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Person-centered therapy, also known as client-centered therapy or Rogerian therapy, is a form of psychotherapy developed by prominent American psychologist Carl Rogers throughout the 1940s to the 1980s. This type of therapy is a humanistic approach and was seen as revolutionary as most psychotherapies before its emergence was based on behaviorist and psychodynamic approaches. The humanistic approach directly contradicts and contrasts core techniques and models of other approaches that were commonly used at the time.
Nowadays, the fundamental modalities of person-centered therapy are widely used in modern counseling practices in combination with other techniques and therapies. Rogers is often considered the father of all humanistic schools of therapy, as many new therapies have since stemmed from his work.
Students can use this article as a resource to help them with an academic essay about person-centered therapy.
What Is Person-Centered Therapy?
Person-centered therapy focuses on facilitating self-actualization. The therapy is built upon the fundamental ideology that human beings have an innate desire and ability to be the best they can be and live happy, fulfilling lives. An individual must set their own goals, and proceed to approach them in their own way. Once these goals have been met, self-actualization is also achieved and, as a result, they will become a fully functioning person.
It also promotes the notion that all individuals have the ability to cope with their problems and possess the potential for change. These abilities are unique to each individual, and therefore, everyone has the power to formulate appropriate solutions to help themselves navigate and manage their lives.
Positive growth can be achieved when an individual has positive regard for themselves and from others. Once optimal levels are reached, the individual will become fully functioning. Under this self-concept, it is believed that every individual has:
- the capacity for self-awareness
- the need for meaning in their life
- the need for balancing freedom and responsibility
The key part of the person-centered approach is to assist individuals in self-discovery and self-acceptance by providing sufficient conditions that help resolve incongruence between themselves and their experiences.
5 Characteristics of the Fully Functioning Person
According to Rogers, a fully functioning person has the following five characteristics:
- They are open to new experiences, both positive and negative. They accept that life can sometimes be painful, but they have healthy abilities to cope and learn from them.
- They are mindful and focus on present experiences without preconceptions from previous experiences. They do not dwell on the past or obsess about the future.
- They are aware of and attentive to facts, feelings, and gut reactions. Unity of all three allows them to be true to themselves and thus have the confidence to make the right decisions. If the wrong choice is made, they will be able to accept it and learn from it.
- They are willing to take risks and be adaptive. They will seize healthy and appropriate opportunities for growth.
- They have a sense of contentment and a desire for new challenges and experiences.
Each of these characteristics is achieved through congruence of the self.
Causes of Incongruence
An individual tends to struggle with becoming a fully functional person, mostly due to incongruence. Incongruence is usually caused by encountering conditional worth or conditional love at some point, often during childhood.
If love and worth are dependent on meeting specific expectations and withdrawn when these expectations were not met, the individual will suffer from anxiety. This anxiety leads to a feeling of the unified self-being under attack. To relieve this anxiety, the individual will engage in detrimental methods such as denial and defensiveness.
Another cause is frustrated basic impulses that lead to negative feelings and poor social skills.
Person-Centered Therapy in Practice
Individuals receiving person-centered therapy are referred to as clients rather than patients. This is in line with the overall concept that therapy is a shared journey between two people rather than the therapist or counselor treating or giving the advice to solve problems. The client is regarded as the expert of themselves and has all the answers to their own problems required within them.
Sufficient core conditions required for therapeutic change under person-centered therapy are outlined as follows:
- Psychological contact - a mutually respectful relationship between the counselor and patient must exist, where both parties feel equally important.
- Client incongruence – the client must experience distress caused by incongruence between their experiences and awareness. They are vulnerable and or anxious.
- Therapist congruence or genuineness – sometimes referred to as being authentic. The therapist must be aware of their active participation and be deeply involved, becoming congruent with the therapeutic relationship.
- Therapist unconditional positive regard – the therapist or counselor must have a non-judgmental stance, so the counselor does not impose any conditions of worth.
- Therapist empathy – the therapist or counselor must effectively and accurately communicate their empathic understanding of the client's frame of reference. Presenting problems from another perspective can also help the client gain a new point of view to solving them.
- Client perception – the client must perceive and appreciate this empathy and acceptance from their therapist or counselor and develop positive self-regard to a minimal degree.
