Client-centered therapy, also known as person-centered therapy, is a non-directive form of talk therapy that was developed by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers during the 1940s and 1950s.Carl Rogers is widely regarded as one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th-century. He was a humanist thinker and believed that people are fundamentally good. Rogers also suggested that people have an actualizing tendency, or a desire to fulfill their potential and become the best people that they can be.
Rogers initially started out calling his technique non-directive therapy. While his goal was to be as non-directive as possible, he eventually realized that therapists guide clients even in subtle ways. He also found that clients often do look to their therapists for some type of guidance or direction. Eventually, the technique came to be known as client-centered therapy or person-centered therapy. Today, Rogers’ approach to therapy is often referred to by either of these two names, but it is also frequently known simply as Rogerian therapy.
It is also important to note that Rogers was deliberate in his use of the term client rather than patient. He believed that the term patient implied that the individual was sick and seeking a cure from a therapist. By using the term client instead, Rogers emphasized the importance of the individual in seeking assistance, controlling their destiny, and overcoming their difficulties. This self-direction plays a vital part of client-centered therapy.
Much like psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, Rogers believed that the therapeutic relationship could lead to insights and lasting changes in clients. While Freud focused on offering interpretations of what he believed were the unconscious conflicts that led to a client’s troubles, Rogers believed that the therapist should remain non-directive. That is to say, the therapist should not direct the client, should not pass judgments on the client’s feelings, and should not offer suggestions or solutions. Instead, the client should be an equal partner in the therapeutic process.
Client-centered therapy 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.
- The therapist shows empathetic understanding to the client.
Congruence in Counseling
Congruence is also called genuineness. Congruence is the most important attribute in counseling, according to Rogers. This means that, unlike the psychodynamic therapist who generally maintains a ‘blank screen’ and reveals little of their own personality in therapy, the Rogerian is keen to allow the client to experience them as they really are.The therapist does not have a façade (like psychoanalysis), that is, the therapist’s internal and external experiences are one in the same. In short, the therapist is authentic.
Unconditional Positive Regard
The next Rogerian core condition is unconditional positive regard. Rogers believed that for people to grow and fulfill their potential it is important that they are valued as themselves. This refers to the therapist’s deep and genuine caring for the client. The therapist may not approve of some of the client’s actions, but the therapist does approve of the client. In short, the therapist needs an attitude of “I’ll accept you as you are.” The person-centered counselor is thus careful to always maintain a positive attitude to the client, even when disgusted by the client’s actions.
“Unconditional positive regard means that when the therapist is experiencing a positive, acceptant attitude toward whatever the client is at that moment, therapeutic movement or change is more likely. It involves the therapist’s willingness for the client to be whatever feeling is going on at that moment – confusion, resentment, fear, anger, courage, love, or pride…The therapist prizes the client in a total rather than a conditional way.”
Empathy is the ability to understand what the client is feeling. This refers to the therapist’s ability to understand sensitively and accurately [but not sympathetically] the client’s experience and feelings in the here-and-now. The therapist needs to be reflective, acting as a mirror of the client’s feelings and thoughts. The goal of this is to allow the client to gain a clearer understanding of their own inner thoughts, perceptions, and emotions.An important part of the task of the person-centered counselor is to follow precisely what the client is feeling and to communicate to them that the therapist understands what they are feeling.
In the words of Rogers (1975), accurate empathic understanding is as follows:
‘If I am truly open to the way life is experienced by another person…if I can take his or her world into mine, then I risk seeing life in his or her way…and of being changed myself, and we all resist change. Since we all resist change, we tend to view the other person’s world only in our terms, not in his or hers. Then we analyze and evaluate it. We do not understand their world. But, when the therapist does understand how it truly feels to be in another person’s world, without wanting or trying to analyze or judge it, then the therapist and the client can truly blossom and grow in that climate’.