Before the 1940s, therapists were viewed as experts in their field. Having a counseling session was a lot like attending a classroom session with a professor. Then Carl Rogers developed the person-centered theory that changed how therapy was approached.
Also referred to as Rogerian therapy, this theory has had a tremendous impact on numerous disciplines since its introduction. The difference in the approach from the traditional model is simple, but still profound. Instead of seeing a person as being flawed and needing to be fixed, the person-centered theory suggests that everyone has a capacity and desire for change and personal growth.
Rogers described this capacity as an actualizing tendency, or a form of self-actualization. In his theory, all people strive toward order. People want balance. They want life to have a greater level of complexity. That meant people also have a vast resource they can tap into that my alter their concept of self, right down to their core basic attitudes.
The 6 Factors for Growth in Person-Centered Theory
Rogers identifies six specific factors that must be present within an individual so that growth stimulation may occur. If the factors can be met, then the individual will work toward achieving their full potential.
1. Psychological Contact. There must be a relationship that develops between a therapist and a client. Without this relationship, the chance to achieve a positive personal change is greatly diminished.
2. Client Vulnerability. There must be a difference between the self-image that a client has of themselves and what their actual experiences happen to be. That gap between perception and reality must leave the client with anxiety or fear. There does not need to be a personal awareness of this vulnerability, but it does need to be present.
3. Therapist Genuineness. The therapist must be authentic for change to occur. That doesn’t mean that a therapist must be perfect 100% of the time. To promote self-awareness in others, a therapist must be self-aware when building relationships with clients. If a therapist is unwilling to be true to themselves, then it is nearly impossible to help someone else create change.
4. Therapist Positive Regard. A client may have a wide variety of experiences that are affecting them. The therapist must accept what has been offered to them without judgement, either positive or negative. Any judgment offered by a therapist can make a client hesitate to share future experiences because it can create a fear of being judged.
5. Therapist Empathy. At some level, a therapist must tap into a similar experience of their own so they can understand the perspectives being offered by a client. There must be an ability to recognize and relate to the emotional experiences of a client without becoming emotionally involved with the client.
6. Client Perception. Even if the therapist does everything they are supposed to do when following Carl Rogers’ person-centered theory, the outcome can still be negative for the client. That is because the perception of the encounter by the client plays a role in therapy. If a client does not perceive empathy or a positive regard, then they may choose not to change.
Why Choose Person-Centered Therapy Over Traditional Therapy?
In the traditional model of therapy, a client comes to trust a therapist because the therapist is perceived as being an expert in their field. By sharing their knowledge and wisdom, the hope is that changes can begin to occur within the client.
In the person-centered model, it is the therapist which must begin to learn, and then trust, the power of human potential. To create change, they must offer empathy and a lack of judgment instead of what they learned while earning an advanced degree in their field.
Instead of knowledge, therapists offer guidance, support, and structure when following the recommendations that Carl Rogers proposed in the 1940s.
By taking this approach, it becomes possible for a client to look for personalized solutions. They become invested in their therapy because they are participating in it. That, in return, offers the greatest potential for success.
The Carl Rogers person-centered theory also places some responsibility on the client. They must direct the therapist in the direction they wish to go to improve their circumstances. The client must become the navigator. The therapist must then take on the task of following the lead that is set forth by the client. It is an approach that is effective in many contexts, from education to mediation to encounter groups.