The Person-centred approach focuses on the relationship between counsellor and client.
Carl Rogers an American psychologist developed the person-centered approach, he put forward the theory that the quality of the client-relationship was crucial for the process of change and development of the client. Rogers (1962) stated, “the quality of the interpersonal encounter with the client…is the most significant element in determining effectiveness” (as cited in Nelson Jones 1995, p36).
The person-centred approach emphasizes the counsellor’s role as being empathic, non-judgmental, congruent, trustworthy, warm, and respectful.
According to Gerald & Gerald (2001) the client/counsellor relationship is important to provide a trusting, caring environment in which the client will feel comfortable to share with the counsellor. The application of these attitudes are the key to a successful therapeutic relationship. “The therapist’s ability to establish a strong connection with the client is the critical factor determining successful counselling outcomes” (Cory, 2009).
The person-centred approach believes that all clients have the resources in themselves for development Mearns & Thorne (2007). Rogers believed by showing unconditional positive regard, congruence and empathy the client may be able to develop a new sense of self and therefore be better able to achieve their full potential. (Le Page, 2010). Rogers’ philosophy incorporates the belief that each individual has worth, dignity, and the capacity for self-direction (N.Rogers, 1993).
Roger’s theory was if a client was genuinely listened to in an accepting way without judgment the client would be able to solve their own issues and would learn to accept themselves (N.Rogers, 1993). The Person-Centered approach allows the client can explore their thoughts, feelings and emotions in a confidential environment. Rogers believed that trust and understanding in the relationship encourage self-awareness and enable the client to see personal insights, by giving the client opportunity to talk freely about their feelings, emotions and issues to help them achieve clarity.
Skills that person-centred counsellor use to facilitate the therapeutic process include reflection of feelings and emotions, paraphrasing and encouragers, non-verbal behaviour, facial expression, eye contact and matching the tone of the client and minimal responses to let the client know that they are being listened and to encourage the client to keep talking. Roger (1946) stated that a counsellor should “refrain from questioning, probing, blame, interpretation, advice, suggestion, persuasion, reassurance”
Rogers believed that incorporating humour in the relationship as it can assists clients to laugh at themselves and to not take life and themselves too serious. It also allows them to see the counsellor as a down to earth real person with a sense of humour. According to Singer (2010), humour is a coping skill and is extremely healthy to the mind, body, and spirit. Humour can have a profound effect on the therapeutic relationship.
The goals of person-centred therapy are (Seligman, 2006):
- To facilitate the client’s trust and ability to be in the present moment. This allows the client to be honest in the process without feeling judged by the therapist.
- To promote the client’s self-awareness and self-esteem.
- To empower the client to change.
- To encourage congruence in the client’s behaviour and feelings.
- To help people to gain the ability to manage their lives and become self-actualised.
Rogers stressed that it was the attitudes and personal characteristics of the counsellor that was essential for a successful therapeutic process rather than employing techniques or strategies (Corey, 2005). Rogers believed that the client relationship should be based on equality and the counsellor should not attempt to mystify the therapeutic process (as cited Cory, 2009). In person-centred counselling, the role between counsellor and client is regarded as equal. There should be no power balance. The counsellor should not try to control by diagnosing, labelling or directing the content of the session (as cited in Cory, 2009).
Person-centred therapy is non-directive. Being non-defective the counsellor does not give advice or implement strategies or activities. Person-centred approach “views people as capable and autonomous, with the ability to resolve their difficulties, realize their potential, and change their lives in positive ways” (Seligman, 2006). It focuses on the client’s ability to make changes in their life and encourages clients to strive for self-actualization, the client can resolve their own problems without direct intervention by the counsellor.
Rogers’s research into the psychotherapeutic process revealed that when a client felt accepted and understood, healing occurred. (N. Rogers 2010). Rogers deemed the role of the therapist was to create conditions in order for therapy to be effective and to create a growth-promoting environment in which the client could move forward. Rogers established that the key to the person-centred approach is three core conditions need to be met.
- Unconditional Positive Regard
- Empathic Understanding
To be congruent is to be genuine, real, open, transparent and present. Counsellors must be fully themselves. Congruent counsellors do not play the role of expert and putting on a superior professional facade but are present and transparent (Nelson-Jones 1995). Roger (1962) commented that congruent does not mean it is ok too, “blurt out impulsively every passing feeling”, but allows the client to expressed genuinely what they are feeling or give feedback that could improve the relationship, A counsellor can self-disclose information and discuss their own personal experiences if it is relevant to the counselling situation. (Nelson Jones, 2009) An example of this is Rogers commented that if he was persistently bored or irritated with a client he owed it to the client to tell them that the truth in a sensitive manner.
