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What Is Person-Centered Therapy?

person-centered therapy

Person-Centered Therapy is an approach to therapy developed in the 1940s by Carl Rogers. Nowadays, its influence can be found in nearly every therapy office. However, at the time it was revolutionary for how it shifted the focus from the therapist to the client, gave control of the session over to the client, and emphasized every client’s innate ability for growth and self-actualization. 

This article dives into what client-centered therapy is, how it helps, and who can benefit from it.

What is person centered therapy?

At the time client-centered therapy, also known as person centered or humanistic therapy, was created, psychoanalytic and behaviorism therapy approaches were the norm. These methodologies focused heavily on there being something wrong with the client that therapist helped fix. In the case of psychoanalytic, this was done through unconscious work, and in the case of behaviorism it was done through changing action. 

Humanistic therapy turned the counseling world on its head by saying “What if there was nothing wrong with these clients? What if they just needed to be given the tools to thrive?” 

Client-centered therapy was born. Instead of trying to “fix” client's problems, person centered therapy helped clients realize their full potential and give them the tools they need to solve their own problems. 

In regards to client-centered therapy, Carl Rogers says it “aims directly toward the greater independence…of the individual rather than hoping that such results will accrue if the counselor assists in solving the problem.” 

In other words, client-centered therapy gives the client space to gain self-awareness where they no longer need the therapist, and will in fact never need a therapist again, because they have full understanding of themselves and are able to coach themselves through future conflicts. It shifted the goal from fixing broken patients to helping clients realize their full potential

The other important distinction person centered therapy takes from its contemporaries is it gives the reigns of the therapy session to the client instead of the therapist. Previously, the therapist would almost certainly lead the session through questions and prompts and would probably talk during a good portion of the session. The therapist's job, afterall, was to diagnose and fix the problem. 

Person-centered therapy flipped the script by taking a “non-directive therapy” approach: The client’s job is to diagnose and fix the problem; the therapist is there to support and must refrain from passing judgment or suggesting solutions. This, Rogers theorizes, builds resilience, self-efficacy, self-empathy, and self-awareness in the client. The end goal? Self-actualization.

History of Person-Centered Therapy

In the 1940s when Carl Rogers was pioneering this therapy method, it was considered radical. This became a turning point in the mental health field, as experts started looking towards the human spirit, individualism, and the innate ability for human growth and healing. The core idea of Roger’s humanistic therapy—self-actualization—was also pioneered by Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, which placed self-actualization on top. 

By the 1960s, person-centered therapy became closely tied to the Human Potential Movement, which is a collision of Roger’s, Maslow’s, and other humanistic expert’s theory that humans have an ideal self and that everyone has the ability to reach it.

What is self-actualization?

Self-actualization is a theory in psychology that gained popularity and power in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s. It was pioneered by Carl Rogers in his person centered theory. Essentially, self-actualization is the idea that everyone has the power to find the best solutions for themselves, make the appropriate changes in our lives, and reach our ideal self. 

That ideal self is unique to everyone, so the only person who could possibly know how to reach it is the individual, who is the expert of their own self. 

The idea of self-actualization highlighted the need for greater self-efficacy (belief in personal ability to complete tasks) and self-awareness, two things person centered therapy works to increase in its clients.

Person-Centered Techniques

The overarching goal of humanistic therapy is to help clients gain a greater self-awareness. With this self-awareness they can alter their life into the best version of themselves, reaching self-actualization. 

  • Genuineness and Congruence: seeking harmony in the therapist-client relationship. Importantly, the therapist is genuine and harmonious towards the clients. Through modeling that behavior, the therapist teaches the clients how to act like that as well. This technique is also vital in creating trust between therapist and client, which enables the client to open up and be honest with both themselves and their therapist. 
  • Unconditional Positive Regard: Total acceptance by the therapist. The therapist takes all of their clients' thoughts, feelings, and experiences seriously and validates them. This doesn’t mean they agree with them or think they are best for the client. Rather, that they will be there with the client through the process, and not judge them for wherever that process takes them. 
  • Empathetic Understanding: Empathy is the cornerstone of person centered therapy. Through it, the therapist seeks to understand everything the client is—their behavior, thoughts, emotions, and experiences working in tandem to create a holistic person with unique existence. 

These three techniques work together to create a trusting and open therapeutic relationship and environment. Clients are more likely to open up and be honest with themselves in this type of environment. As they gain insights into themselves, they work towards healing and growth.

What to Expect in Person Centered Therapy?

