What Client-Centered Therapy Gets Wrong (and Right)

What Client-Centered Therapy Gets Wrong (and Right)

Before I crucify myself, I want to say that the basic principles of Carl Rogers’ client-centred therapy are practiced more than any other therapy around the world. These principles include active listening and positive regard for a customer’s (aka patient) well-being. However, as the name suggests, it is a person-centered (egocentric) orientation. For example, if a patient says, “I’m depressed,” the therapist’s typical response might be, “Tell me more about it” or “What do you mean by that?” amplify the patient’s depression. So what does the retrosplenial cortex have to do with these perceptions?

It is well known that the corpus callosum transmits information between the two hemispheres of the brain. The posterior (backwards) part of the corpus callosum is called the splenium (which is also its thickest part). The cingulate cortex covers the corpus callosum and its posterior region is called the retrosplenial cortex (RSC). The RSC is known for its role in spatial orientation and navigation. Evolutionarily, it was beneficial to hominins (all close relatives of homo sapiens since about 6 million years) to be able to search their surroundings for water, food, shelter and other resources and to successfully return to their places of origin. The RSC achieves this ability by being able to translate and mediate egocentric perceptions of the environment with allocentric (self-independent views) perceptions. our distant ancestor, Homo erectus, dating from about 1.9 million years ago, and has been remarkably successful at dealing with its environment. It is estimated that their territory is about 10 times the area of ​​Lucy’s (Australopithecus afarensis), that evolved about a million years earlier. Homo erectus was so adept at navigation that they began leaving Africa and encroaching on the Middle East, Europe, Asia, India, China, and Indonesia about 1.5 million years ago. Therefore, the RSC need not only have been present Homo erectus but also work well.

I hypothesize that the RSC’s original adaptive function of spatial navigation has been extended for a new purpose, and that is emotional regulation. An exception is the redefinition of an original function for a new behavior. Although the term is often attributed to Gould and Vrba (1982), Darwin actually first announced the idea in 1862 when he wrote: “…if a man (sic) were to make a machine for some special purpose, but were use old wheels , Springs and pulleys, only slightly modified, the whole machine and all its parts could be said to be specially designed for its specific purpose. Thus, throughout nature, almost every part of every living thing has probably served various purposes in a slightly modified state…”

So how might the exaptive function of the RSC regulate emotion, and what might Rogers have gotten wrong about client-centered therapy? Imagine if the therapist said (in addition to the initial question about the nature of the patient’s depression), “You know that many people get depressed. And a lot of people get over it relatively quickly.” Of course, this advice would go against the client-centered prescription of never giving direct suggestions, but as I noted earlier, the latter statements are allocentric perceptions. Is there evidence that allocentric perceptions might help regulate one’s emotions? Yes. Webbet al. (2012) have shown empirically that a successful way to regulate emotion is to take an allocentric cognition of that emotion. Other examples of allocentric cognitions in depression might include, “You are not alone. And most depressions go away quickly and rarely stay. You are going through an experience that most people will have at some point in their lives.” While allocentric perceptions may not be a panacea for all psychological problems, resistance to giving such advice (allocentric perceptions) in client-centered therapy may actually be faster or prevent more efficient positive therapeutic outcomes.

The genetic origins of our unique species (homo sapiens) can be attributed to the divergence of the lineages of homo sapiens and Neanderthals until nearly 600,000 years ago. This field of study is called paleogenomics (paleo– meaning old). The earliest fossils of homo sapiens date from about 300,000 years ago, but are really modern homo sapiens Fossils, including modern behavior, probably evolved only in the last 100,000 to 80,000 years. These modern behaviors included bow-and-arrow technology, highly ritualized burials, representational cave paintings, personal ornaments (shell necklaces), representational figures (Venus-like), and fantastical (imaginary, i.e., half-human, half-lion) statues. In part, these ultramodern behaviors were attributed to a parietal lobe expansion that was unique homo sapiens (and not among the Neanderthals). The brains of homo sapiens also became rounder and smaller than Neanderthals. Around the same time there is archaeological evidence for this homo sapiens started trading long distances (over 600 miles) and trading partners. These modern behaviors, including trade, undoubtedly required diplomatic negotiation (Coolidge & Wynn, 2012) and were probably largely non-verbal, as people today encounter one another over relatively short distances across Europe or within India in a bewildering array of different languages.

I hypothesize that diplomatic negotiations required allocentric cognitions combined with egocentric cognitions, not just to imagine what the other person might think (strange name theory of mind), but also to regulate the natural anxiety-ridden tendencies when meeting strangers (so-called xenophobia). Thus, the RSC’s transition from its original adaptation of spatial navigation (which has survived) to regulating emotion in diplomatic negotiations may have been one of the critical components in the evolution of modern human behavior. Additionally, it may be beneficial for client-centered therapists to consider offering allocentric perceptions of their clients’ problems, in addition to exploring the egocentric nature of those problems.

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