What is Person Centered Therapy?
Person centered therapy focuses on the person not the problem. The goal of person centered therapy is to provide an environment amical for growth. Accordingly, the person is then responsible for improving their life. The therapist gives the client the independence to rationally decide for themselves what is wrong and right for their lives and how to act on those beliefs. Accordingly, the therapist plays a role of friend and counselor who listens and encourages.
“If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur.”~Carl Rogers
The Client is In Charge
Person-centered therapy uses a non-authoritative approach, allowing clients to lead discussions so they can discover their own solutions. Most importantly, the therapist is a compassionate facilitator of this process, listening without judgment and acknowledging the client’s experience without directing the conversation. Consequently, the therapy environment engenders the type of relationship that facilitates growth.
History of Person Centered Therapy
Carl Rodgers believed that everyone’s view of his or her own world was different. Therefore, we should trust them to manage that world. Rogers’ unique style of therapy began to take root in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Many of todays therapy styles evolved from Carl Roger’s person-centered therapy.
Three Necessary Conditions
The success of person-centered therapy relies on three conditions:
- Unconditional Positive Regard. Therapists must be empathetic and non-judgmental, establishing trust to help the client feel secure enough to make their own decisions and choices.
- Empathetic Understanding. Therapists must understand and accept their clients’ thoughts and feelings.
- Congruence. Therapists must present an accessible self that clients can see is honest and transparent. Accordingly, therapist should not present themselves as a powerful authoritarian that must be appeased.
Person Centered Therapy and Self Actualization
Rogers expressed that this self actualization is the essence of the client becoming a person. He describes this state of being as, “thus to an increasing degree he becomes himself—not a façade of conformity to others, not a cynical denial of all feeling, nor a front of intellectual rationality, but a living, breathing, feeling, fluctuating process—in short, he becomes a person” (1995, location 1922). Rogers believed that people have a natural proclivity toward growth and fulfillment. The three conditions of acceptance (unconditional positive regard), therapist congruence (genuineness), and empathic understanding creates the environment necessary to open a path to self actualization.
Rogers expressed that this self actualization is the essence of the client becoming a person. He describes this state of being as, “thus to an increasing degree he becomes himself—not a façade of conformity to others, not a cynical denial of all feeling, nor a front of intellectual rationality, but a living, breathing, feeling, fluctuating process—in short, he becomes a person” (1995, location 1922).
Six Conditions for Therapeutic Change
- Therapist–Client Psychological Contact. The relationship between client and therapist must be a relationship in which each person’s perception of the other is important.
- Client Incongruence. There must be incongruence between the client’s experience and awareness.
- Therapist Congruence or Genuineness. the therapist must be congruent within the therapeutic relationship, deeply involved with their genuine self, capable of drawing on their own experiences to facilitate the relationship.
- Therapist Unconditional Positive Regard. The therapist accepts the client unconditionally, without judgment, disapproval or approval. The therapists facilitates increased self-regard by the client. As the client begins to become aware of experiences in which their view of self-worth was distorted or denied, they move towards congruence and increased self-regard.
- Therapist Empathic Understanding. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client’s subjective frame of reference. Accurate empathy expressed by the therapist builds trust in the client that the therapist genuinely possesses unconditional positive regard for them.
- Client Perception. The client recognizes that the therapist has unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding.
Seven Stages of Transformation in Person Centered Therapy
Rogers explained the clients transform on a “significant continuum is from fixity to changingness, from rigid structure to flow, from stasis to process” (location 2182). He breaks down this process into seven stages. Markedly, therapists don’t push clients through the stages. Rather, they hold their hand as the client progresses through the stages at their own pace.
In this stage, the client is steeped in neurotic behaviors and thoughts.
- Lack of internal communication
- Thoughts, feelings, and narratives conflict
- Focused on external triggers, not internal feelings of experience
- Feelings and personal meanings are not recognized or owned
- Personal constructs are rigid
- Close relationships are threatening
- Personal problems not recognized
- No desire to change
- No recognition of the ebb and flow of feelings
- Experience interpreted rigidly through the past
- Reacting to experience by associating it to the past, and then reacting with emotions tied to the past
The client begins to make minor shifts during the second stage.