If you have never experienced therapy or are used to other approaches to therapy, humanistic therapy may come as a surprise. During it, you can expect: 

  • Silences: Your therapist may utilize silences to let the words and ideas spoken sink in. Often we are so quick to fill silences without fully feeling our emotions and processing our thoughts. Sitting in silence allows us to shed a light on some of the hidden thoughts and emotions we harbor. 
  • You’ll do most of the talking: In person centered therapy, the client is the guide. Your therapist will prompt you with open-ended questions or unique perspectives and urge you to dig deeper into a particular thought, emotion, or experience. However, unlike other therapies, you’ll do most of the talking. 
  • Open-ended and searching questions: Person centered therapists will do their best not to “lead” you to your own personal answers. For example, instead of asking “Do you think your childhood relationship with your father is affecting your ability to form healthy adult relationships?” they may ask things like “What are your relationships like?” or “Why do you think that is?” The goal is to help you find the solution on your own, so you can internalize that knowledge and use it to better yourself. 

You’ll likely find person centered therapy fingerprints all over therapy sessions, even ones seemingly at odds with it like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Psychoanalytic therapy. This is because the idea that every person is their own unique individual and is capable of great healing and growth has become much more accepted in recent decades.

What Can Person-Centered Therapy Help With?

Person Centered Therapy is effective at treating

  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Grief
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • PTSD
  • Relationship Issues
  • Stress Management or Chronic Stress
  • Difficult life transitions 

Person Centered Therapy may be helpful in treating other disorders, depending on the individual and their needs and goals. Talk to your therapist about using person centered therapy in sessions if you think it would be beneficial to you.

Can Person-Centered Therapy Help Me?

Most therapists use some of the techniques of person centered therapy, like unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding, to enhance their practice regardless of their main therapy modality. This is because Person Centered therapy can help people gain greater:

  • Self-confidence
  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Efficacy
  • Stronger sense of identity and authenticity in themselves
  • Healthier interpersonal relationships 
  • Confidence is decision making 
  • Resilience and ability to cope with difficult things 
  • Problem solving skills 

However, pure humanistic therapy may not be for everyone. It has some limitations, including:

  • Less structure: Person centered therapy may not be a good approach for people with psychiatric or personality disorders, which often require a more pointed and precise therapeutic modality. 
  • Time consuming: Unlike other therapies which outline specific goals and enact a timeline to reach them, person focused therapy is simply focused on a client’s growth. This could take place over a few weeks to a few months or even years. It is great for people who are willing and able to put in the work to fully understand it, but it lacks the ability to give people effective, quick solutions. 
  • Willingness to be open: Some people aren’t comfortable with the type of open exchange required for client-therapy to be effective. If you think that the type of open communication and emotional openness will impede on your comfort rather than increase it, person-centered therapy may not be right for you. 

Talk to a therapist about how humanistic therapy can help you today.

When to Seek Help

Person Centered Therapy helped open therapy up to more people. It was not just a tool to help the severely mentally ill, but rather a path towards greater joy, happiness, and balance. Therapy can be of use to you if you are:

  • Struggling with your mental health 
  • Recently experienced a trauma or stressful experience 
  • Have difficulty coping with a recent loss or change 
  • Notice changes in your eating or sleeping habits 
  • Have difficulty concentrating or getting work done
  • Find decreased pleasure in the activities that used to bring you joy 
  • Difficulty maintaining hygiene 
  • Feel stressed or overwhelmed 

These are only a few reasons one may want to seek therapy. It is truly for anyone and for any reason. There does not have to be anything “wrong with you” to come to therapy—you don’t even need a diagnosis. Even if you just want someone to talk to, therapy is a good source. 

For more information about the types of therapy Lifebulb offers, reach out to our team today.

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Frequently Asked Questions

 Person-centered therapy, also known as client-centered therapy, is a humanistic approach to psychotherapy. It emphasizes the importance of the client-therapist relationship and creating a safe, non-judgmental environment for self-exploration and growth. The focus is on the individual's subjective experience, empowering them to find their own solutions and develop their self-awareness.

 Person-centered therapy can be beneficial for individuals seeking support and personal growth. It can help you explore your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in a supportive and empathetic environment. This therapy approach encourages self-acceptance, self-discovery, and assists in developing greater self-confidence and resilience.

 Person-centered therapy places a strong emphasis on the person's self-healing capacity. It believes that individuals have an intrinsic drive toward growth and healing. By providing a supportive and accepting therapeutic environment, person-centered therapy aims to help individuals tap into their own inner resources and facilitate personal growth and positive change.

 Positive unconditional regard is a fundamental concept in person-centered therapy. It refers to the therapist's unwavering acceptance, respect, and non-judgmental attitude towards the client. This unconditional positive regard creates a safe space for individuals to express themselves openly without fear of criticism or rejection. It promotes trust, self-acceptance, and facilitates the client's movement towards self-growth and healing.

 Client-centered therapy, now known as person-centered therapy, was developed by the influential psychologist Carl Rogers in the mid-20th century. Rogers believed in the power of empathy, understanding, and providing a supportive environment for individuals to discover their own solutions and foster personal growth.

Remember, person-centered therapy can be a valuable tool on your journey to mental well-being. Consider seeking guidance from a qualified therapist to explore how this approach can support you in living your brightest life.

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