The History of person Centred Counselling

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Person Centred Counselling was developed by Carl R. Rogers (1902-1987), a leading American psychologist who was along with Abraham Maslow a major theorist of Humanistic Therapy which developed in the 1950. It is sometimes called the third force distinct from psychoanalyzes and behaviourism. It proposed that therapy could be simpler, warmer and more optimistic and that the client himself has the solution to his difficulties and can access this deeper knowing through the counselling process. The word counselling is a little misleading in the classical sense of the term for this form of counselling discourages the practitioner from giving advice or counsel but rather requires that the counsellor enters into the phenomenological world of the client and with practice and skill aids the client in becoming more fluid, in the sense of becoming more in touch with their deeper feelings and more able to take responsibility for their own life and decisions.

The approach recognizes that human nature is on a continuous quest to actualize its full and unique potential if the required conditions are available, much like a growing plant.

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“The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism” (Rogers, 1951, p. 487) Carl R. Rogers was influenced by a wide variety of mentors, such as William H. Kilpatrick, and John Dewey who were considered progressive educators and reformers encouraging a less authoritarian approach to education. As well as Otto Rank, a leading psychologist who expanded on psychoanalytic theories and the value of emotions.

He also delved into the organismic theory of Kurt Goldstein and the philosophical psychology of William James among others.

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Rogers started out working with troubled children, yet the psychoanalytic, interpretive approach left him discontented and he sought a more relational approach. His first major work was: “The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child” (Rogers, 1939) He worked to develop his approach and continued to be influenced by a wide variety of sources including the results of his own research and work with clients. Rogers first used the term non-directive therapy in 1941 during a talk he gave at the University of Minnesota and presented his vision in 1951 through his book “Client Centred Therapy” which is a systematic presentation of theory and application.

This was the first phase of his vision. The following ten years sometimes described as the client-centred phase, were spent focusing on the counsellor attitudes and reflection of clients feelings and this was incorporated into the approach. The third phase from the 1960s to the present day has been called the person-centred phase and continues to focus on the counsellor being responsively engaged with the client. It has been suggested that we are now entering a fourth stage of development with an increased focus on exploring the commonalities of differing approaches and it has been suggested that these approaches could be included under a general person-centred umbrella to be clarified and explored further.(Tony Merry 2002) Another area in the development of PCC is the recognition of the effects of community and family on the individual and person centred family therapy has also become available in the last few years.

The continuous developments are presented in large amounts of literature which is being published yearly .The basic concepts are the same and yet allow a great scope of creativity as every counsellor has a unique style and outlook which is often refined and developed through the process of counselling. The creation of the self-concept in Person-Centred theory goes through several stages. It holds the view that we are born in a natural state of congruence with an urge to grow and experience the world around us. As we grow and become aware of ourselves as being distinct from others, we start to look for approval and acceptance outside of ourselves. Our locus of evaluation shifts from being internal to becoming external. Children need positive regard from important others in their life in order to develop positive self regard.

Our conceptual construction of ourselves and the world around us is made up of the experiences we have with important others, as well as the beliefs handed down through family and community. Often they impose on us conditions of worth, as for example parents who only acknowledge a child if he/she brings good grades from school. The child learns to connect its worth to successful test scores since this is what will gain the approval of parents. The more we have to strive to gain the approval of others the stronger these conditions of worth that have been imposed on us become and the more we become distrustful of our own organismic experiencing. Yet it is believed that this is counterproductive for the individual as Rogers believed that the organism will naturally move in the direction of growth and self actualization.

He maintained that the greater the unconditional positive regard of parents and fewer conditions of worth a child grows up with the greater the psychological adjustment. “The human organism, it is argued , can essentially be relied upon to provide the individual with trustworthy messages, and this is discernible in the physiological processes of the entire body and through the process of growth by which the individual’s potentialities and capacities are brought to realisation” ( Mearns and Thorne 1999) A lack of the above mentioned causes distrust of one’s organismic experiences and sets the stage for disturbance. Many individuals who come for counselling have a poor self concept, numerous internalized conditions of worth and feel estranged from themselves.

The continuation of which will create further disturbances. The three main conditions which PCC focuses on are more so attitudes or qualities which the counsellor needs to embody. They are Empathy, Unconditional Positive Regard and Congruence. There is extensive literature on these attitudes as they form the core values of the whole approach. (Mearns and Thorne1999) Empathy comes through entering into the world of the client and has been described as having an aroused, active, reaching out nature ( Barret-Lennard 1993) Rogers stated: “It involves being sensitive ,moment by moment ,to the changing felt meanings which flow in this other person ,to the fear or rage or tenderness or confusion or whatever he or she is experiencing.”(Rogers, 1980 p. 142)

Unconditional Positive Regard is an attitude of acceptance, free of judgement aimed at the humaneness present in a person. It seeks to offer a non-possessive caring for the individual and is part of a person’s system of values which makes it possible for clients to express themselves without the fear of being judged. Congruence has also been described as being whole, genuine and real, meaning that the Counsellor is fully invested in the counselling relationship, aware of his own feelings toward the client or material being presented and able to express these in a sensitive manner if necessary. “Congruence is the state of being of the Counsellor when her outward responses to her client consistently match the inner feelings and sensations which she has in relation to the client” (Mearns and Thorne 1999)

According to Rogers for Psychological change to occur there are six core conditions which are needed. These include the above mentioned as well as three additional conditions. These are as follows: 1 – Psychological contact between client and therapist. 2 –The client is in a state of incongruence.

