• Therapist Limits in Person-Centred Therapy

Therapist Limits in Person-Centred Therapy

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ISBN 9781906254810 (2015)
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Therapist Limits in Person-Centred Therapy by Lisbeth Sommerbeck addresses the moment at which therapy becomes difficult due to therapist limits. These could be limits in experience, contextual limits, ethical limits or limit-setting, all of which are issues frequently brought to supervision. Although such dilemas are frequently experienced there is very little in the client-centred literature addressing them. This book offers a review of the literature that does exists and provides a starting point for discussion.

Lisbeth Sommerbeck writes from her many years’ experience as a psychotherapist working in the Danish psychiatric care system with clients with severe and enduring mental health problems. Many therapists fear that this client group will challenge their limits and Sommerbeck provides a straightforward appreciation of the problems and offers solutions.


1. Limits of therapeutic competence

Limits and congruence

Limits in the therapist’s experience of empathic understanding

When feeling out of contact with the client

When the therapist is the target of extreme affects

When the therapist misses a red thread

When empathic understanding is difficult to communicate

Limits in the therapist’s experience of unconditional positive regard

Limits of acceptance and therapist transparency

Helpful ways of thinking that promote acceptance

Contractual limits on unconditionally positive regard

2. Limit setting

The essence of limit setting in person-centred therapy

Some common limit-setting issues

Limits with respect to suicidal behavior

Limits with respect to violent behaviour

Idiosyncratic limits

3. Contextual limits

A personal history of being a non-expert on clients in an expert’s setting

When the therapist is free to practise fully person-centred

Assessing and diagnosing

The end of being a non-expert on clients in an expert’s setting

The insidious contagion of contextual rules

Limits on number of sessions

4. Limits as ‘time out’

Limits to answering client question

Limits to therapist self-expression

Limits to extra-therapeutic relationships with clients

5. Limits and referrals

6. Finishing comments


In a world echoing with the industrial hammers of evidence-based practice, this surely is a quarried diamond of practice-based evidence. Mike Gallant, senior teaching fellow in counselling and psychotherapy, Warwick University.

Sommerbeck brings her depth of experience and theoretical clarity to this book in which she discusses the myriad ways in which the therapist’s limits are encountered in the practice of therapy, illustrating her clear theoretical responses with transcripts of examples. Her ethical perspective shines through, along with her humility and acceptance of her own idiosyncrasies. This book will be an invaluable tool for students and experienced therapists to consider further our own ethical stances with respect to therapist limits. Dr Gillian Proctor, Associate Professor in Counselling, University of Nottingham, UK

Lisbeth Sommerbeck combines a wealth of clinical experience, in-depth theoretical knowledge and critical thinking to an area that can present person-centred therapists with complex issues and dilemmas. She lays out clearly the many challenges and controversies with particular attention to contexts and how they influence therapeutic practice. In so doing, she enables therapists to approach their work with greater self-awareness, self-respect and integrity. This insightful and helpful book demonstrates ultimately reflecting a deep respect and care for the client. Dr Rachel Freeth, Psychiatrist and person-centred counsellor

Lisbeth Sommerbeck as ever gives us insightful and razor sharp analysis of the topic and provides learning for all those interested in this approach to helping. Through this short text, Lisbeth has made a significant contribution to a little-addressed area of person-centred therapy theory and practice. Dr David Murphy, Programme Leader, MA Person-Centred Experiential Counselling and Psychotherapy, University of Nottingham,

This is a wonderful little book and I recomend it wholeheartedly for trainees and for established therapists as well. Every therapist should own a copy. Mort Smith reviewed in Person-Centred Quarterly

Lisbeth Sommerbeck

Lisbeth Sommerbeck is a clinical psychologist, accredited as a specialist in psychotherapy and supervision by the Danish Psychological Association. Since 1974 and until she retired in 2011 she was employed in Danish psychiatry, where the bulk of her work consisted in psychotherapy, supervision, consultation and teaching. She has written books and articles about various aspects of client-centred therapy and in 2002 she initiated the Danish Carl Rogers Forum.

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Lisbeth Sommerbeck