What is Person-Centered Therapy?
Person-centered therapy, originally developed by psychologist, Carl Rogers in the 1940s, is a form of psychotherapy in which the therapist takes an indirect role. In other words, your therapist takes a “back seat” approach to psychotherapy. This type of therapy is also referred to as client-centered therapy or Rogerian therapy. During person-centered therapy, your therapist indirectly guides you towards developing solutions to your problems. The purpose of person-centered psychotherapy is not only to create a safe, secure and supportive therapy environment; it is also to provide you with unconditional encouragement. Person-centered therapists believe that in order for you to find solutions to your problems, you must be provided with a comfortable environment.
What Happens During Person-Centered Therapy Sessions?
Person-centered therapists usually treat individuals, but some also treat families. In addition, some person-centered therapists also facilitate groups. During person-centered group therapy, the group leader is in charge of establishing an atmosphere of trust.
According to Carl Rogers, the key element in therapy is your therapist’s approach, not his/her training and experience. Rogers asserted that there are three interconnected approaches that are imperative to the success. These approaches included: congruence; unconditional encouragement and compassion. It is extremely important that your therapist demonstrate an open and authentic attitude. He/she must be willing to let down his/her guards enough so that he/she can genuinely relate to you and your issues.
Rogers believed that person-centered therapists should be “in the moment” with you while you work through your issues. In other words, for therapy to be successful your therapist must emotionally connect with you on a more personal level. It is important to note that congruence does not mean, for instance that it is ok for your therapist to share his/her personal issues with you or someone make him/herself the focal point of the therapy.
When you therapy offers you unconditional encouragement, he/she accepts you for who you are. Your therapist actively listens to you without criticizing, belittling and/or judging you. This approach presents a non-threatening environment, in which you are able to freely examine and disclose distressing, unpleasant, defensive and/or deviant emotions and experiences without worrying about how your therapist perceives you.
It is also important that your therapist display empathy towards you and your issues. You therapist must continuously demonstrate empathy during every therapy session. It is important that your therapist make you feel that he/she understands what you are going through.
The best way for a therapist to convey empathy is to listen and pay attention to what you have to say. During a therapy session, you may notice that your therapist continuously makes eye contact with you, actively listens to what you have to share and paraphrases and/or summarizes what you have shared with him/her. This technique is especially beneficial because it gives you a chance to really reflect on how you feel after hearing your thoughts and feelings repeated back to you. Once you have had an opportunity to reflect on what you have shared, you more than likely will want to go into further detail on what you previously shared. Please note that even adverse expressions are considered genuine experiences that must be explored.
This indirect approach gives you an opportunity to explore issues that are important to you, not just what is important to your therapist. The idea is that once you are given a chance to freely express yourself you will be able to alter your way of thinking in a way that leads you towards self-actualization. Your therapist helps you reach self-actualization, by providing you with a safe, secure and supportive environment in which you can work on your problems without fear of judgment and reach your full potential as human being.
How Does Person-Centered Therapy Approach Psychological Issues?
First and foremost your therapist is free to be authentic rather than being forced to respond in a more clinical manner. In other words, your therapist is able to be natural and still be “in sync” with what is happening with you. The goal of your therapist is to guide you towards self-awareness. He/she accomplishes this task by helping you acknowledge and come to terms with previously denied emotions. Your person-centered therapist teaches you how to trust yourself to find solutions to your problems. Your therapist first helps you identify your real concerns and then he/she helps you address those concerns in a positive manner.
Your therapist’s main role is to encourage you to express your feelings. Person-centered therapists believe that a mentally healthy person has achieved or maintained a balance between who he/she would like to be and who he/she is in reality. Problems occur when there is a discrepancy between who you would like to be and who you really are. For therapy to be successful, your therapist must believe that you will be able to find direction in life.
What Are The Goals of Person-Centered Therapy?
The main goals of person-centered therapy are to: improve your self-esteem and allow yourself to experience previously denied feelings and emotions. This approach to psychotherapy encourages increased self-awareness, a closer connection between your “ideal self” and your “real self,” less self-protection and more openness, responsibility, healthy relationships with others and an increased ability to express both positive and negative emotions and experiences as they occur.
Is Person-Centered Therapy Effective?
Yes, person-centered therapy has proven highly effective in the following areas: improving self-esteem, learning to trust in first instincts when making decisions, learning from one’s mistakes and reducing defensiveness, shame and/or anxiety.
Cain, D. J. (2010). Person-centered psychotherapies (Theories of psychotherapy).Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Kensit, D. A. (2000). Rogerian theory: A critique of the effectiveness of pure client-centered therapy. Counseling Psychology Quarterly 13, 345-351.