A person-centered (formerly known as client-centered) therapy is an approach in psychotherapy developed by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1940s. As opposed to the psychodynamic perspective, Rogers’ theory (1980) emphasized the importance of consciousness, particularly that of high self-awareness, because it allows for making more informed choices, true to one’s own beliefs and wishes. He believed that a person is capable of self-healing without direct intervention on the therapist’s part by increasing their self-understanding, which leads to personal growth (Corey, 2016). A person-centered approach relies heavily on a trustworthy relationship between the person and the therapist, based on three so-called core conditions: empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1980). In its essence, the theory postulates that psychotherapy is meant to promote self-actualization because people are viewed not as inherently flawed but yearning to realize their human potential.
The person-centered approach is different from other forms of therapy because it focuses on equality in the relationship between the therapist and the patient. Rather than concentrating solely on solving one’s problems, the aim is to help the patient achieve more independence and learn how to deal with issues once they identify them (Corey, 2016). Rogers (1980) believed that the patients are capable of understanding what is causing them to be distressed. Essentially, the client is perceived as the expert on their own life (Corey, 2016). Thus, the therapist assists the patient in clarifying, rather than suggesting, particular goals and helps the patient achieve them by finding their own answers (Corey, 2016).
A fundamental concept of person-centered therapy is creating a safe environment that facilitates growth. A therapist’s ability to understand the client’s inner turmoil, their ability to convey this attitude with non-verbal cues, and their genuineness are fundamental to the successful result of the therapy (Corey, 2016). Surrounded by a nurturing environment full of understanding and sensitivity, individuals can develop a mindset essential to promoting their positive attitude towards the self (Rogers, 1980). Thus, the main techniques that should continuously encourage trust and honesty are empathy, congruence, and unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1961). Thus, active therapeutic presence is a fundamental component of person-centered therapy.
Empathy is an ability to deeply understand one’s world and subjective experiences by drawing similar feelings from personal past (Corey, 2016). Rogers (1980) believed that an empathetic attitude was underrated yet crucial in both “understanding of personality dynamics and for effecting changes in personality and behavior” (p. 137). Moreover, the counselor’s expression in an empathetic way is essential because the patient learns to reflect such an attitude on themselves (Rogers, 1961). However, it is crucial to maintain a separate identity and feelings from that of the patient not to get lost in them (Corey, 2016). A therapist can reflect the patient’s feelings by rephrasing them and thus acknowledging that they understand what a person is going through.
Congruence, or genuineness, means that the therapist shows realness to the patient during the therapy session. If a patient experiences genuineness from their counselor, they become reciprocal in time, opening up about deeper concerns and fears (Rogers, 1961). Moreover, as patients listen more closely to their feelings, they learn to be more acceptant towards themselves, thus removing ‘masks’ and ‘facades’ that enable defensive behavior and interfere with true desires (Rogers, 1961). Congruence on behalf of a practitioner directly benefits the patient because they become more self-aware and achieve greater independence.
Unconditional positive regard is also crucial to the healing process. The counselor should praise the patient “in a total rather than a conditional way” (Rogers, 1961, p. 64). Evidence suggests that mastering this attitude is important because it increases the likelihood of achieving successful therapy outcomes (Rogers, 1961). By treating the client in a non-evaluative and non-disapproving way, the therapist creates an environment of positive reinforcement, which helps the patient open up and feel better about themselves.
Naturally, the person-centered approach in therapy has its limitations. Given the utterly person-to-person nature of the approach, the therapist’s attitude plays a vital role in the human equation and the outcome of the therapy (Rogers, 1961). For example, if the therapist feels one way about the patient but acts differently, the effectiveness of the treatment will be harmed (Corey, 2016). To a similar extent, if the emotional quality of the relationship, i.e., mutual liking and respectful attitude between the counselor and the patient, is not present, the result of the therapy will be impaired (Rogers, 1961). Additionally, practitioners should not be overly supportive of clients without challenging them (Corey, 2016). The core conditions should be a necessary part of a therapeutic session, but they might not suffice to achieve a meaningful and long-lasting outcome.
In my perception of applying Rogers’ concepts, it could be somewhat difficult to maintain a balance between genuineness and incongruence in a therapeutic environment. Although wishing well to every client, it might be occasionally challenging to show true emotions with the appropriate level of reservation. As Rogers stresses that the core condition should interact with one another, it is crucial to challenge personal limitations to provide high-quality care and facilitate positive change.
Overall, the development of a person-centered approach has had a profound effect on how psychotherapy is perceived and conducted. In its essence, person-centered therapy is based on the relationship between the counselor and the patient. It focuses on the patient’s capability to strive for self-actualization and make changes in their own life. The therapist’s attitude, particularly empathetic understanding, unconditional positive regard, and genuineness, plays an integral part in facilitating growth and improvement.
Corey, G. (2016). Theory and practice of counseling and psychotherapy. Cengage Learning.
Rogers, C. R. (1961). On becoming a person. Houghton Mifflin.
Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. Houghton Mifflin.