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Rogers’ person-centred therapy

Rogers’ person-centred therapy (1959) The aim of this approach is to facilitate personal growth through the relationship between the therapist and the client. The focus is very much on the present rather than the past. Of all the therapies, this is the least directive, because Rogers felt that true personal growth would only occur when people became more able to think through problems and make decisions for themselves.

The therapist’s role is that of an ‘active listener’ who provides an atmosphere of trust and warmth in which growth can occur. Many mental disorders are felt to result from the client’s self-concept being threatened by demands from others which are incongruent with that self-concept. For example, an intelligent person may have their self-development blocked because parental expectations are that they should remain at home and not go away to university. Only in the context of a warm, understanding and non-evaluative relationship will the client feel sufficiently free from threat to be himself and grow. According to Rogers this atmosphere is dependent on the provision of three core conditions; in their presence therapeutic change will be almost inevitable.

Core conditions for person-centred therapy

1 Genuineness (also termed authenticity or congruence) is the most important, and refers to the need for the therapist to behave as an ordinary person would, rather than taking on the role of a detached, white-coated clinician. This requires the therapist to be aware of his/her own thoughts and feelings and to be able to communicate these to the client if it is necessary to do so. Any falseness, Rogers felt, would be detected by the client, who would then be less likely to trust the therapist. Honesty is therefore important, but at the same time the therapist’s feelings should not be imposed on the client.

2 Unconditional positive regard is a process whereby clients can be made to feel that they are being accepted without reservation for what they are. They must feel secure and liked, and it is important that this liking, unlike any which they may have received from others, is not dependent on what they say or do.

3 Empathic understanding was felt by Rogers to be more trainable than the other core conditions. It is the ability to see the world from the client’s perspective and to understand how the client is feeling. It is different to sympathy, which is an expression of concern about those feelings. This relies to some extent on the process of checking understanding with the client using the technique of reflection, whereby statements are summarised and fed back to the client for checking (e.g. ‘Is this what you mean?’ or ‘So you are saying that…’).

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