Person-centred psychotherapy was created in the 1960’s as a counter-response to the psychoanalytic movement which viewed human “drives” i.e. our responses to life, as inherently pathological and the psychoanalyst was seen as the expert in enabling the client to address such impulses.
Person Centred therapy adopts a different approach, viewing individuals as inherently “good” and presumes that difficult conditions force us to develop “pathological” behaviours in order to cope. It aims to offer clients more control over their therapy viewing the client as expert on their internal experience.
This type of therapy, which is also known as client-centred counselling, is a type of therapy in which the client takes the main role. It is a nondirective approach that gave rise to the humanistic movement in psychology in the 1960’s and has influenced many techniques not only in the realm of therapy but also in education and medicine.
The therapist is not considered to be an expert who has the upper hand and controls everything in this type of therapy. Instead, the therapist aims to understand the client from his or her point of view. The therapist and client have a non-judgmental and empathetic relationship, and ensuring the client feels accepted and at ease is highly emphasised. It focuses on the conscious ways that people perceive themselves as opposed to a therapist’s interpretation of their unconscious ideas and thoughts (traditionally a psychoanalytic approach). It aims to help individuals get in touch with inner values and sense of self-worth.
This approach was developed by Dr Carl Rogers, an American psychologist in the 1950s. It is based on the belief that every person has the capacity to fulfil his or her potential in life. Moreover, proponents believe that each person has the desire to grow and change. He refers to this idea as “actualising tendency” or self-actualisation. The idea is that humans are no different from other organisms in striving for order and balance.
Dr Rogers identified five areas that are necessary for personal growth:
In general, this type of therapy can be useful for people of all ages in a number of situations. It is particularly beneficial to those who are looking to explore themselves and get in touch with their feelings. It also appeals to people who are uncomfortable with the psychoanalytic interpretation (where the therapist provides an interpretation of what they perceive as the clients unconscious “drivers”) because it gives them more control over the sessions and they like the reassurance that their therapist is not going to judge or evaluate them.
Here are a few of the specific problems person-centred psychotherapy can be helpful:
Because person-centred psychotherapy helps foster personal growth and builds a person’s sense of identity, it can have a number of positive effects on an individual.
Person centred psychotherapy has great value in the respectful stance it takes towards the client therapist relationship and techniques for helping clients explore issues at their own pace. However, because the therapists stance can be quite a reflective one, people who have a preference for structures – such as; step by step exercises, experiments, role-playing or specific ready-made behavioural strategies for tackling particular problems – may find this approach too reflective or limiting on its own. Such individuals might prefer an integrative psychotherapy approach where person centred therapy is combined with other more “active” therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy, transactional analysis or solution focused therapy to name a few.