It is interesting to note that Rogers viewed both approval and disapproval shown towards an individual to be disruptive to therapeutic change. The role of the therapist is to provide a caring and accepting environment conducive to giving clients the freedom to explore areas of their lives in ways they were previously denied or distorted.
Unlike other therapies, Person-centered therapy does not have many set techniques. This Is because therapy sessions are largely directed by the individual. The counselor's or therapist's job is to create a safe environment that facilitates congruence and form a therapeutic alliance with the individual.
Because of this, a defining technique used during person-centered therapy is non-directiveness. This is achieved by:
- giving no advice
- asking no questions
- giving no interpretations
- allowing clients to set their own goals
Another technique used during therapy sessions is active listening. This is achieved by:
It was theorized that the client will initially be closed, not open to experiences, and have little to no self-awareness. But once therapy is completed, all these obstacles will be addressed and reversed due to gaining positive self-regard.
There are many advantages in the techniques used during person-centered therapy. However, some concerns have also been raised about the approach:
- Non-directiveness - idea of non-directiveness has been largely debated. Some have argued that therapy by nature will always be directed in some capacity. Furthermore, bias can never be completely eliminated. Therefore, unconscious or unintentional bias can cause direction.
- Inefficient – person-centered therapy can take an unnecessarily long time due to the lack of structure and non-directiveness. For fear of intervening with progress, therapists may deliberately withhold solutions or advice from a client, and it may take longer than necessary to reach that solution, if at all.
- Frustration – being non-direct can understandably cause frustration in some clients who may be seeking advice or opinions.
- Disorder specific – Rogers originally claimed that Person-centered therapy could treat all mental health disorders, but research has shown this is not the case.
Person-Centered Case Study
Jane's phenomenological worldview causes her to be incongruent with her true self and what she believed is expected of her. Expectations imposed upon her are unrealistically high, and fear of not meeting those standards has caused her incongruent distress. Subsequently, this has created a condition for her self-worth.
These expectations are a direct result of traumatic stress stemming from culture, religion, and loved ones. In her phenomenological world, she will never be good enough as a daughter, mother, wife, Catholic, or accountant. She feels she constantly lets everyone down and can never gain approval from those whose opinions she cares about.
Trying harder to please and meet everyone's expectations takes her further away from wholeness and true self-worth. She has lost confidence in her ability to make good decisions and constantly seeks outside direction on how she should act. This low self-esteem will hinder any feelings of success and satisfaction.
She is aware that how she handles situations as it stands is not working but fails to see the situation from another perspective or figure out new solutions.
This is a classic example of a client that may benefit from person-centered therapy. We can understand that although Jane feels these pressures of meeting rejection and disapproval, she still has the potential for self-actualization.
This is evidenced by her independent decisions of marrying a spouse outside her religion and studying accountancy against her family's wishes. The act of seeking therapy confirms her desire for growth and change for a better life.
Jane has risen above adversity on multiple occasions in life. She has achieved academically, personally, and professionally but the lack of caring relationships has distorted her ability to recognize and accept her success and potential. This has deterred her from achieving higher levels of self-actualization. Jane must take new risks to attain the growth she seeks.
Person-Centered Treatment Plan
For treatment to be effective, the core conditions must be met. The formulation was as follows:
- Undertaking person-centered therapy, the therapist will provide an optimal therapeutic environment where her actualizing tendencies can flourish.
- Through active listening and empathy, the therapist and Jane will build a trusting therapeutic alliance and further clarify her thoughts and feelings. Being able to work out problems and breaking them down, Jane will no longer view them as insurmountable as she did before.
- Unconditional positive regard will install confidence in Jane as a competent person capable of making decisions and problem solving on her own. By increasing trust in herself, she reduces the control others have over her and will begin to believe in her own self-worth.
- Consistency and genuine rapport between Jane and the counselor will allow her to feel that the ideas and actions developed during sessions are authentic, dependable, and can be replicated outside in the real world.
- Jane's newfound view of the world will lead to her trying out new approaches to problems. She will continue to report back on her progress in integrating these new approaches. She will eventually come to recognize that she is capable of independently achieving success and overcoming failure.
- Jane will continue these practices until she has reached self-actualization and becomes a fully functional person.