Person-centred therapy was developed by Carl Rogers in the 1940s. This type of therapy diverged from the traditional model of the therapist as the expert and moved instead toward a non-directive, empathic approach that empowers and motivates the client in the therapeutic process. The therapy is based on Rogers’ belief that every human being strives for and can fulfil his or her potential.
Rogers strongly believed that in order for a client’s condition to improve, therapists should be warm, genuine and understanding, and the Person-centred approach operates according to three basic principles that reflect the attitude of the therapist to the client:
- The therapist is congruent with the client;
- The therapist provides the client with unconditional positive regard; and
- The therapist shows empathetic understanding to the client.
What is congruence?
Congruence within a therapeutic context relates to a therapist’s willingness to transparently relate to clients without hiding behind a professional or personal facade.
What is unconditional positive regard?
Unconditional positive regard is where parents, significant others (and the humanist therapist) accept and love the person for what he or she is. Positive regard is not withdrawn if the person does something wrong or makes a mistake. The consequences of unconditional positive regard are that the person feels free to try things out and make mistakes.
What is empathic understanding?
Empathic understanding means that the therapist accurately understands the client’s thoughts, feelings, and meanings from the client’s perspective. When the therapist perceives what the world is like from the client’s point of view, it demonstrates not only that the view has value, but also that the client is being accepted and understood.
Best Fit With Clients
Clients who have a strong urge in the direction of exploring themselves and their feelings and who value personal responsibility may be particularly attracted to the Person-centred approach. Those who would like a counsellor to offer them extensive advice, to diagnose their problems, or to analyse their psyches will probably find the Person-centred approach less helpful. [i]
Person-centred therapy can help individuals of all ages with a range of personal issues. As mentioned above, the non-directive style of person-centred therapy is thought to be of more benefit to individuals who have a strong urge to explore themselves and their feelings, and for those who want to address specific psychological habits or patterns of thinking.
The approach has been found particularly useful in helping individuals to overcome specific problems such as depression, anxiety, personality disorders, eating disorders and addiction. These issues can have a significant impact on self-esteem, self-reliance and self-awareness, but Person-centred therapy can help individuals to reconnect with their inner self in order to transcend limitations.
A core concept of Person-centred therapy is the idea that people have an innate capacity to self-actualise – to repair, grow, flourish and develop into resilient and capable individuals. People who can self-actualise are more likely to have received unconditional positive regard from others, especially their parents in childhood. [ii]
This is why I draw from this therapeutic approach. I like to focus on what I have in common with clients rather than what sets us apart. When clients start to bridge the gap between their perceived self and their ideal self, change and insight occurs.
A person is a fluid process, not a fixed and static entity; a flowing river of change, not a block of solid material; a continually changing constellation of potentialities, not a fixed quantity of traits.” [iii]