There were once two friends. One day, one of them went to the other, with a heavy heart, less-than-desirable thoughts in his mind, and a bevy of bad behaviours. He really wanted to change them. He wanted to get better.
He opened up to his friend, told him everything that concerned him, and his friend’s answer was: “You know that this is all your fault. I’ve been telling you over and over again that what you’re doing is not okay. That you’re going to lose everything. You will have an unfulfilled life and then, let’s see who will still help you.” This friend was also facing many battles in his own life, and was far from having a fulfilling life.
Conditions of change
For constructive change to occur in a person, humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers argues that there are three necessary conditions. These are: empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive acceptance, which should take place in the therapeutic process.
Empathy means understanding exactly how someone feels. A therapist should accurately feel the emotions and personal meanings that the client is experiencing and should communicate this understanding. When they work best, the therapist is so immersed in the other’s private world that they can clarify not only the meanings the client is aware of, but even those beyond their consciousness. This type of sensitive and active listening takes place extremely rarely in our lives. We believe we are listening, but we rarely listen with true understanding and empathy. Still, this kind of special listening is one of the most powerful forces that can bring about change.
We believe we are listening, but we rarely listen with true understanding and empathy.
Congruence refers to the authenticity of the therapist. The more the therapist is true to themselves within the therapeutic relationship, the more likely change is going to occur in the client’s life and the more the client will grow in a constructive manner. This means that the therapist is open about the feelings and attitudes that arise from their interaction. The term “transparency” captures the essence of this condition. What the therapist experiences is available to the client, can be experienced in the relationship, and can be communicated, if necessary. This way, there is a congruence between the professional’s lived experience, what is consciously present, and what is communicated to the client.
Unconditional positive acceptance involves basic acceptance and support of a person, no matter what that person says or does. This attitude conveys care and appreciation. When the therapist shows a positive and accepting attitude towards whatever the client exhibits at that moment, the therapeutic change is more likely to occur.
Jesus and the conditions of change
Long before Rogers studied and proposed these three necessary conditions for change to occur in a person’s life, there was someone who, while not researching them the way Rogers did, lived by them fully and in an authentic way, worthy of being followed by us today. This was Jesus.
“Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).
In the Bible, in the New Testament we find a long series of texts that urge us to express empathy, and some even tell us how to do this: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15); “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32); “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” (1 Peter 3:8); “[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4).
Jesus Himself clearly says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12); “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12); “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself'” (Mark 12:31). Not only does He tell us, but we can easily find contexts in which Jesus was empathetic: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35) for His friend Lazarus; “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them” (Matthew 9:36); “When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, ‘Don’t cry'” (Luke 7:13), then he went and raised the son of the widow from Nain.
“Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31).
Other examples emerge from His actions: the healing of a leper, the healing of a centurion’s slave, the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law and several other sick people (Matthew 8:1-17), the healing of the man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years (John 5:1-16), the healing of a blind man from birth (John 9:1-12), the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, and the healing of a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years (Mark 5:21-43). Jesus’ help does not stop there, and certainly, in addition to other examples from Scripture, there have been some unwritten ones.
Jesus lived authentically, and the lives of the people He touched were changed in this way. Jesus did not hide behind masks. His beliefs, thoughts, and emotions were all reflected in His behaviour and actions. This kind of genuineness touches hearts, regardless of status, physical appearance, environment, or culture. Jesus sees beyond all this. He sees people’s hearts, He sees their desire and need for change, for a truly fulfilled life. A life in which the fulfilment and peace of the soul received from Him will remain there, regardless of what happens on the outside. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27). Jesus healed and helped many people. However, more importantly than giving physical healing and help, Jesus offered authentic healing—a healing of the heart.
Jesus accepts each one of us unconditionally.
Although He does not accept sin, He accepts the sinner and wants to be with them on the path of change. Jesus did not come to spend time only with the good people, the educated ones, or those of a high status. He was not afraid to be judged for His looks, or for the people and friends around Him. This is precisely because He was genuinely interested in their well-being, their life and He was authentic in His relationship with them. “Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance'” (Luke 5:31-32). This is exactly what Jesus did. He accepted the adulterous woman (John 8:1-11), and even defended her, saying to her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” He could have said to Nicodemus, the Pharisee who sought Him at night, “You know what? It’s late now, see me in the morning.” But Jesus does not do that. When Nicodemus sought Him, He sat with him and talked to Him, giving answers to his questions.
Jesus lived authentically.
There were once two friends. One day, one of them went to the other, thinking he would really like to change. He wanted to get better. He opens up to his friend, tells him everything that concerns him, and his friend’s answer is: “I know you are going through a difficult situation. I’m here with you. I am ready to offer you my help to overcome the difficulties encountered. If you need peace, I’ll shut up. I also know that sometimes, more than someone talking to you, it is important to know that they are listening to you with all their heart. I cherish you and I want to remain your friend.” This friend, too, lived a fulfilled and authentic life.
Mădălina Caraveţeanu believes that people too often forget how to treat those who are going through difficult times. However, she is convinced that she has found the strongest source of inspiration for those who don’t want to ignore the needs of others.