- A slight loosening and flowing of symbolic expression occurs, which tends to be characterized by the following:
- Expression begins to flow in regard to non-self topics
- They percieve problems as external to self
- No sense of personal responsibility for problems
- They describe feelings as unowned, or sometimes as past objects
- They view experiencing through the structure of the past
- Personal constructs are rigid, and treated as facts
- Differentiation of personal meanings and feelings is very limited and global
- Contradictions may be expressed, but with little recognition of the contradictions
By the third stage, the client is able to open up in expressions about the self.
- A freer flow of expression about the self as an object
- Expression about self-related experiences as objects
- Expression about the self as a reflected object, existing primarily in others
- Expression about or description of feelings and personal meanings from the past
- Still little acceptance of feelings. Exhibiting feelings thoughts as shameful or unacceptable
- They exhibit Feelings, and occasionally recognize them
- They describe experiencing as somewhat remote from the self
- Their personal constructs are rigid, but they recognize them as constructs
- Differentiation of feelings and meanings begins to appear
- Recognition of contradictions in experience
- lastly, personal choices are recognized and often seen as ineffective
A gradual perceptiveness of experienced emotions begins to emerge in stage IV.
- Ability to describes more intense feelings of the “not-now-present” variety
- Feelings are described as objects in the present
- Occasionally present feelings are uncomfortably expressed
- Movement towards experiencing feelings in the immediate present, still experiencing fear
- Limited open acceptance of feelings
- Experiencing is less bound by past structures
- A loosening of the way experience is construed.
- Some discoveries of personal constructs; there is definite recognition of these constructs; and a beginning of questioning their validity
- An increased differentiation of feelings, constructs, personal meanings
- A concern about contradictions and incongruences between experience and self
- A vacillating feeling of self responsibility in problems
- Close relationships still feel dangerous, the client now takes small risks
The client begins to be in to express mindful awareness of emotions in the present.
- Clients now express feelings freely as they exist in the present
- The client moves closer to fully experiencing feelings
- Surprise and fright when feelings are felt
- An increasing ownership of feelings
- Experiencing is loosened, no longer remote, and occurs frequently
- The construe experience with more freedom.
- Fresh discoveries of personal constructs as constructs, and a critical examination of their validity and effectiveness
- Strong movement towards exactness in differentiation of feelings and meanings.
- Increasing willingness to face contradictions and incongruences in experience
- Increasing quality of acceptance of self-responsibility for problems, and a concern about personal contributions.
- Increasingly freer dialogues within the self
The clients relationship with emotions deepens.
- The client begins to experience feelings previously “stuck” with immediacy now.
- A feeling flows to its full result.
- The client directly experiences present moment feelings with immediacy and richness.
- Living subjectively in the experience, not feeling about it
- Self as an object disappears
- Experiencing has a real process quality
- Internal communication is free and relatively unblocked
- The client vividly acknowledges the incongruence between experience and awareness. Consequently, the awareness gently creates congruence.
- Relevant personal construct dissolves in the experiencing moment
- The moment of full experiencing becomes a clear and definite referent
- Differentiation of experiencing is sharp and basic
The final stage is an approaching of self-actualization and an appreciation for the richness of life.
- The client experiences new feelings with immediacy and richness
- Consciously endeavors in order to clearly understand the self, personal wants, weaknesses and attitudes.
- Growing and continuing sense of acceptance and ownership of changing feelings
- Experiencing has almost completely lost its structure-bound aspects and becomes process experiencing
- The self becomes increasingly the subjective and reflexive awareness of experiencing
- The client tentatively reformulates personal constructs, validating them against further experience. However, after updating the personal constructs, they loosely hold new constructs.
- Internal communication is clear, with feelings and symbols well matched, and fresh terms for new feelings
- There is the experiencing of effective choice of new ways of being (Rogers, 1995).
Person Centered Therapy’s Influence
As I went through Roger’s stages of change, I recognized the profound influence his work has on present positive psychology treatments. His work laid groundwork for mindfulness, acceptance, and growth mindsets. Undoubtedly, Carl Rogers and the humanism movement was revolutionary in contrast to previous forms of therapy. He brough humanity back to the client. Perhaps, many of those seeking help just needed compassionate, unconditional positive regard.
Rogers, C. (1995). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. Mariner Books; 2nd ed. edition.