What is person-centred therapy?
Person-centred therapy is a type of psychological counselling developed by psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1950s. It proposes that humans have an innate tendency to reach their full potential. However, specific life experiences can block or distort this ability, particularly those that affect their sense of value.
The tenet of person-centred therapy is to facilitate a person’s ability to ‘self-actualise’, meaning to grow and fulfil their potential. This approach also seeks to aid a person’s personal growth and relationships by helping them explore and utilise their strengths and identity with the counsellor’s support.
The person-centred counsellor is not an expert but encourages clients to explore and understand themselves and their troubles. An essential part of the self-actualising theory is the psychological environment, which must be free from threats for a person to flourish.
This environment includes three conditions;
- congruence (genuineness),
- empathy (understanding the client’s experience),
- and unconditional positive regard (non-judgemental and valuing)
Carl Rogers new therapy radicalised traditional therapy n that he proposed the ultimate reliance of the human being is with his or her own experience.
Case study example
Mrs A, a 34-year-old married woman, was referred for psychological therapy by her G.P. after she reported that she could not attend work for two weeks because she was becoming increasingly anxious and tearful. She thought this was a result of an earlier abusive relationship.
Mrs A’s 4-year-old daughter started school, and she would walk her daughter to school each morning. On the return, when walking alone, she reported that she would walk past some bushes and be aware of their consistency, i.e. they were very dense and would proceed to step quickly past them. This apparent high level of alertness is demonstrated in other areas of her life, e.g. when Mrs A visits her friend, who lives close by, she telephones first to say that she is on her way and asks her friend to have the door open before she arrives at the house.
Mrs A stated that she does not leave her children with anyone as she is worried about their safety; consequently, she added that she never travels on her own, either her children are with her, or if the children are at school, her husband accompanies her.
It became apparent that Mrs A needed more time; she described herself as busy. I began to get a picture that Mrs A may not even be able to imagine
having time to herself where she could relax, I explored this with her, and she said that she could not imagine relaxing and “would not want it”.
A goal of therapy is to explore Mrs A’s current level of awareness of her heightened sense of danger and to encourage the process of the awareness cycle. Acknowledging that presently my client does not want, for example, time alone to relax, therapy will progress at the pace dictated by Mrs A as research (1) has outlined the importance of this by stating that,
‘the central task in client-centred therapy is going with the client’s direction, at the client’s pace, and with the client’s unique way of being’
This proposition, coupled with my client’s lack of a basic feeling of safety, must first be facilitated by creating a safe working alliance by employing the three core conditions of person-centred therapy;
- Unconditional positive regard – where my client can explore her current feelings about her experience of being abused without being accused of “digging up the past.”
- Being congruent to Mrs A’s feelings and current experience of the world; and
- Showing empathetic understanding by working to understand the world as she actively perceives it.
As shown in the example above, Person Centred Therapy focuses on the client’s experience of themselves instead of the counsellor telling the client what to do.The core techniques used in Person Centred Therapy are:
- Developing the Alliance: Creating a judgement-free and comfortable space between the therapist and the client.
- Non-Directiveness: The therapist refrains from asking directive questions or giving advice.
- Active Listening: Limiting interpretations and reflecting on the client’s words and point of view.
- Accepting Negative Emotions: Allowing the client to process complex situations and emotions.
- Exploring Outcomes: Helping the client explore possible outcomes of decisions.
- Empathic Understanding: Seeing the client’s viewpoint as if they were the therapist.
- Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR): Accepting and valuing the client.
- Congruence: Being honest and transparent about the client’s world and how the therapist experiences it.
What is the role of the therapist?
The role of the therapist in Person Centred Therapy is to create an environment that is both empathic and non-judgemental. The therapist should strive to understand the client’s experience and provide skills and techniques that the client can utilise. The therapist should also demonstrate genuineness and realness, acceptance and unconditional positive regard, and empathetic understanding to the client. These three conditions help create a psychological environment where a person feels physically and emotionally free from threats.
What are the benefits of person-centred therapy?
Immediate improvement in mood and overall well-being
Person-centred therapy can improve mood and overall well-being through various methods. By practising genuine and congruent behaviour, the therapist creates a safe and supportive space for clients to open up and express their emotions. The unconditional positive regard that the therapist gives establishes a sense of trust and acceptance, allowing the client to feel comfortable with making positive changes in their life. Empathetic understanding can also foster a sense of acceptance and understanding, which can help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, self-awareness and self-concept can be improved by practising self-regulatory and alternative treatments such as physical exercise, diet, sleep hygiene, and deep breathing exercises. By cultivating an improved view of oneself and one’s abilities, healthier relationships with others can be formed. Additionally, improved communication skills and the ability to express opinions and feelings help promote overall well-being. Ultimately, these methods can help one to strive for healthier changes that make one’s life better.
Increased self-awareness and self-understanding
Person-centred therapy encourages clients to become more self-aware and to understand themselves better by focusing on their thoughts and feelings rather than solely relying on the therapist’s judgement. This approach allows the client to explore their inner experience and develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their situation. Through self-reflection and exploration, the client can become aware of the underlying beliefs and assumptions that shape their behaviour and opinions and can begin to make positive changes in their life. Person-centred therapy also encourages clients to trust their ability to make decisions and take ownership of their lives, helping them gain self-confidence and greater autonomy. As they learn to accept themselves and their experiences, clients can move towards healthier relationships, improved communication skills, and a greater ability to express themselves.
