Person-centred therapy (also referred to as Rogerian Psychology) is the psychological method founded by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers. It is centred on the idea that the individual has enormous potential for understanding themselves and therefore is best placed in the resolving of their own issues without any direct interjections from the therapist. Hence the therapy revolves around the individual as the promoter and architect of their own self change (Corey, 2009). So it would be pertinent to say that one`s self concept is of great emphasis in this therapy and thus is defined as the personal perceptions one believes about themselves (Rogers, 2003). The therapy furthermore states that all of us have the capacity for growth towards fulfilment of our life`s wishes and aspirations. That being said, it is of utmost importance that the therapist provides a comfortable threat free environment for the individual, as to lower their guard, to make it easier for them to truly accept who they are as effective personal growth occurs through minimised defensiveness (Mearns & Thorne, 2007). If the aforementioned life aspirations, potentials and fulfilments are indeed reached this is referred to as self actualisation and it is the conviction of this therapy that this tendency is the one essential motive driving all of us. If this tendency is promoted and helped along, the person will flourish and develop and start living what they term “the good life”.
By “the good life” the therapy is referring to the idea that the individual will have reached an apex of a positive mental outlook, have reached a level of congruence and would begin to trust their feelings. Conversely if that tendency is constrained or blocked, the person will deteriorate and/or have greater difficulties (Rogers, 1951). The importance of this can never be underestimated and is of particular importance as Rogers confirms: “The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism” (Rogers, 1951, p. 487). The organism Rogers (and indeed the entire therapy in general) in that quote makes reference to is the individual person as a whole inclusive of one`s emotions, thoughts and welfare (Rogers, 2003). Person-centred therapy has similarities to Adlerian psychology in the way of Adler`s social interest concepts which reflects in Rogers core conditions of therapeutic change. The basis of this is in the emphasis Adlerian psychology invests in caring and empathy being at the centre of therapy regarding social interest (Watts, 1998), but whereas Adlerian psychology tries to get to the crux of the issue through applied techniques, the Person-centred therapist is non-directive and allows the client to lead the conversation.
The therapist will ask questions and forward scenarios relevant to what the client is discussing, without answering any directed questions, in an attempt to empower the client to indeed realise the issue at hand and the solution to it for themselves (Rogers, 2003). Initially there were 6 conditions that were fundamental to Person-centred therapy that are necessary in order to achieve therapeutic change and stimulate growth in a client. The first of these is that two people must engage in psychological contact in order for therapy to commence. The second condition refers to the fact that the client is assumed to be in a state of incongruence (the discrepancy between the matching of your experiences and awareness which results in there being an imbalance between the alignment of your feelings and actions). The next condition is that the therapist himself must be fully self-aware and congruent with the client at all times. The fourth condition is that the therapist portrays unconditional positive regard (UPR) towards the client. At number five is that the therapist must, above all else, display empathic understanding towards what the client reveals without getting emotionally involved.
The final condition is that the expression to the client of the therapist’s empathy and positive regard must be achieved to a minimal degree (Rogers, 1957). Over the years, however, the aforementioned 6 conditions have developed, revised and hence reduced to 3 core conditions as over time the others were viewed as nonessential. The 3 conditions that remained and are practiced today are firstly “congruence”; defined in Person-centred therapy as the therapist having to be as genuine as he possible can towards the client, which is essential as it aids in the establishment of trust between the client and the therapist and thus is considered by many to be the most important part of counselling. The second core condition is “empathy”, which is characterised as a meaningful and subjective understanding of the client and seeing the issue at hand from the client’s perspective (i.e. – what the client is feeling). The therapist needs to appear incredibly authentic and sensitive during sessions, but must always be careful not to confuse empathy with sympathy. Furthermore the therapist must pay attention to the client’s experiences as if they were their own, but not at the expense of becoming lost in those emotions. This is referred to as accurate emphatic understanding.
The third core condition is “unconditional positive regard and acceptance” (UPR). This encapsulates the concept that regardless what the client reveals during therapy, be it good or bad, it will be accepted unconditionally by the therapist with no judgement passed whilst showing meaningful and genuine understanding for the client. This leads to the client being more at ease and more willing to share experiences without fear of being judged (Corey, 2009). Person-centred therapy believes that these conditions, as well as the aforementioned self actualization, are all necessary in the achievement of becoming a “fully functioning person”. A “fully functional person” is the state of being reached when a person is fully congruent and comfortable with living life in the present (i.e. – not held back by past bad experiences and lives considerably more freely) and when the client has reached this state, it is then that the therapist will begin the “ending” discussion. The “ending” discussion refers to the therapist initiating the idea of terminating the sessions as sooner or later; the client needs to go it on their own (Mearns & Thorne, 2007).
“It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried” (Rogers, 1961, p. 11).