Person-centered therapy is a type of humanistic talk-therapy which was developed by Carl Rogers in the mid 20th century. Rogers is considered to be one of the most influential figures in psychology and person-centered therapy is very common, effective, and popular.
Core beliefs of person-centered therapy
The belief behind person-centered therapy is that humans live in a world of hierarchal needs. We all inherently strive to obtain those needs and to move above them towards our “ideal self.” This movement towards ideal self is called Self-Actualization. In a healthy nurturing environment, a person’s idea of oneself based (self-concept) will be congruent to our ideal self. According to the person-centered approach, all humans have the potential to develop into socially-functional individuals and live satisfying lives with congruent self-concepts and ideal selves. However, social, familial, or environmental factors can alter our sense of self-concept and ideal self so they become incongruent.
Person-centered therapy is similar to Adlerian therapy in that they both believe that humans are striving towards some ideal or self betterment. Person-centered therapy also shares the belief of existential therapy that humans are capable of making their own decisions which lead to their current state of being. Thus, both person-centered and existential therapies believe that the patient is capable of solving his or her own problem.
Goals of person-centered therapy
The goal of person-centered therapy is to find congruence between the patient’s ideal self and self-concept. To do this, patients must accept characteristics of themselves which they have rejected or denied.
Person-centered therapy process
Person-centered therapy is a non-directive therapy. This means that the therapist does not deliberately steer the therapy in a specific direction, ask questions, interpret information, or offer treatments. Instead, the therapist is there to create an environment which is conducive to openness.
According to Rogers, people will naturally move towards growth and healing if they are in a nurturing relationship. By creating a nurturing relationship, the patient will be able to solve his or her own problem. Roger named are six conditions of the nurturing relationship which must be present for personality changes to occur.
- Two people are in a psychological contact
- One person (the patient) has an incongruent self-concept and self ideal.
- The second person (the therapist) is congruent
- The therapist gives unconditional positive regard
- The therapist expresses empathy
- The patient perceives the therapists unconditional positive regard and empathy
There is no set method or process used in person-centered therapy. Rather, the patient will lead the course of the session. The role of the therapist is not to counsel, diagnose or treat but rather to create a relationship which the patient can use to explore his or her sense of self. Person-centered therapy will not generally use methods like questioning, interpretation, offering treatments, or diagnosing. The therapist is not there to “figure out” the patient.
While there is no specific theme of person-centered therapy, the focus is always on the person and not the person’s problems. Further, the therapy typically focuses on the present or future rather than attempting to explain the past.
The role of the therapist
In person-centered therapy, the therapist does not attempt to directly change the patient. Under the tenets of the therapy, this is not possible because the patient is solely responsible for his or her own feelings and progress. Further, the therapist should not interpret data because only the patient has a true sense of his or her subjective self.
Instead of attempting to diagnose or steer therapy, person-centered therapists serve as instruments of change. They form genuine, empathetic relationships with the patient and work to create an atmosphere conducive to openness. It is common for the therapist to share his or her own experiences in order to serve as a role model of congruence or someone striving for the ideal self. The therapist must be open, honest and transparent. Person-centered therapists will not maintain professional personas.
A person-centered therapist will always give unconditional positive regard. Through the relationship, the patient will become aware of his or her true self and build a congruency between self-concept.
Person-centered therapy compared to other approaches
Person-centered therapy has been challenged because it does not have a structure. Further, the success of person-centered therapy depends on the development of a conditional relationship which could in itself be unhealthy. There are some limitations to person-centered therapy. Because the therapist in person-centered therapy is non-directive, he or she could end up being dogmatic. Some patients may experience irritation by the lack of input from the therapist. Also, person-centered therapy is very limited in situations where patients are unwilling to communicate or are deceptive.
Despite the limitations of person-centered therapy, it has become very popular. Many patients and therapists embrace the core ideas that the patient is capable of resolving his/her own problems without direction. Also popular is the focus of therapy on present issues rather than dwelling on the past.
Some studies show that the success of any therapy is not so much dependent on the method being used by rather the relationship between the therapist and the patient. As this relationship is the core of person-centered therapy, this could be the reason why it is such an effective treatment.
Is person-centered therapy effective?
Person-centered therapy has been used successfully for treating a wide range of psychological disorders. However, patients should be willing to engage in therapy and also ready to commit to a long-term relationship with the therapist.
Grant, Sheila K. “Person-centered therapy.” California State University Northridge. www.csun.edu. Web. Sept 2011.
Luke, Melissa. “Person-Centered Therapy.” Integrating the Expressive Arts into Counseling Practice: Theory-Based Interventions. Ed. Suzanne Degges-White and Nancy L.Davis. Springer Publishing Company, New York: 2011.