The Person-Centred Approach developed from the work of the psychologist Dr. Carl Rogers. In 1940s to 1960s, Carl Rogers approach to therapy was considered revolutionary. His specialist knowledge didn’t come from a theory but rather from his clinical therapy. Consequently, theory came out of practice. Person-Centred Therapy was originally seen as non-directive. The reasoning for that was because Rogers didn’t believe that therapist was the expert. The crucial part of his theory was based on the natural tendency of human beings to find fulfillment. (Rogers 1961). Carl Rogers had the basic trust in human beings and believed that people are naturally moving toward constructive fulfillment. (Carl R. Rogers 1980, p.117). Rogers believed that ‘Individuals have within themselves vast resources for self-understanding and for altering their self-concepts, basic attitudes, and self-directed behavior; these resources can be tapped if a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.’ ( Carl R. Rogers 1980, p.115-117).
The important part of person-centred approach was creating particular psychological environment in order for a client to be open to the experience. The key for Rogers was to be present with another. ‘Being was more important than doing .(Rogers 1961) The importance of psychological environment explained by Rogers is because clients’ need to feel free from threat, both physically and psychologically, to move away from defensiveness and open to the experience of therapy. (Rogers 1961). This environment could be achieved when client is in a therapy with a person who was sincerely empathic, accepting and non-judgmental – offering unconditional positive regard, and genuine -congruent. Therefore, when these three core conditions are provided: congruence, unconditional positive regard and empathy, Rogers believed that client would naturally move in a constructive and positive direction.
Congruence (genuineness) suggests that there should be correspondence between a therapist’s inner experiencing and their outward responses to the client. (Australian Journal of Rehabilitation Counselling p 30.) The therapist’s goal is to express genuinely felt responses to the client’s experiences in the instantaneous moment; and for the client to perceive the therapist responses as genuine, transparent and honest. (Person-Centred Rehabilitation Counselling, p 30)
Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional positive regard refers to seeing a client in a non-judgmental way that is free of the conditions that client might have been experiencing within family, friends and society. Unconditional positive regard is offered as a model of non-judgmental self-acceptance for clients together with an ‘understanding-seeking approach’ to working with clients from ‘different’ and ‘diverse’ backgrounds (Lago, 2007, pp. 262–263).
Most therapists acknowledge therapeutic value of empathy. However, from Rogers’ (1961) perspective, empathy is an attitude rather than a set of reflective techniques. It offers acceptance and safety to explore painful and difficult issues. Furthermore, empathy is regarded as a more active process in which a person tries to understand others by reaching out to or feeling with them in multiple dimensions. (Coulehan, J. 2002. p. 73-98).
Empathy conveys the therapist unconditional positive regard and conveys to clients that they are deeply heard. (Bozarth, J.,2007. 182–193). Carl Rogers believed that person couldn’t teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning. (Rogers (1951). Therefore, in the person-centred therapy the role of therapist is to be present and reflective. Rogers was really passionate to inspire people to live life fully. This process of the good life is not, as Rogers believed a life for the faint-hearted. It involves the widening and growing of one’s potentialities and fulfillment. It involves the courage to be and to opening oneself fully into the flow of life. (Rogers, Carl. (1961). Furthermore, in Person-Centred Therapy clients have a freedom of choice and evident creativity. They are not constrained by the restrictions that influence an incongruent individual, so they have a variety of choices they can make more confidently. Client can see that they play a role in determining their own behavior and feel responsible for their own behavior and their life. (Rogers 1961). However, it can be challenging to put these into practice because person-centred therapy does not use techniques but relies on the personal qualities of the therapist to construct a non-judgmental and empathic relationship with their client.
In my belief, there is a vast opportunity to blend the person-centred approach and principles such as empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence in all aspects of our lives. These principles could be transferred to all kinds of relationships. For example in education, teaching and coaching, management, organizations, patient care, conflict resolution, every day work and relationships. I will certainly apply and be more mindful and aware of significance of person-centred therapy in my practice. It allows clients to feel acceptance and safety to explore painful and difficult issues throughout therapy.
1. Bozarth, J. (2007). Unconditional positive regard. In M. Cooper, M. O’Hara, P.F. Schmid, & G. Wyatt (Eds.), The handbook of person-centered psychotherapy and counselling. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. 2. Coulehan, J. (2002). Being a physician. In M.B. Mengel, W.L. Holleman & S.A. Fields (Eds.), Fundamentals of clinical practice 2nd éd. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/ Plenum Publishers. 3. Lago. C, (2007). How to Manage a Counselling Service in S.Palmer & R. Bor (Eds.) The Practitioner Handbook. London, Sage. 4. Person-Centred Rehabilitation Counselling. Article in Australian Journal of Rehabilitation Counselling 5. Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable 6. Rogers, Carl. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable 7. Rogers, Carl. (1980). Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
Carl Rogers' Hidden Conditions
The three core conditions – empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard (UPR) – are sometimes referred to as the ‘facilitative conditions’ or the ‘client’s conditions’. In other words, they are the conditions that the client needs for the therapy to work: they need to be transmitted from the therapist to the client. This enables the client to look at self, and to be able to make appropriate changes.
The remaining three conditions are sometimes known as the ‘hidden conditions’ or the ‘therapist’s conditions’:
- ‘Psychological contact’ refers to the therapist and client being on the same page psychologically. So if a client is going through a very difficult psychotic episode or is under the influence of medication, street drugs or alcohol, this might make it very difficult for the therapist to get into their frame of reference – in other words, to be ‘on the same page’ psychologically.
- As well as the therapist transmitting UPR and empathy, the client also needs to understand and accept that the therapist is there as a genuine person trying to help them. They must accept and feel at some level the UPR and empathy.
- Finally, there needs to be client incongruence (i.e. the client has an issue to bring to therapy). In other words, the client needs to be in some kind of psychological distress.
An Ethical Dimension
In his book Learning and Being (PCCS Books, 2002), Tony Merry makes the point that there’s an ethical dimension to these core conditions – because they allow the therapist to form a view on whether therapy can take place. If psychological contact isn’t present, then clearly therapy cannot take place. If, for some reason, the client just doesn’t trust the counsellor and won’t accept the chance to be helped, then it’s clearly going to be difficult to form a therapeutic relationship. And, finally, if someone turns up and says, ‘Well, really I’ve got nothing to discuss. I’ve not got any problems,’ then again it’s very difficult to form a therapeutic alliance.
Putting It All Together
If the six conditions are present, then – by default, according to Rogers’ theory – therapy will take place. Over the years, many people have criticised person-centred therapy, asking, ‘’How is it possible for a therapist to offer those conditions consistently in the therapy room?’ And to be fair, it can be difficult. We’re all human beings, and sometimes our ‘volume control’ on the core conditions can turn up and down. But if it is our genuine intention to offer them, then almost certainly our clients will benefit.
It’s not unusual for people who train in person-centred therapy to take those conditions of empathy, congruence and UPR into their own daily lives, using them in their interactions with people other than clients. So while we aim to set our volume control to full-on in the therapy room, we might turn it down a little in everyday life, because not everybody wants therapy – as well as there being many reasons why it’s not a good idea to counsel friends or relatives.