Congruence is a term coined by the great psychologist Carl Rogers. In his clinical and research work, he came to understand a way of being which was very potent in creating positive change for his clients. To be congruent is to be deeply genuine, authentic and transparent.
Congruence requires the therapist to be both attentive and relatively free of personal shame. It is a dynamic process wherein the therapist attends to his inner thoughts and feelings. He then allows those inner aspects of his personality to flow freely (shamelessly) into outwards expression (facial expression, body language and speech). This helps with two things:
1) Trust. Trust allows the patient to open up. When a patient is open and unguarded, he will be able to integrate educational metaphors and stories. Trust also allows hypnotic suggestions for health and well being to be integrated. Without such open communication, even the most ‘sticky’ words and carefully constructed scripts will be forgotten.
2) When the therapist displays congruence, it gives the patient permission to be congruent himself. ‘Unacceptable’ aspects of self are brought to light and accepted. The person becomes more self-accepting, more whole. As a result, pain disappears.
There are degrees of congruence. It’s a very subtle art with great depth. Being congruent can lead fairly readily to a state of “flow”. Flow is a state of attenuated self-referencing. In other words, the therapist’s ego has temporarily taken a back seat. Subjectively, the patient experiences this as ‘warmth’, acceptance, connection, caring/nurturing and a deep silence. No university degree is required for this, and yet by my reckoning it’s more powerful than anything I’ve ever learnt at uni. It can stand completely on its own as a treatment for both acute and chronic pain. There’s a link here to my experience with Mrs X; no congruence, no flow and immediately things go badly.
I’ve collected a heap of clinical notes on the topic of congruence, flow states and the therapeutic relationship, but they are quite disorganized. Last week I set about putting them into order so that I could present them here, but after many hours of work I thought to myself: “This is taking forever and I’m not even enjoying it!”, so I stopped and wrote this instead. How’s that for congruence?