As an integrative counsellor; I use different therapeutic approaches according to individual client need, rather than just one approach. My main inspiration comes from the Person Centred approach and Gestalt therapy. I am drawn to work in a holistic way because we are complex, embodied beings, not just a brain on a life supporting scaffold! As we become more in tune with all aspects of ourselves, including our bodies, our lives can transform.
There are seven facets of being human which I pay attention to. I use Petruska Clarkson’s (2003) Seven Level Model as a way of working to help me to recognise and attend to different aspects of a client’s functioning. It helps me gain a richer understanding about a client’s unique self.
Seven Level Model
The model unravels human experience into 7 overlapping categories or ‘levels’. They are the Physiological, Emotional, Nominative, Normative, Rational, Theoretical, and Transpersonal levels. Each is briefly summarised below:
- Physiological. This level concerns the client’s body. This includes their general health, body processes and functions, movement, sensation and some behavioural aspects.
- Emotional. This level focuses on how the client experiences and expresses emotion and feelings.
- Nominative. This level concerns how the client uses words to name their experience as part of their coming to an understanding, and the developmental shift that occurs from that. Language has the power to shape our thoughts and reality.
- Normative. This level is about the client’s norms, values, collective belief systems, societal expectations, relationships and culture.
- Rational. This level concerns how the client thinks and makes sense about things, what is seen as truth.
- Theoretical. Theories can be seen as ‘narratives’- stories that the client tells themselves to explain things, often changing over time.
- Transpersonal. This level includes the spiritual, those experiences beyond theory and explanation. The desire to belong to something greater than ourselves, faith, the search for existential meaning.
According to Clarkson, a client’s fulfilment of their human potential is dependent on their development at all seven levels. However, no particular level is more or less important than the others. All are inextricably linked together. A client may express themselves in only one or two levels at the beginning of therapy. They may develop other levels as therapy progresses. When I work with one level it can influence the development of the client’s other levels . How the levels tend to predominate or recede may guide me into working in a particular way with a client.
An example of using the seven levels – Anne
Here is a fictitious illustrative example of using the seven levels to describe a client after our first session.
Physiological: Anne’s body is restless; fidgeting, looking around the room, biting her lip. Anne is able to make natural eye contact with me when she is not distracted by the things around her. Her voice is loud, expressive and she speaks fast.
Emotional: Anne feels very anxious. She uses a lot of energy to supress her feelings from coming out. Part of her is scared to let them out. Part of her wants relief. Anne finds relaxation videos help calm her temporarily.
Nominative: Anne names feelings of “anger” and experiencing “anxiety” and is “being bullied”. She says she thinks she has real mental health issues and wonders if a doctor’s diagnosis would be helpful.
Normative: Anne works in a supermarket. She finds it hard to make new trustworthy relationships. She lives at home with her Mum and her parents recently divorced. She is the youngest of her siblings and was picked on as a child.
Rational: Anne’s mind has a strong critical voice, putting pressure on her to do ‘the right thing’. One thought leading to another, leading to another. It is too intense for her sometimes.
Theoretical: Anne feels stuck in a rut, but believes counselling is a chance to change her life. She doesn’t know if she has a future or what it could look like.
Transpersonal: Anne feels very alone and wonders can life ever be worth living for her.
Clarkson, P. (2003) The therapeutic relationship. 2nd edition. London : Whurr Publishers Ltd.
Lapworth, P. and Sills, C. (2010) Integration in Counselling and Psychotherapy. 2nd edition London: Sage.