What is the Person-Centred Approach?

Person-Centred counselling/psychotherapy was the first talking therapy to be based on empirical research. In the 1940s and 50s Dr Carl Rogers and his colleagues audio-recorded therapy sessions to try and determine which therapist interventions were effective for clients. From this work, a comprehensive theory and practice was developed which has been continually expanded and refined and which is supported and validated by decades of research (e.g. recently: Cooper, Watson & Hölldampf, 2010; Elliott et al, 2013; Murphy & Joseph, 2016.)

Person-Centred counselling/psychotherapy was the first talking therapy to be based on empirical research. In the 1940s and 50s Dr Carl Rogers and his colleagues audio-recorded therapy sessions to try and determine which therapist interventions were effective for clients. From this work, a comprehensive theory and practice was developed which has been continually expanded and refined and which is supported and validated by decades of research (e.g. recently: Cooper, Watson & Hölldampf, 2010; Elliott et al, 2013; Murphy & Joseph, 2016.)

Originally described as non-directive, this therapy moved away from the idea that the therapist was the expert and towards a theory that trusted the innate tendency (known as the actualising tendency) of human beings to find fulfilment of their personal potentials. In the early years of person-centred therapy, the theory and practice were developed by researchers, theorists and practitioners such as Barbara Temaner Brodley, John Schlein, Jerold Bozarth and CH Patterson in the USA and, later, Pete Sanders and Tony Merry in the UK and Peter F Schmidt in Austria.

The basic tenets of person-centred therapy are the autonomy of the client and their capacity to self-heal and develop when the therapist provides a psychological environment based on specified conditions. This psychological environment is one in which the client feels free from threat, both physically and psychologically - usually in relationship with a therapist who is deeply understanding (empathic), accepting (having unconditional positive regard) and genuine (congruent).

Person-centred therapists believe that all of a client's thoughts, feelings and behaviour are valid responses in the context of their previous and current experience and therefore will not usually diagnose or label clients. Practitioners such as Margaret Warner, Gary Prouty and, more recently, Kirshen Rundle have developed person-centred theory to describe phenomena and processes in a way that respects the individual. This understanding – for example of fragile process, dissociative process and pre-therapy – can enable practitioners to work with extremes of distress and disturbance.

Although initially developed as an approach to psychotherapy, Rogers and his colleagues came to believe that their ideas could be transferred to other areas where people were in relationships. For example teaching, management, childcare, patient care, conflict resolution.

Today there are many people who, although not working as psychotherapists and counsellors, use person-centred principles to guide them in their day-to-day work and relationships.

References

Cooper, M; Watson, JC; Hölldampf, D (2010) Person-Centered And Experiential Therapies Work: A Review Of The Research On Counseling, Psychotherapy And Related Practices. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.

Elliott, R., Watson, J., Greenberg, L.S., Timulak, L., & Freire, E. (2013). ‘Research on humanistic-experiential psychotherapies’. In M.J. Lambert (Ed.), Bergin & Garfield‘s Handbook of Psychotherapy and Behavior Change (6th ed.) (pp. 495-538). New York: Wiley.

Murphy, D, & Joseph, S (2016) ‘Person-centered therapy: Past, present, and future orientations’. In D. J. Cain, K. Keenan, & S. Rubin (Eds.), Humanistic Psychotherapies: Handbook of Research and Practice, Second Edition (pp. 185 - 219). Washington: APA

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