Person Centred Counselling
Person Centered Approach
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 both 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. Of utmost importance, however, is the quality of the relationship between client and therapist.
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 puts emphasis on 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. The purpose of Roger’s humanistic therapy is 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 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.
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 on being led by the client, they do not place the same emphasis on boundaries of time and technique as would a psychodynamic therapist. If they judged it appropriate, a person-centered counselor might diverge considerably from orthodox counselling techniques.
As Mearns and Thorne (1988) point out, we cannot understand person-centered counseling by its techniques alone. The person-centred 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 as “all about loving”.