Person centered therapy, also called client centered therapy or Rogerian therapy, is a humanistic type of therapy aimed at helping individuals use their own internal strengths and resources in a process of self-directed change, healing and growth.
Person centered therapists practice with a non-directive, warm and empathetic approach, aimed at developing a strong therapeutic relationship with their clients. This helps to support clients in building self awareness and self worth, and reducing their own suffering. In person centered therapy the client is always viewed as the expert of their own experience.
Person centered therapy was developed by Carl Rogers in the mid 20th century. Carl Rogers was a humanistic psychologist, and spent much of his career studying the concepts that form the essential elements of person centered therapy.
Humanistic approaches to psychotherapy were revolutionary in that they put the client in the driver’s seat, believing that individuals have an innate capacity for healing and growth which can lead to lasting change. It rejected the belief that the therapist is the expert or analyst; instead the therapist takes a nondirective and open approach to facilitate clients tapping into and nurturing their own strengths and capabilities. This aims to remove the power imbalance between therapist as expert and client as patient. Person centered therapy at its heart recognizes the value in each individual, and is aimed at empowering that individual to see their own self worth and work towards self-actualization.
Person centered therapists practice with three key elements: empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence. In addition to these elements, person centered therapy has three conditions:
When a therapist practices empathy, they continuously immerse themselves in their client’s feelings and experiences. Person centered therapists must be willing to understand the client’s thoughts, emotions and difficulties from the client’s point of view. It is the therapist’s job to attempt to find an accurate understanding of the emotional experience of the client, based both on what the client directly communicates and on what is implied and may lie beneath the surface.
The therapist attempts to enter into the client’s internal world alongside them. Therapists pay close attention to all feelings expressed by the client, and continuously communicate back to the client the feelings they notice.
In this process of creating empathic understanding, the therapist works with the client to create a deeper understanding of meaning and emotion. The therapist listens closely and actively. Therapists express sensitivity and empathy towards their clients, building the therapeutic relationship and also facilitating clients expressing empathy and understanding internally towards themselves. The therapist's ability to listen sensitively and actively to the client can help the client build those same skills for themselves. This leads to deeper personal understanding and connection, an awareness that enables growth and healing.
Unconditional positive regard is a core element of person centered therapy. Therapists must approach their clients with a non-judgemental lens, a mindset that is open, accepting and caring.
A person centered therapist accepts their clients as they are, and their respect and care for their client is essential. A therapist’s positive and unconditional acceptance of the client creates a space within which clients can safely self explore, and may work towards self acceptance.
Congruence can also be described as genuineness or authenticity. Put simply, a person centered therapist will be real with you. While important client/therapist boundaries are maintained, throughout the therapeutic process therapists will be honest about their thoughts and feelings within the context of the work.
Therapists are not a blank slate and do not hide behind a professional persona. Their genuineness enables them to express their empathetic understanding and unconditional positive regard with clients, joining together with clients to support self healing and growth.
Person centered therapy begins with the therapist attempting to learn about and gaining understanding of the client’s experiences, emotions and internal world. Diagnostics and analysis take a backseat, and the genuine understanding of the client is prioritized. Immediately during the first session the therapist approaches the client with empathy, unconditional positive regard and genuineness, and the establishment of the therapeutic relationship is started. Clients take an active role in creating their treatment structure, working with the therapist to share when they would like to meet, how frequently they feel meetings would be beneficial and exploring what other treatment resources, such as medication, group therapy or family therapy, might be helpful.
Once the therapist and client continue on with their work, the client maintains an active role. The client determines the goals of treatment, what might be discussed in sessions, the intensity of sessions, how deeply to explore certain topics, and more. The therapist should routinely check in with the client to explore effectiveness of therapy and any adjustments that may be beneficial. From start to finish, person centered therapy is a collaborative process.
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Natalie Capasse is an Associate Therapist at MyWellbeing. She believes therapy is a process of self exploration and discovery, aimed at building insight, strengthening self-awareness and enabling change. Click here to view her profile or book a free consultation with her!
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