Person-Centered Theory Description

January 2, 2010 by

What is Person Centered Theory?

  • Person-centered theory was greatly influenced by Carl Rogers beginning in the 1940’s until the late 1990’s. It is has also been known as nondirective counseling, student-centered teaching, or client-centered therapy (Corey, 2009). According to Rogers, the individual has within him or herself the resources necessary for understanding the self, and changing or altering basic attitudes and behaviors which can all be accessed when a “definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided” in a client/therapist, parent/child, leader/group relationships, etc. (which must include genuineness, acceptance, empathy) (Rogers, 1979).

Rogers’ basic assumptions illustrate that individuals are innately good and trustworthy with a potential for changing their own lives as opposed to being directed or led by a therapist (Corey, 2009). The theory is based on what Rogers called the “actualizing tendency”, that he believed is inherent in all people, which is the drive and motivation towards realization, success and fulfillment (Boeree, 1998).

Rogers believed that life is an active process, not a passive one and individuals have the capacity to maintain, enhance and reproduce themselves, regardless of their environment (Rogers, 1979). He also firmly believed that the relationship between the client and therapist was very important in expediting a positive outcome for the client. Rogers states that as the person perceives themselves as accepted and valued by the therapist, they will develop a more positive and caring attitude towards themselves, therefore enhancing personal growth and fulfillment (Rogers, 1979).

One of the examples that Rogers used to describe his therapy as supportive, not reconstructive, or directive, is the analogy of learning to ride a bicycle: “When you help a child to learn to ride a bike, you can’t just tell them how. They have to try it for themselves. And you can’t hold them up the whole time either. There comes a point when you have to let them go. If they fall, they fall, but if you hang on, they never learn.” (Boeree, 1998). This is a good example of the belief in person-centered theory that the client is in charge and responsible for changing, and the role of the therapist is to be there along the way as the client finds his or her own way in life (Boreree, 1998).

Key Points in person centered theory: (Kirschenbaum & Henderson 1989)

Rogers identified six conditions which are necessary within the therapeutic relationship in order to bring about changes in clients:

  • Therapist-Client Relationship: a relationship between client and therapist must exist, and it must be a relationship where each person’s perception of the other is important and valued.
  • Client incongruence or vulnerability: incongruence exists between the client’s experience and awareness (the real versus the ideal). The client is vulnerable to anxiety which motivates them to stay in the relationship and work on themselves.
  • Therapist Congruence or Genuineness: the therapist is congruent within the therapeutic relationship and they can draw on their own experiences (self-disclosure) to enhance the relationship.
  • Therapist Unconditional Positive Regard: the therapist accepts the client unconditionally exactly as they are.
  • Therapist Empathic understanding: the therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s own frame of reference. Accurate empathy on the part of the therapist helps the client to believe the therapist’s unconditional love for them.
  • Client Perception: the client perceives the therapist’s unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding.

Rogers’ three important requirements of the therapist: (Goldfried, 2007)

  • Congruence – genuineness and honesty with the client
  • Empathy – the capacity to feel the client’s emotions
  • Respect – acceptance of the client, their situation, and feelings


Rogers’Psychological Defenses: (Boeree, 1998)

  • Incongruence is when you are in a situation where there is a discrepancy between the image of yourself and reality (ideal self versus the real self).
  • Anxiety is experienced when you are expecting or perceiving a threatening situation.
  • Denial is blocking out the threatening situation altogether.
  • Perceptual distortion is a matter of reinterpreting the situation so that it appears less threatening.


Psychosis occurs when a person’s defenses are overloaded, and their sense of self becomes threatened or destroyed. The person may be seen as having a psychotic break or having episodes of unusual behavior.

Conditional positive regard: (Kirschenbaum & Jourdan 2005)

Receiving positive regard on condition is what Rogers calls conditional positive regard.  Rogers states that we begin to like ourselves only if we meet the standards others have applied to us, rather than  truly realizing our own potential (Boeree, 1998). The following is a diagram depicting conditional positive regard versus unconditional positive regard:

 Incongruity can lead to neurosis, which is being “out of synch” with your own self (Boeree, 1998).