3 – The counsellor is in a state of congruence and is genuine with the client. 4- The therapist has unconditional positive regard (UPS) for his/her client. 5-The therapist experiences empathic understanding of the client’s phenomenological world and communicates this to the client. 6-The communication of UPR and empathic understanding of the counsellor for the client is to some degree achieved. (Merry 2002) PCC is built on the relationship between client and counsellor. The counselling relationship is above all about offering a safe environment where the process of self revelation and an access to a deeper felt sense for the client can occur.

A person becomes more fully aware of his experiences and is able to symbolise them more accurately, his/her self-structure becomes more fluid. He becomes his own locus of evaluation and conditions of worth are replaced with unconditional self-regard which makes living with others in harmony more likely because of the rewarding nature of reciprocal positive regard. Of course this is the ideal and there are many stages to the process of becoming a fully functioning person. Rogers describes seven stages that he observed. Stage 1 -People in this stage are remote, cut off from their emotions and other people. Tend to see things in terms of opposites and governed by rigid rules with a pessimistic view of human nature.

Stage 2 –The person has more of an acceptance that things are not right but tend to blame others or the world around them. Stage 3-A person is more willing to express feelings but usually about past events, contradictions start to show. “I try to do the right thing but it always turns out wrong” Clients usually enter counselling at this stage. Stage 4- The client becomes aware of deeper feelings and starts to accept some responsibility, recognition of patterns starts to emerge. A more direct relationship with the counsellor comes about. Stage 5-A person becomes more confident in expressing what they feel in the moment. They recognize both negative and positive feelings towards others. Stage 6- Feelings which have been suppressed emerge and are experienced fully, often dramatically.

They are expressed fully and many people feel more loving and kind towards themselves, more able to cope. Attitudes and perceptions change and confidence is increased. Stage 7- There are strong feelings of living in the present moment, clients are more able to trust their feelings and more open to experience. They have a strong internal locus of evaluation and the need for counselling is usually over. (Tony Merry 2002) This is an ideal and condensed overview and many people leave counselling before having completed all the stages. Also there is usually a moving forward and backward between the stages during the counselling process. Because PCC does not rely on the use of particular strategies for client’s issues, there is no plan to follow, no prescription with guaranteed results. One cannot predict an outcome of therapy. It is not a guaranty for feeling better or being cured as it were. It has also been suggested that PCC requires a great intensity of training.

(Mearns 1997) Yet the beauty of the process lies in its simplicity and immediacy as well as the creative scope it opens to both client and counsellor. It offers a unique opportunity for mutual exploration free from the many constraints of everyday relationships, a possibility to recreate one’s reality and discover new ways of relating in the world. By taking a non authoritarian approach it opens the door for a person to enter into themselves and discover resources that they may not have known existed as well a chance to come to a deeper understanding of themselves and others and a gentler outlook and more forgiving attitude. It seeks to emancipate a person and give them a way to go beyond conditioning to live a more congruent life.

PCC is paradoxical in practice since the therapist does not direct the client and yet seeks to guide the client to assert him/herself as being autonomous and distinct from external authority. It can be argued that it represents a particular western ideal since in other cultures individuality is not as highly considered or encouraged. It may not be helpful to everyone and a person must decide to enter into the counselling relationship as it is not a relationship that can be forced, as for example a person being forced to see a doctor because of physical pain. Some individuals have a strong distrust of counselling and there is a cultural bias against it as well in many instances. Through talks with friends and acquaintances I was made aware of this again and again. Also it has been argued that UPR is very difficult to achieve consistently and a counsellor is sometimes influenced by their own biases and judgments.

This happens very subtly but can arouse strong reactions in clients as I discovered personally. The NICE guideline for anxiety came to the conclusion that there is a lack of evidence about the effectiveness of counselling for individuals with generalized anxiety disorder or panic. (Counselling and Psychotherapy research 2008) At worst it may bring up things that a person is not ready to face or is unable to handle, leaving them more vulnerable to distress. A friend commented that certain issues she has decided to lay to rest in her life as bringing them up will cause her undue pain. Also it can be seen as being self indulgent as many people are not able to afford the time or expenses that counselling requires.

Yet it has shown to be of benefit to individuals suffering from mild to moderate mental health problems and can even be effective with severe mental health problems. (Counselling and Psychotherapy research 2008) Its beauty being that it offers a new way of seeing oneself and resolving issues one is faced with in a more constructive and positive manner.

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1- Rogers, C .R. (1951) “Client Centred Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory”. Boston. Houghton Mifflin 2- Tony Merry (2002) “Learning and Being in Person Centred Counselling” PCCS Books. Ross- on- Wye UK

3- Barret –Lennard , G.T.(1993)The phases and focus of Empathy. British Journal of Medical Psychology,66 pp.3-14 4- Dave Mearns and Brian Thorne (1999) “Person Centred Counselling in Action” second edition Sage Publications London. Thousand Oaks. New Delhi 5- Isabel Gibbard and Terry Hanley(2008) Counselling and Psychotherapy research

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The History of person Centred Counselling. (2016, May 01). Retrieved from

The History of person Centred Counselling

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