The Person-Centered Approach

Over the past 50 years, counselors have begun to accept different approaches to the therapeutic process then those used previously. It was because of the initial thoughts put forth by a man named Carl Rogers, and his

belief that there is more to the therapy process then the authoritarian approach that was being used at the time. Over the course of 4 phases in Roger’s development came about the concept of the Person-Centered approach.

Adopted by counselors in the 60’s and 70’s as a part of the “Third Force”, along with existential and gestalt therapy, as an alternative to psychoanalytic and behavioral approaches (Corey, 2005). Person-Centered Therapy was never presented as a completed work, rather one of which Rogers hoped other would merely use as principles willing to be evolved. These principles were looked at by Rogers as required to gain a good therapist – client relationship which was a prime determinant of the outcome of the therapeutic process. These principles best outlined by Roger’s (1956) as, Two person’s in psychological contact. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable, or anxious. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent or integrated in the relationship.

The therapist experience unconditional positive regard for the client. The therapist experiences an empathetic understanding of the client’s internal frame of reference and endeavors to communicate this experience to the client.

The future has brought about much need for the evolution of this theory, but this paper is meant to focus on these principles set forth by Rogers. Overtime the clients and problems may have changed, but by keeping these principles in mind, the approach is still the same.

It was with a humanistic philosophy that Rogers created the person – centered approach, and with his principles rooted deeply in humanistic values, it is necessary to have a good understanding of how they came to be. The humanistic philosophy is similar yet much different from that of existentialism, of which takes the position that we are faced with the anxiety of choosing to create an identity in a world that lacks intrinsic meaning (Corey, 2005). The humanistic philosophy takes a somewhat less anxiety evoking position that each of us has a natural potential that we can actualize and through which we can find meaning (Corey, 2005). It was within this concept that Rogers developed his theory over the years. At the time there was only an authoritarian approach to counseling, of which Roger’s disagreed with, which started his theory of a non directive climate in the 1940’s. It was within this approach that Roger’s looked to stop the amount of input a therapist contributed to the counseling process; instead therapists concentrated on the clients verbal and non verbal communications. This approach over time evolved into a form of therapy referred to as client – centered. With this form Roger’s led away from the focus on the non directive approach and started focusing primarily on the client. With the client in mind, the next period of evolution that Roger’s encountered is where he defined his principles of which he wrote about in his paper, “The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change.” It is in this paper that Roger’s presented his theory of psychotherapy as a set of therapist “Core Attitudes” (Prouty, 1994). It is with these “Core Attitudes” that Roger’s defined the aim of the therapeutic process, “the aim of therapy is not merely to solve problems, rather; it is to assist clients in their growth process, so that they can better cope with the problems they are now facing and with future problems.” (Corey, 2005). It was in the principles of; congruence, unconditional positive regard, and accurate empathetic understanding, that we find a way to promote a growth producing climate.


Congruence or genuineness, involves letting the other person know “where you are” emotionally (Rogers, 1980). This can be either positive or negative, and the therapist must express their feelings to be as genuine as possible. The reason that the therapist must express all feelings toward their client is to avoid the temptations to present a façade or hide behind a mask of professionalism or to assume a confessional professional attitude (Germain, 1993). The reason that it is so important for the therapist to become congruent with their client is to create a trusting relationship of which the client can let the therapist into their lives. Rogers gradually came to look at the therapist’s congruence as a crucial factor in establishing trust, and came to emphasize the idea of acceptance and empathy only being effective when they are perceived as genuine (Germain, 1993). In the views of Rogers it is essential to be living together in a climate of realness (Rogers, 1980). This realness can only be assumed when the therapist can be completely open with their client as to how they feel about their presenting problem as well as the client’s way of life as a whole. This action of being completely open does not always have to be viewed in a good light by the client, but as long as the client knows that the therapist is being completely open with them, then the process can continue. This way of being is described here by Rogers in 1961, “The term ‘congruent’ is one I have used to describe the way I would like to be. By this I mean that whatever I am feeling or attitude I am experiencing would be matched by my awareness of that attitude.” It is within this self awareness that makes acceptance possible because there can be no openness to the clients experience if there is no openness to one’s own experience (Germain, 1993).