The fully-functioning person: (Kirschenbaum & Jourdan, 2005)

Rogers’ idea of a “fully-functioning person” contains:

  • Openness to experience: This is the opposite of defensiveness. It is the realistic perception of one’s experiences in the world, including one’s feelings.
  • Existential living: This is living in the here-and-now. Rogers, believes that we should not live in the past or the future, but in the present.
  • Organismic trusting: Allowing ourselves to be guided by the organismic valuing process which is trusting ourselves, do what feels right, what comes naturally.
  • Experiential freedom: Acknowledging the feeling of freedom of choices and taking them when they are available and accepting responsibility for our choices.
  • Creativity: A fully-functioning person, who is in touch with their self actualization, will feel obligated to play a part in the actualization of others, through creativity in art, science, social concern etc.


Person centered theory is known for the term reflection, which is the mirroring of emotional communication and should be used very carefully and must always be accurate and genuine (Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1989).



Goldfried, Marvin R., What has psychotherapy inherited from Carl Rogers? (2007). Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice and Training, Vol 44 (3), 249-252.

Kirschenbaum, Howard & Jourdan, April, (2005). The Current Status of Carl Rogers and the Person-Centered Approach. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice and Training, Vol 42, 37-51

Boeree, George, C., (1998). Carl Rogers 1902-1987

Rogers, Carl R., (1980). Way of Being . 115-117

Kirschenbaum, Howard, & Henderson (1989). The Carl Rogers Reader

Rogers, Carl R., (1979). The Foundations of the Person-Centered Approach

Corey, Gerald, (2009). Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy, 164-197


Brief Biography of Carl Rogers (1902-1987):

January 2, 2010 by

  • Grew up in Oak Park, Illinois, on a farm with very strict, religious parents
  • Third son in a family of five brothers and one sister
  • Feelings and emotions were not encouraged in the family
  • Was a very sensitive child and deeply religious
  • Studied agriculture at the University of Wisconsin
  • Attended the Liberal Union Theological Seminary in NYC
  • Obtained his Doctorate in clinical psychology from Columbia University
  • Director of the Child Study department of the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, then Director of the Guidance Center in Rochester
  • First to record, transcribe and publish complete cases of Psychotherapy for research
  • First Psychologist to receive the Distinguished Scientific Contribution award (1957) and Distinguished Professional award (1973)
  • Was a leading spokesperson for the “humanistic and existential psychology movement” in the 1960’s and 1970’s, which recognized and respected the client’s subjective experiences
  • His theory became known as the person-centered theory in the 1980’s
  • Challenged the basic assumption that the “counselor knows best” when he placed the emphasis upon the “client” in psychotherapy
  • One of the most influential individuals in changing the concepts of psychotherapy
  • Rogers’ view of human nature was phenomenological

(Rogers, 1980), (Kirschenbaum & Jourdan, 2005), (Corey, 2009)

Person-Centered Counseling Session

January 2, 2010 by

Person-Centered Counseling (How the theory is used in counseling)

January 2, 2010 by

Application: Therapeutic Techniques and Procedures

In counseling, there was an early emphasis on reflection of feelings.  Carl Rogers stressed the importance of grasping the world of the client and reflecting this understanding.  Rogers’s basic assumptions are that people are essentially trustworthy and they have a great potential for understanding themselves and resolving their own problems without direct intervention of the therapist.

In a counseling setting, it is more important that the client-therapist relationship be the prime determinant of the outcome of the therapeutic process.  According to Rogers, there are three therapist attributes that create this client-therapist relationship.  One is congruence (genuineness, or realness), second is unconditional positive regard (acceptance and caring), and lastly accurate empathic understanding (an ability to deeply grasp the subjective world of another person). 

