Mattering in Relation to Counselling by Dr. Jane Alexander
Altruistically, counsellors wish to make a difference to the lives of clients but also have a need to matter to those who use their services. Amundson (1993) perceived that a sense of mattering to clients would probably strengthen counsellors’ practices. Arguably, most clients need to matter to their counsellors as well as to others because of a basic human need for relationships and the distress caused by feeling that they do not matter or are unwanted. People who believe that they matter to others may have a sense of general well-being and higher self-esteem whereas those who perceive themselves as insignificant to others may experience disaffection. There is a parallel between counsellors perceiving that they matter to their clients and clients believing that they matter to counsellors. When clients think that they are important to counsellors they may engage with the counselling process, develop trust, and produce better outcomes than those who do not have this perception. Essentially, both clients and counsellors’ feel the positive value of “mattering” flowing between them. Counsellors can use these experiences to strengthen the therapeutic relationship. Elliott et al’s (2004) analysis of the forms of mattering within the counselling context include attendance, importance, and reliance. Arguably, counsellors can fulfil these criteria by showing clients that they are equally important to the counselling process, its goals and outcomes.
Mattering and the therapeutic alliance
Research indicated that the experience of mattering to others is associated with higher self-esteem and self-worth together with better health, social support, and job satisfaction (Elliott et al, 2004; Marshall, 2004. The absence of a feeling of mattering to others was associated with depression, academic anxiety, and occupational stress (Dixon and Rayle, 2006). Research validates the concept that mattering to others is unequivocally linked with individuals’ working, personal lives and relationships. Essentially perceptions of mattering in relationships with others may produce more happiness and contentment. Conversely people who think that they do not matter to others may suffer increased depression and loneliness. It is thought that the counselling relationship epitomises one of the most personal and meaningful relationships that individuals experience. When there is trust and authenticity in the therapeutic relationship high levels of disclosure and expression of emotions occurs, Hall (2004) suggested that
“people are motivated by and develop in the context of emotionally significant relationships” (p.68).
Additionally, shared perceptions of mattering through the dynamics of the therapeutic relationship act as a force for change. Counsellors also model ways of expressing mattering and clients may apply this learning to relationships outside the counselling context. Dixon and Rayle (2006) urged counsellors to regularly remind clients that they are important to them. When appointments are missed, counsellors should contact their clients so that they know that absences were noticed.
Research suggest that individuals with high attachment anxiety worry about relationships with others, which leads them to negatively rate their sense of mattering to others. Individuals who avoid attachment probably misperceive their sense of mattering to others because they may be uncomfortable with intimacy due to past experiences of rejection and neglect Focusing on perceptions of mattering within the therapeutic relationship can help clients to redress their sense of belonging and importance in close relationships (Raque-Bogdan et al, 2011). However, there is a fine line between promoting a sense of mutual mattering within the therapeutic relationship and creating an interdependent relationship.
“The therapeutic relationship is seen as supportive but not supporting (Rogers, 1951). This is accompanied by the belief that even if it might seem caring to facilitate dependency for a vulnerable client it is difficult to wean them once the dependency has been created” (Mearns and Thorne, 2007).
By Dr. Jane Alexander
Dr Jane Alexander was appointed Director of Undergraduate Studies in 2010. Prior to that she held academic posts at lecturer and senior lecturer level at Trinity College Dublin, Derby University, UK, Lincoln University, UK and City University, London. Her PhD in Mental Health Studies, funded by the Trustees of St Bartholomew’s Hospital, London is a qualitative sociologically based study investigating the experiences of acutely ill patients and staff in two acute mental health hospitals in London………http://ichas.ie/about-us/meet-the-team/
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