Unconditional Positive Regard

Once congruence between the therapist and the client is achieved, it is time to move on to the next principle that Rogers distinguished. Unconditional positive regard is exactly that, no matter what the client is feeling, the therapist must show a positive approval of how they are feeling. This is due to the true importance of unconditional positive regard and its power to build up or restore the client’s unconditional positive self regard (Iberg, 1996). It is Rogers’s theory that most of the clients that a therapist will see, have merely been looked over and never really made feel like they are accepted or cared for. It is within this principal that Rogers attempts to show an acceptance and unconditional caring for the client as “who they are” rather then who they are expected to be or as Rogers states it as “a caring for the client, but not in a possessive way or in such a way as simply to satisfy the therapists own needs” (Rogers, 1992). The therapist must make the client feel that they are able to convey their thoughts without fear of rejection or loss of acceptance by the therapist. It is the therapist job to make sure that their basis for caring for their client is not because of their need to be accepted themselves. This might hinder the experience that the client needs to go through as much as if the therapist had no respect or a dislike of their client. That is why congruence needs to be developed before the therapeutic process can begin, without a genuine approach to caring for the client the whole process will not be successful.
Accurate Empathetic Understanding

After the first two steps of Rogers’s theory have been completed then the therapist can continue on to an accurate empathetic understanding. This principle is based off the idea of empathy as Rogers defines “to sense the clients private world as if it were your own, but without ever losing the “as if” quality” (Rogers, 1992). That is the key to being an empathetic therapist, to never lose the “as if” mentality, to sense the clients feelings without ever getting caught up in them as if they were your own. The Merriam Webster Dictionary states that Empathy “is the action of understanding, being aware of, or being sensitive to.” This is exactly what Rogers meant by putting it into the principles of what a good therapist needs to do during therapy, to be able to understand and accurately be aware of the problems that the client is conveying. This is indicated in research done by Fieldler in which items such as the following placed high in the description of a relationship created by an experienced therapist.

The therapist is well able to understand the patient’s feelings; the therapist is never in any doubt about what the patient means; the therapist’s remarks fit in just right with the patients mood and content; the therapists tone of voice conveys the complete ability to share the patients feelings. (Rogers, 1992)
With all of these principals working together to create a valuable client-therapist relationship, an accurate empathetic understanding is one of the most important. The client must first be able to trust the therapist, and then feel that the therapist actually cares about what is being said, but without an accurate understanding of what is being said then the client would not feel as though the therapist is actually listening.


It was my intent with this paper to explain the principals of the person centered approach created by Carl Rogers. The reason that I feel that this approach is meaningful is that I have always felt that anyone has the ability to figure out their own problems. In life it is easy for people to get knocked off their horse, in a matter of speaking, but it is how we get back on that horse and continue to live is how living life is possible. Sometimes I feel as though it is hard to get up off the ground by yourself but the ability is still inside of you. That is why when I first heard about the person-centered approach, I was so intrigued by the elements that made up this theory. These principles that Rogers has developed, help to create an environment at which clients are able to hash out their problems in a self directed way. The therapist is merely a listener, there to make the client feel that what they are feeling is ordinary. Even though they may long for an authoritarian “answer”, the therapist does not give one yet just responds with points that the client has already made.

Even though Rogers created this theory in a different time and age, when, if presented with some of the problems that therapist face today, it may have been harder to meet the criteria for his principles. I still feel as though these principals can be effective in any therapeutic situation. Today many person-centered therapists are focused on the family, however it has been found to be effective in many areas of therapy. I personally can see it being very effective in cases of depression, where a client is so low in positive self regard that they need to feel that someone else can actually care for them enough to listen. In research done by Greenberg and Watson (1998), of which compared client centered therapy and an experimental treatment using the principals of client centered therapy and its effect on depression, found that both had an effect on the therapy’s outcome. It was the experimental conditional along with the principals based of Rogers’s theory that had superior effects on the overall levels of self esteem and reduction of interpersonal problems. This research shows that although alone, these principals may not always be the exact answer, paired with other ideas it can have an impact on the client’s life. This paper is to show that these principals are in fact pillars or fundamentals of any and all problems that may be presented to a therapist. These are just attitudes that if followed correctly can bring about an atmosphere for change in a clients life. As Rogers states it, “people are essentially trustworthy, that they have a vast potential for understanding themselves and resolving their own problems without direct intervention on the therapists part, and that they are capable of self directed growth if they are involved in a specific kind of therapeutic relationship” (Corey, 2005).

Works Cited
Corey, Gerald. (2005) Theory and Practice of Counseling & Psychotherapy. Thomson Books; Belmont, CA.

Greenberg L., Watson J, (1998) Experiential Therapy of Depression: Differential Effects of Client-Centered Relationship Conditions and Process Experiential Interventions. The Journal for Psychotherapy Research. Vol. 8, Number 2, pp. 210- 224

Iberg, J.R. (1996) Finding the body’s next step: Ingredients and hindrances. The Journal for focusing and experiential therapy, vol 15, 13-42.

Lietaer, Germain (1993), Beyond Carl Rogers, Constable, London

Prouty, Gary, (1994) Theoretical evolutions in person-centered/ experiential therapy. Applications to schizophrenic and retarded psychosis. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT

Rogers, Carl (1980) A way of being.

Rogers, Carl (1992) The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Dec 1992, vol. 60, No. 6 pp. 827-832.