What is the Person Centred Approach?
The Person Centred Approach to Counselling - A Short Introduction
The person centred approach was developed by the psychologist Dr Carl Rogers (1902 - 1987), who proposed new humanistic ideas for counselling. These moved away from the old doctor/patient model of the counsellor as an expert/authority figure who knew everything about the client. Rogers trusted in people and believed that, if a safe psychological environment existed then all people would naturally move towards greater awareness and a better fulfilment of their potentials.
The following potentials, he believed, are within all of us:
- sociability: the need to be with other human beings and a desire to know
and be known by other people,
- being trusting and trustworthy,
- being curious about the world, and open to experience,
- being creative and compassionate.
The psychological setting which helps us realise these potentials is one where we feel free from threat, both physically and psychologically. Rogers said counsellors could create this safe setting with clients and therefore help to bring about change. Much of his work was in understanding and defining the disciplines and conditions to be followed by counsellors so that they can create a safe therapeutic relationship with people who came to see them.
Carl Rogers wrote a landmark paper in 1957 called The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Therapeutic Personality Change. In it he described the "core conditions" that are needed by a counsellor in order to bring about therapeutic change. The main three are:
Rogers said that if this condition is in place the counsellor is ".. experiencing an accurate, empathic understanding of the client's awareness of his own experience." He stressed the importance of the counsellor showing this understanding to the client.
- Unconditional Positive Regard
This means that the counsellor is accepting and absolutely non-judgemental of the client. Rogers said the counsellor is acceptant of all the parts of the client; it is the opposite of saying "you are bad in these ways, good in those". It is completely unconditional in that there is no element of "I only like you if you are thus and so".
Rogers said this means that the counsellor, in the confines of the therapeutic relationship, is a "congruent, genuine and integrated person". He said it means that the counsellor does not either intentionally or unintentionally hide behind a façade or front; that he or she actually is the person they are feeling themselves to be at the time.
Today there are many people in, for example, child care, patient care, and relationship development that use these three guiding principles or "core conditions" - empathy, unconditional positive regard and congruence.
At this level, Person Centred theory and work is simple to describe. It is also a more complex approach which includes philosophical ideas and theories about child development. Many people agree that, keeping to these principles in our lives and using these disciplines as a person-centred counsellor, can be exciting and very challenging.
The Carl Rogers Reader, Carl Rogers Edited by Kirschenbaum and Henderson,
Published by Constable UK.1990
(including The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Therapeutic Personality Change)
Person Centred Counselling in Action. D Mearns and B. Thorne (1997)
Published by Sage.
On Becoming a Person. Carl Rogers (1961)
Published by Constable and Company
A Way of Being. Carl Rogers (1980)
Published by Routledge
An Invitation to Client-Centred Psychology. Tony Merry (1995)
Published by Whurr