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