“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” – Carl Rogers
Deciding to start therapy can be a daunting process. The idea of being so vulnerable with someone you do not have a personal connection with can be a difficult barrier to get past. We all know someone who rants and raves about their therapist, so what makes the therapeutic relationship so great?
It’s unconditional positive regard.
Unconditional positive regard is a concept that was developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers. He purports the idea that when someone completely supports and accepts a person unconditionally, they can be honest with themselves, allowing the process of change to begin.
In a therapeutic setting, the therapist practices unconditional positive regard to give the client a space of total acceptance to give the best possible conditions for growth. It separates the person from their actions and gives the client dignity and grace to acknowledge their faults to bring about constructive change and improve self-esteem. Unconditional positive regard gives the client a model of behavior that if the therapist can accept them no matter what they say or do, they can also accept themselves exactly as they are.
This way of thinking does not mean that you approve everything that someone does. It simple means setting aside opinions, reaction, and bias to accept someone exactly who they are in the moment. It also doesn’t mean enabling harmful behavior. In fact, it separates the person from their behavior by denouncing their actions as bad, rather themselves. It still allows for personal accountability, just in a nonjudgmental way.
Unconditional positive regard does not have to stay in the therapy office. You can practice it too. It is a wonderful skill to learn to navigate interpersonal relationships with acceptance and understanding and creates a space for people to nurture their self-esteem.
How can you begin practicing unconditional positive regard?
· Practice with yourself! – Accept yourself in totality. Understand that you are a human who is allowed to make mistakes, but also capable of loving yourself and change. Allow you to be you.
· Engage in active listening – With your conversation partner, listen attentively. Paraphrase, reflect what is being said without interjecting with judgment, opinions, or advice. No need to read into people’s subtext. Take them as they are. Listen
· Let go of being right – Judgment and shame create a space where people must defend or prove themselves. Maybe you are right, but does it matter in the moment? Practice compassion to the people in your life. Giving people a space of safety from judgment allows them to live without defensiveness. You can address your side after giving them the proper space to express themselves.
In essence, unconditional positive regard is a daily practice of acceptance and compassion. Separating people from their behaviors gives them an opportunity to accept themselves. A stronger sense of self-worth instills confidence and motivation. This can be practiced in all areas of life with relationships, parenting or the work environment. Practice unconditional positive regard can create a ripple effect of thoughtful behavior all around you.
Melanie Hanson was a student intern at Cypress Wellness Center working towards an LMHC licensure through a Master of Education in Counseling and Human Development at Lindsey Wilson College. She is also studying Acceptance and Commitment therapy and has an interest in narrative, existential, and dialectical behavioral (DBT) therapy. Melanie is also interested in attachment theory and the role this can have on your narrative. She believes that everyone has a unique story that they are the author of. Melanie is happy to help people revise their story for a more positive and accepting narrative.