Humanistic therapies evolved in the USA during the 1950s. Carl Rogers proposed that therapy could be simpler, warmer, and more optimistic than that carried out by behavioral or psychodynamic psychologists.
His view differs sharply from the psychodynamic and behavioral approaches in that he suggested that clients would be better helped if they were encouraged to focus on their current subjective understanding rather than on some unconscious motive or someone else’s interpretation of the situation.
In This Article
Why Person-Centred Therapy?
Rogers strongly believed that for a client’s condition to improve, therapists should be warm, genuine, and understanding. The starting point of the Rogerian approach to counseling and psychotherapy is best stated by Rogers himself:
“It is that the individual has within himself or herself vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes and self-directed behavior – and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided” (1980, p.115-117).
Rogers (1961) rejected the deterministic nature of both psychoanalysis and behaviorism and maintained that we behave as we do because of the way we perceive our situation. “As no one else can know how we perceive, we are the best experts on ourselves.”
Believing strongly that theory should come out of practice rather than the other way round, Rogers developed his theory based on his work with emotionally troubled people and claimed that we have a remarkable capacity for self-healing and personal growth leading towards self-actualization. He emphasized the person’s current perception and how we live in the here and now.
Rogers noticed that people tend to describe their current experiences by referring to themselves in some way, for example, “I don”t understand what’s happening” or “I feel different to how I used to feel.”
Central to Rogers” (1959) theory is the notion of self or self-concept . This is defined as “the organized, consistent set of perceptions and beliefs about oneself.” It consists of all the ideas and values that characterize “I” and “me” and includes perception and valuing of “what I am” and “what I can do.”
Consequently, the self-concept is a central component of our total experience and influences both our perception of the world and our perception of ourselves. For instance, a woman who perceives herself as strong may behave with confidence and see her actions as actions performed by someone who is confident.
The self-concept does not always fit with reality, though, and how we see ourselves may differ greatly from how others see us.
For example, a person might be very interesting to others and yet consider himself to be boring. He judges and evaluates this image he has of himself as a bore, and this value will be reflected in his self-esteem. The confident woman may have high self-esteem, and the man who sees himself as a bore may have low self-esteem, presuming that strength/confidence are highly valued and that being boring is not.
Note: Person-centered therapy is also called client-centered therapy.
A person enters person-centered therapy in a state of incongruence. It is the role of the therapists to reverse this situation. Rogers (1959) called his therapeutic approach client-centered or person-centered therapy because of the focus on the person’s subjective view of the world.
One major difference between humanistic counselors and other therapists is that they refer to those in therapy as “clients,” not “patients.” This is because they see the therapist and client as equal partners rather than as an expert treating a patient.
Unlike other therapies, the client is responsible for improving his or her life, not the therapist. This is a deliberate change from psychoanalysis and behavioral therapies, where the patient is diagnosed and treated by a doctor.
Instead, the client consciously and rationally decides for themselves what is wrong and what should be done about it. The therapist is more of a friend or counselor who listens and encourages on an equal level.
One reason why Rogers (1951) rejected interpretation was that he believed that, although symptoms did arise from past experience, it was more useful for the client to focus on the present and future than on the past. Rather than just liberating clients from their past, as psychodynamic therapists aim to do, Rogerians hope to help their clients to achieve personal growth and eventually to self-actualize.
There is an almost total absence of techniques in Rogerian psychotherapy due to the unique character of each counseling relationship. However, the quality of the relationship between the client and therapist is of utmost importance.
The therapeutic relationship…is the critical variable, not what the therapist says or does.
If there are any techniques, they are listening, accepting, understanding, and sharing, which seem more attitude-orientated than skills-orientated. In Corey’s (1991) view, “a preoccupation with using techniques is seen [from the Rogerian standpoint] as depersonalizing the relationship.” The Rogerian client-centered approach emphasizes the person coming to form an appropriate understanding of their world and themselves.
Rogers regarded everyone as a “potentially competent individual” who could benefit greatly from his form of therapy. Roger’s humanistic therapy aims to increase a person’s feelings of self-worth, reduce the level of incongruence between the ideal and actual self, and help a person become more of a fully functioning person.
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 an 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 and 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.
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.
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 (1959), accurate empathic understanding is as follows:
“The state of empathy, or being empathic, is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the “as if” condition. Thus it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth. If this “as if” quality is lost, then the state is one of identification” (p. 210-211).
Because the person-centered counselor places so much emphasis on genuineness and being led by the client, they do not place the same emphasis on time and technique boundaries as a psychodynamic therapist. A person-centered counselor might diverge considerably from orthodox counseling techniques if they judged it appropriate.
As Mearns and Thorne (1988) point out, we cannot understand person-centered counseling by its techniques alone. The person-centered counselor has a very positive and optimistic view of human nature.
The philosophy that people are essentially good and that, ultimately, the individual knows what is right for them is the essential ingredient of a successful person-centered therapy is “all about loving.”
Ten Tips for Client-Centred Counsellors
1. Set clear boundaries
2. The client knows best
3. Act as a sounding board
4. Don’t be judgmental
5. Don’t make decisions for them
6. Concentrate on what they are really saying
7. Be genuine
8. Accept negative emotions
9. How you speak can be more important than what you say
10. I may not be the best person to help
Joyce is a successful teacher and is liked by her colleagues. However, Joyce has always dreamed of becoming a ballroom dancer. She spends much of her free time with her partner practicing elaborate lifts and can often be seen twirling around the classroom during break times. Joyce is considering leaving teaching and becoming a professional dancer.
Her colleagues described her plans as ‘ridiculous,’ and her parents, who are very proud that their daughter is a teacher, have told Joyce that they will not speak to her again if she does leave teaching to become a dancer. Joyce is beginning to feel sad and miserable.
Referring to features of humanistic psychology, explain how Joyce’s situation may affect her personal growth. [8 marks]
Corey, G. (1991). Invited commentary on macrostrategies for delivery of mental health counseling services.
Mearns, P., & Thorne, B. (1988). Person-Centred Counselling in Action (Counselling in Action series). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable.
Rogers, C. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill.
Rogers, C. R. (1961). On Becoming a person: A psychotherapists view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin.
Rogers, C. (1975). Empathic: An unappreciated way of being. The counseling psychologist, 5(2), 2-10.
Rogers, Carl R. (1980). Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Rogers, C. (1986). Carl Rogers on the Development of the Person-Centered Approach. Person-Centered Review, 1(3), 257-259.