In counseling, these therapist attributes should be utilized so that clients will become less defensive and more open to themselves and their world. The person-centered approach rejects the role of the therapist as the authority who knows best and of the passive client who merely follows the dictates of the therapist.  This approaches also stresses the importance for therapists to modify their therapeutic style to accommodate the specific needs of each client. 

In rehabilitation counseling, many aspects of the person-centered therapy can be used.  By using nonjudgmental listening and acceptance, counselors can better help their clients.  According to Rogers, human beings have a basic drive to have fulfillment and people will move toward health if the way seems open for them to do so.  Therefore, therapy is rooted in the client’s capacity for awareness and self-directed change in attitudes and behavior. 


Quick Reference Guide for Person-Centered Counseling (From Corey text- Chap 7)

Carl Rogers (1902-1987)  developed the person-centered approach based on concepts from humanistic psychology.  The core theme in his theory is the necessity for nonjudgmental listening and acceptance if clients are to change (Heppner, Rogers, & Lee, 1984). 

Four Periods of Development of the Approach

  1. Nondirective counseling – developed by Carl Rogers in 1940’s, which provided a powerful and revolutionary alternative to the directive and interpretive approaches to therapy being practiced.
  2. Client-centered therapy – developed by Carl Rogers in 1950’s, reflects its emphasis on the client rather than on nondirective methods.
  3. Period from late 1950’s to 1970’s where Carl Rogers addressed the necessary and sufficient conditions of therapy.
  4. Person-centered therapy – developed by Carl Rogers during 1980’s and 1990’s, where his approach was broadened to education, industry, groups, conflict resolution and the search for world peace. 

Existentialism vs. Humanism – both share a respect for the client’s subjective experience, the uniqueness and individuality of each client, and a trust in the capacity of the client to make positive and constructive conscious choices. However, Existentialism takes the position that we are faced with the anxiety of choosing to create an identity in a world that lacks intrinsic meaning. Humanists take the position that each of us has a natural potential that we can actualize and through which we can find meaning.

View of Human Nature – Rogers firmly maintained that people are trustworthy, resourceful, capable of self-understanding and self-direction, able to make constructive changes, and able to live effective and productive lives.

The Therapeutic Process – Goals are to aim toward the client achieving a greater degree of independence and integration. Role of person-centered therapist is rooted in their ways of being and attitudes, not in techniques designed to get the client to “do something.”

Application: Therapeutic Techniques and Procedures – There is an early emphasis on reflection of feelings. The person-centered approach has been applied to working with individuals, groups and families.  This approach is also, applicable in crisis intervention and group counseling.

Person-Centered Expressive Arts Therapy – developed by Natalie Rogers (1993), theory of creativity using the expressive arts to enhance personal growth for individuals and groups.

Person-Centered Therapy from a Multicultural Perspective – Strengths is the impact on the field of human relations with diverse cultural groups. Carl Rogers’ work has reached more than 30 countries, and his writings have been translated into 12 languages. Shortcomings are that many clients who come to community mental health clinics or who are involved in outpatient treatment want more structure than this approach provides.


Resources and References


Association for the Development of the Person-Centered Approach, Inc. (ADPCA)

P.O. Box 3876

Chicago, IL 60690-3876



Journal Editor:

Association for Humanistic Psychology

1516 Oak Street #320A

Alameda, CA  94501-2947

Telephone: (510) 769-6495    Fax: (510) 769-6433



Journal Website:

Carl Rogers: A Daughter’s Tribute


Center for Studies of the Person

1150 Silverado, Suite #112

La Jolla, CA  92037

Telephone: (858) 459-3861



Saybrook Graduate School



Recommended Supplementary Readings

On Becoming a Person (Rogers, 1961)

A Way of Being (Rogers, 1980)

The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts as Healing (N.Rogers, 1993)

Humanistic Psychotherapies: Handbook of Research and Practice (Cain & Seeman, 2002)

The Carl Rogers Reader (Kirschenbaum & Henderson, 1989)

On Becoming Carl Rogers (Kirschenbaum, 1979)

Freedom to Learn (Rogers & Freiberg, 1994)