Rogers would share with the client his discomfort at disclosing this information. This would only be done if it would serve the best interest of the client (as cited Nelson-Jones, 1995). The client can be real and express openly their thoughts and feelings and by doing this show the client that they are a real person. Rogers acknowledges that no one can be fully congruent all the time and that imperfect human being can still assist clients.
Person-centred theory deems that the client can be fully actualised when the individual is exposed to unconditional positive regard. Unconditional positive regard means the counsellor presents a positive and accepting attitude in order for change and progress to take place. The counsellor accepts the client unconditionally, respecting and caring about clients (Seligman, 2006). It does not mean the therapist has to agree with everything the client says or does.
Mearns commented that as a counsellor “I can accept someone as an important, unique human being without necessarily approving of all his actions”. The counsellor views the client as doing the best he or she can and demonstrate this by expressing concern rather than disagreeing with him or her. Unconditional positive regard allows clients to express how they are thinking without feeling judged; this helps to facilitate the change process by showing they can be accepted. The client is free to explore all thoughts and feelings, positive or negative, without fear of rejection or disapproval.
Empathic understanding means that the counsellor accurately understands the client’s thoughts, feelings, and meanings from the client’s own perspective. When the counsellor perceives what the world is like from the client’s point of view, it demonstrates not only that that view has worth, but also that the client is being accepted.
Empathy is a skill used to show an understanding of the client’s emotions. Empathy and acceptance empower the client to discover their unique potential. (N. Rogers, 2010). Empathic understanding involves the counsellor showing sensitivity as well as establishing both rapport and understanding towards the client. This condition also relates to the body language, facial expressions, presence and especially the way the therapist shows that they are listening carefully to all that the client is telling them whether verbal or non-verbal. (Page).
Trying to hard to be congruent is not always being genuine (Cory 2009). If the counsellor is saying one thing but their body language is reflecting something else a client could be aware of this and it may affect their trust and openness in the therapeutic relationship (Seligman, 2006). The implications to the Person-centred approach are to be congruent the client must be true to themselves.
This would be difficult in some situations. A counsellor cannot act empathically if they genuinely do not feel empathy for a client and if they did the counsellor would not be congruent. Mearns (1980) believes that although in the Person-centred counsellors are not supposed to be judgmental, all people have their own personal value system which may not meet with their clients, Mearns believes counsellors using the Person-centered approach must at times raise their personal value threshold to be more tolerant and judgmental.
The importance of the therapeutic relationship also has implications for all forms of counselling. Seligman (2006) comments that the Person-centered approach has provided a basis for many other methods of counselling and research has substantiated the importance of the client-therapist relationship.
According to Seligman (2006) research has confirmed that the therapeutic relationship is of great importance to all methods of counselling. These studies have shown clients want to feel someone is listening to them without judging and that they are understood. Singers (2010) states without the therapeutic relationship no technique will be effective. Spinelli (1999) concurs that no matter what method of counselling is used the most critical factor is the relationship the therapist has with the client. Spinelli (1999) comments that a study on “what the client wants?” which concludes that 3 factors clients found
- Clients found being able to talk to the most helpful
- Being heard accurately buy the therapist
- That the therapist responded to the client “as one human being to another”
All of the above mentioned is key to the person-centered approach.
Mearn (1980) states that the person-centered approach is an attitude rather than a set of behaviours; the counsellor cannot just adopt person-centered behaviours and function in a person-centred way, as it would be incongruent. According to Gerald & Gerald (2001), the words a counsellor uses are not as important as their ability to create a trusting relationship with the client by giving the client a sense of being heard and understood.
Regardless of what counselling method is used, when a counsellor is judgmental and does not show positive regard or empathy towards their client it will damage or even destroy the therapeutic relationship. It can also contribute to more pain for the client and cause depression.
“The therapeutic relationship forms the foundation for treatment as well as a large part of a successful outcome. Without the helping relationship being the number one priority in the treatment process, clinicians are doing a great disservice to clients as well as to the field of therapy as a whole”. (Singer 2010)
The theories of Carl Rogers were investigated, particularly how the core conditions of congruence, unconditional positive regard, empathy are considered necessary to create trust and enable a successful therapeutic relationship.
Rogers deemed that by allowing the client to communicate freely in a trusting environment this would manifest effective change and growth in the client. The finding established that a relationship that demonstrates warmth and a non-judgmental attitude provides the client with understanding and clarity that will lead to self-realisation.
If the core conditions are not met it can be detrimental to the client, which has implications for all methods of counselling. Much research has proven that the effectiveness of counselling is dependent on the quality of the relationship between the client and the counsellor.
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