An Interview with Willi Ross

Jaroslav Necas, redactor from student magazine Agora has made an interview with one of our founders, Willi Roes, about his life, PCA and Person Center. Czech speakers can read it here. Now English speakers can read it finally as well.

I have seen on your webpage, that you have travelled a lot – in Europe at least.
I’m from Germany, but I have always liked France. I have spent a lot of time in France and met a French girl there. So when you put all that together, I went to France for my Psychology studies. But I started with pedagogy in Germany, which was finally much better for therapy.
The therapy for me is working on a relationship and relationship was the biggest topic in Pedagogy. That’s the reason why I chose it. Psychology is all about knowledge and knowledge is counterproductive for therapy.

Why do you think so?
In Person centered approach, I want the person so be more close to himself or herself. And any diagnosis or plan I may have, won’t help the person to find out who she is and where she wants to go. So if I have many ideas in my mind about what could be the reason or where could it go, it just takes me away from the person.

What brought you to the PCA approach?
Exactly that attitude, I was always interested in new relationships. For a long time I played very actively volleyball. I’m not a big sportsman, was not so good at sports, but I was always a team leader and I was able to keep the team together. That’s something I liked.

Do you think there are any specific qualities of a team leader, that you have?
Yes, it is important to listen to everyone – not have my opinion said first, but let the team speak. To bring people together, make one understand the other and do it for pleasure. When playing, I always tried to be strong and do the best for the job, but the origins are in fun.

What brought you in Prague, or Czech Republic in general?
That was easy. The Person centered world conference 2010 was in Rome, I met the delegate from the Czech republic there and she is my wife now. At that time I was still living in France and we were thinking, if we come together, where would be the best place for us. She would like to come to France, but was quite settled in here and Czech republic is also a better environment for therapy. I tried to work here, and we decided to stay.

So have you originally planned to found the Person Centre here?
Not at all. I just came here in order to be a psychotherapist, to do what I did in France. First I hired a room in centre, where I did therapy twice a week, had some clients and as it was working, I wanted to start my own praxis. Finally I found this place.
I started to work in October, one and a half year ago, had some clients and proposed some groups. Then I was here at summer, a bit annoyed – there were so many ideas and projects, but I was always working on them alone. I had very good experiences with interns in France – it was nice to have someone with me. I made the proposition to the university and got many requests. So just instead of having one intern, I finally had six.
There was always enough work to do, to lead, to think and develop ideas. And so it all became structured. And a structured group of people should have an association. So we gave it a name – Person centre – a platform where people can meet and participate or develop various person centered activities.

What can be the potential benefits for students of psychology? You said, that you are offering some kind of internship, so how does it function?
There are two main interests. The first is to try to look at the real life a psychotherapist can live. What is the practice like, the problems of the clients and what are all the questions around it. Psychological ideas of what should I do with the client and to see how it works in reality. Originally I had an idea of allowing the students to observe the therapy sessions with some clients, that are ready to receive it, but it didn’t work very much, I don’t know why. Just one student came once.
The students can also attend groups, where we think and talk about what’s happening in the therapy and another two supervision groups, where we discuss our experiences. The people in trainings can then come in touch with real therapy experience. Most of the students attend to the introductory training of Person centred approach. There is also a possibility to participate in other groups – encounter group, bodywork group. Whatever comes up, whatever is invented.

What is the difference between the groups?
The typical way of groupwork in PCA is the encounter group, where people come together and are limited only by the time frame. You try to respect the rules and ideas of the person centred approach – to be yourself and listen to others. Whatever comes up people discuss and it is generally a big experience.
In bodywork group, I have developed on my own a way of accompanying the client just physically – with few words or without words. I try to be with the person without talking, without touching, just accompanying the process that’s going on, allowing the person to have contact with herself. I can also listen with words – that’s called focusing – to have the client listen to different parts of his body and see what’s going on there.

Do you provide the PCA training as well?
Yes, I’m a PCA trainer, I mostly still work in France, because I don’t speak Czech. I also propose the training here, but only an introductory training in English in order to get enough people to construct the general training. General training is going on for five years and it takes more people to do it.

Was there any specific person, that brought you to Psychology?
Not a specific person, but circumstances. When I was a child, I was automatically brought into the Catholic church and worked there as a ministrant. It was not only about the work around the mass. As a group of boys, we were doing many activities together and there had to be someone responsible for the group. So when I was sixteen, I started to participate in trainings to be a group leader.
At the beginning of seventies it was quite wild. We have tried a lot of different things to push the group, to explore people’s experiences and it was much more interesting for me than indoctrination in family or church. Finally, I was more interested in those trainings, than in any activities with the younger children. It was very nice to have a group, to help other boys make some modelling or go outside with them, but it was not at all my thing. My thing was to work with the people that want to care for. Immediately I felt, that I was more made to be an educator for educators.

That’s why I started the group dynamics trainings in Germany. The only thing I didn’t like was, that they were very structured. I had to manipulate the team during the training and make them to be this or that and I didn’t like it that way. Then during the studies I discovered Carl Rogers and I instantly knew, this is what I wanted to do.