosure (where and when appropriate), owning one’s own mistakes as a counsellor and being honest about the process of therapy and client progress. As with all professions, there can be bad seeds. As a counsellor, it is imperative that you represent the counselling profession ethically and authentically as possible.
Donaghy (2002) points out that authenticity in therapy may not be absolute when she quotes that therapy itself is an artificial practice and secondly questions whether the therapists own authenticity as a person, rather than as a therapist, has any bearing on acheiving authenticity in therapy. Maybe authenticity is an ideal, a matter of degree and not an absolute. I see it more as an absolute, but these are my values and I’m an idealistic person. I believe that authenticity is what life should be about and therapy should be too. Spirituality has taught me authenticity. Encouraging clients to be authentic within themselves and others is a worthy goal of therapy. Being authentic role models as counsellors can help clients acheive authenticity.
I’m curious to know what you think: Is it possible to acheive authenticity in your counselling practice? What makes a counsellor authentic? What barriers can you forsee (if any) authenticity impeding therapy? Do you consider authenticity an absolute or a matter of degree in counselling?
Donaghy, M. August 2002. Authenticity? A goal to therapy. Practical Philosophy. http://www.society-for-philosophy-in-practice.org/journal/pdf/5-2%2040%20Donaghy%20-%20Authenticity.pdf
Andrea Cashman is a private practice counsellor who has founded Holistic Counselling Services for individual clients seeking therapy in Ottawa, ON. She also practices at the Ottawa Hospital as a registered nurse. Feel free to comment below or contact her at [email protected] or visit her website at www.holisticcounsellingservices.ca
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA