I work in branding. My mother was a therapist. Both professions share a common focus: defining a way of being.
For Mum, that meant guiding clients through a “person-centered approach” (PCA). PCA departed from the medical/Freudian analysis and instead adopted an instinctive, intuitive methodology – counseling with empathy. The premise = only YOU can know what’s right for YOU. Her role: trusted partner to discovering that truth.
As a strategist, I too probe deeply – using observation, critical thinking and empathy – to reveal the values that lie at a brand’s core. Many times the process seems akin to therapy: referencing hierarchy of needs, challenging assumptions and exploring human emotions.
Years after retiring, Mum wrote a paper for a global PCA summit – “A Way of Being In The World: A Personal Journey”. In the 60’s, person-centered therapy was a new discipline that challenged the status quo of psychoanalysis. Her writing stayed with me – it spoke not only to my professional approach, but also to the wider context of life.
“30 years ago I attended a workshop and saw the film of Carl Rogers and Gloria. It was one of those moments of recognition that had an almost physical effect and was certainly a major turning point in my life. For 10 years I had been working as a psychiatric social worker within the Freudian analysis and medical model of the person. My own feelings of inadequacy within the helping situation were compounded by my inability to see people within the context of the above formulas. Instinctively I was seeing them as individuals with individual responses to the varied and painful experiences of their life situations.” Anne Newell
Mum, in her wisdom, saw PCA as a gateway to “being” in the world, beyond the framework of therapy.
“It soon became apparent that this was not just a way of working. Being authentic was not just something one was with one’s clients, nor were empathy and acceptance limited to a working relationship. These were all part of a way of being that affected all relationships and every aspect of my life.”
In much the same way, empowerment or “conscious” marketing is changing the way we think and feel about brands and advertising. No longer is it enough to tout features and function, consumers instead connect through shared values. Currency = human emotion. Language = authenticity.
Perhaps Mum’s most challenging life-experience was as a single-parent to twin strong-willed girls. PCA provided a framework of values from which we could all survive. I’ve included a long except because she beautifully captured what it meant to apply PCA to parenting:
“Never have I been so acutely aware of my potential to violence as I have been as a parent of young children and adolescents, nor have I experienced so consistently the ability to love selflessly. Family life in no way resembled an idealized picture of the PCA in action, sometimes it more resembled a battlefield.
I saw my role as a parent as an enabling one, whose ultimate goal was to raise my children to become fully functioning adults, with a respect for self and others, able to make choices and take responsibility for their actions.
I held them, listened, spent time with them, had fun with them and most importantly created a safe space where they could express their feelings openly and where they met the same freedom of expression in others. Attempts to teach them anything fell flat – they learnt at their own pace what they wanted to learn. Later, hearing them in conversation with troubled friends I was impressed at how they listened and responded in a way that was familiarly person centered. Where had they learnt it?
I think that it is in the overall attitudes and way of being that counts here. I could not be anything but real with them, they saw me in my ups and downs, in pain and coming out the other side of it. They were supported in their own difficulties and learnt the value of being alongside. There was an intrinsic respect for each individual’s needs, the recognition and support to make their own decisions and accepting responsibility for self. At the same time there was an expectation that they respect me and my needs too. I did not have all the answers.”
Part of this blog recognizes the interrelatedness of work and life–they shape each other. Mum has given me a deeper appreciation for how living authentically, and parenting authentically, is truly the only “way of being in the world”.