Person-Centered Therapy is a form of psychoanalytical counseling developed in the 1940s by Carl Rogers. The foundation of this form of therapy stemmed from Rogers’ belief that all people have an inherent desire to be good. Every person has a self-concept or an ideal self which represents what type of person they want to be or think they are. However, a person’s self-concept may not be reflected in their real life experiences and this incongruence creates psychological stress. Rogers’ main goal is to allow the client to explore where their incongruences are rooted and have the clients decide for themselves how to change their behaviors to fit their self-concept. Though the client may reflect on past experiences, Person-Centered Therapy focuses on the client’s current feelings and their current perceived self-worth. The ideal end result of this type of therapy is that the client experiences self-actualization through positive self-acceptance and personal growth.
In Person-Centered Therapy the relationship between the client and counselor is crucial to eliciting any progress in the client. The counselor must provide an environment in which the client can disclose their deepest feelings comfortably and safely. This establishes trust in the relationship and allows the client to further explore their thoughts. The main components to Rogers’ theory is that the therapist must have unconditional positive regard for the client and must be able to empathize with them genuinely. To do this, the therapist should focus on the client’s positive attributes. Constant positive reinforcement given sincerely makes the client feel secure and supported and they will feel more comfortable speaking about their issues. This increases the likelihood that the client will attempt to make a change in their life. A second key element in Person-Centered Therapy is that it is non-directive therapy. The counselor does not try to direct the client in any particular direction, but lets the client lead the discussion in their own direction. The counselor must allow the client to do so and encourage them to continue to explore that direction. This way, when the client does decide to make a change in his/her life, it is done on their own terms. That is the most important feature of this type of counseling.
In terms of the Helping Skills Model, Person-Centered Therapy focuses primarily on the Exploration Stage. Rogers’ theory is based on the same principles that define the Exploration Stage. The Exploration Stage is a time where the therapist and client develop a rapport and where the therapist really learns about the client’s behavior and personality. The establishment of a trusting relationship between the therapist and client is the goal of the Exploration Stage and is critical for the Person-Centered Therapy theory to be effective. This type of therapy relies heavily on the use of restatements and open-ended questions to encourage the client to open up about their thoughts and emotions. The Exploration Stage and this type of therapy focus on mainly on the clients as they do most of the speaking.
Person-Centered Therapy has its strengths and weaknesses/limitations. One important feature of this type of therapy is that the client does not become dependent on the therapist. If the therapy is done correctly, the client will become to realize that he/she is capable of changing his/her life on their own. This type of therapy empowers the client to take control of their issues and solve them independently and in favor of their own desires. Another strength of this type of therapy is that once the client realizes his/her full potential and has gained a high level of self-understanding, the need for therapy is no longer there. They can now go out into the world feeling confident about overcoming any future obstacles.
A limitation for this theory of therapy is that it may seem too simple. The theory at its core basically says if someone is in a safe, unprejudiced environment and speak their thoughts to an empathizing person, they will solve their own issues. This means anybody can do this and no real professional is needed. Another limitation is that there is no direction given for clients who cannot come up with their own solutions. This can be very frustrating for both the therapist and client because there is no progress being made. If a client is not capable of realizing his/her own potential and recognize the changes that need to be in their life, there is nothing the counselor can really do without jeopardizing the high level of client autonomy this type of therapy allows.
Hill, C. E. (2009). Helping Skills: Facilitating exploration, insight, and action. (3rd ed.) Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Rogers, C. R. (1992). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 60, 827-832. (Original article published 1957).