Increased ability to regulate emotions
Person-centred therapy is an effective approach for helping with emotional regulation. It is based on the idea that humans have a natural capacity for self-healing. The therapist’s role is to provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment for clients to express and explore their emotions. This approach encourages clients to become aware of their emotions and to accept them rather than suppress or deny them. Emotional regulation is integral to person-centred therapy, as it helps clients to identify and process their feelings healthily and constructively. Through this process, clients learn to be more mindful and aware of their emotions, recognise their triggers, and identify and utilise effective coping strategies. The research supports the effectiveness of this approach, as studies have consistently shown that more profound emotional experience is associated with better outcomes (Hendricks, 2002; Krycka & Ikemi, 2016). This is further reinforced by using emotion schemes, which can help restructure dysfunctional responses and promote better emotion regulation. Additionally, the unconditional positive regard of a therapist can help clients feel safe to open up and make positive changes in their lives, leading to improved emotional regulation.
Improved relationships with others
Person-Centred therapy helps improve relationships with others by focusing on three core conditions: congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy. Through these conditions, clients can develop greater self-awareness, improved self-concept, and trust in their abilities. They can also develop healthier communication skills, allowing them to express their opinions and feelings better and let go of past hurts or mistakes. Clients can also strive for healthy changes that make their lives better. In addition, the sense of acceptance and validation that comes with unconditional positive regard can help clients feel comfortable making positive changes in their lives. Ultimately, these conditions and techniques can help create a healthier, more trusting relationship between clients and their therapist and help clients foster more beneficial relationships with those around them.
Increased sense of autonomy and self-government
Person-centred therapy helps to increase a sense of autonomy and self-government by allowing individuals to gain a better understanding and trust in themselves, build healthier relationships with others, and improve their communication skills. This can lead to enhanced self-awareness, self-concept, and self-expression, allowing individuals to let go of past hurts or mistakes, strive for healthy changes, and embrace their inner capacity for growth and healing. Additionally, person-centred therapy incorporates the Character Cube, which helps to measure the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of self-government. Through this, individuals can better balance their Self-Directedness, Cooperativeness, and Self-Transcendence, and have a stronger sense of autonomy and self-government.
Reduced anxiety and depression
Person-centred therapy focuses on building trust and empathy between the client and the therapist, providing the client with unconditional positive regard and empathy to help them process their feelings and thoughts. This approach effectively reduces anxiety and depression by creating a safe, non-judgmental environment for the client to explore their emotions and gain insight into their beliefs. This can help clients to better understand and manage their emotions, allowing them to become more aware of how their thoughts and feelings are connected to their behaviours. Furthermore, using genuineness, congruence, and empathy in person-centred therapy can help create a solid therapeutic alliance, enabling the client to feel comfortable discussing their issues without fear of judgement or criticism. This can help clients to come to terms with their anxiety and depression, promoting self-acceptance and ultimately leading to a more positive outlook on life.
Improved self-expression and self-direction
Person-centred therapy can help improve self-expression and self-direction by providing a supportive, non-judgmental environment where individuals can express themselves freely and spontaneously. Individuals can explore their emotions, perceptions, actions, and words through creative media such as movement, dance, painting, sculpting, music, and creative writing. This encourages self-awareness and trust in oneself and one’s abilities, leading to healthier communication skills and improved self-concept. Additionally, practising self-acceptance, personal growth, and intentional daydreaming can be beneficial, as it helps individuals let go of past hurt or mistakes and strive for healthy changes that make one’s life better.
Increased ability to cope with stressors
Person-centred therapy is an effective way to increase the ability to cope with stressors. Through this therapeutic approach, individuals can gain greater self-awareness and self-concept, leading to greater trust in their abilities and improved communication skills. With these improved skills, individuals can better express their opinions and feelings and learn to let go of past hurt or mistakes. Individuals can better cope with stressors such as parenting difficulties, relationship conflict or loss, and work-life frustration by striving for healthy changes. Through this approach, individuals can also benefit from physical exercise, diet, sleep hygiene, deep breathing exercises, muscular relaxation, mood self-regulation, guided imagery, meditation, and acts of kindness and gratitude, which can help to reduce their stress and increase their overall well-being. Thus, person-centred therapy is a valuable tool in improving the ability to cope with stressors.
How is Person Centred Therapy different from other types of psychotherapy?
Person-centred therapy is different from other forms of psychotherapy in several important ways. Unlike earlier treatment models, such as psychoanalytic and behavioural approaches, person-centred therapy focuses on the client’s understanding and experience rather than on the therapist’s analysis and interpretation. The therapist does not impose judgments, suggestions, or solutions on the client, instead providing an empathetic and supportive environment where the client can find answers to their problems.
The emphasis on self-concept and self-actualisation is unique to person-centred therapy. This approach encourages clients to recognise and build upon their innate capacity for personal growth, exploring their beliefs and perceptions of themselves and the world around them.
Person-centred therapy also differs from other psychological approaches in its use of non-directive techniques, allowing clients to make decisions and move forward at their own pace. This can benefit many types of mental distress, allowing clients to explore their thoughts and feelings without feeling rushed or imposed upon.
- Bozarth, (1990), in Woolfe & Dryden, (1996) ), Handbook of Counselling Psychology, London, Sage Publications Ltd.