The Person-Centred approach was first developed by Dr. Carl Rogers (1902–1987). Central to the approach is the belief that people have a natural tendency to develop psychologically when they are in an accepting, empathic and genuine relationship.
Carl Rogers explains
It is the client who knows what hurts, what directions to go, what problems are crucial, what experiences have been deeply buried.
It began to occur to me that unless I had a need to demonstrate my own cleverness and learning, I would do better to rely upon the client for the direction of movement in the process. Carl Rogers (1961)
If the counsellor is tempted to demonstrate their own abilities they may lead clients in an unhelpful direction. Furthermore taking the lead implies that the counsellor, rather than the client knows what is best.
This takes me to the importance of self-awareness.
Person-centred counsellors strive to be aware of their inner experiencing, noticing and addressing anything that prevents them from being fully available for clients, and anything that that might compromise the quality of their work.
Rogers published an article in 1957, identifying six conditions that he considered 'necessary and sufficient' for therapeutic change. 1. Two persons are in psychological contact’ (Rogers 1957)
Counsellor and client have some impact upon each other. Without psychological contact counselling would not be possible. 2. The first, whom we shall term the client, is in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.’ Rogers, C. (1957).
Self-concept refers to how we view, experience and evaluate ourself. Ideal-self refers to how we wish to be and believe that we should be. The more that our self-concept and ideal-self match, the more consistent or congruent we are. If there is consistency between the way we see ourself and the way that we want to be, we are likely to have a strong sense of our worth.
Rogers' second condition refers to a miss match between how the client perceives themself and how they would like to be. If the client is vaguely aware of their incongruence they are vulnerable because they are likely to feel some anxiety. If there is no awareness of their incongruence they are vulnerable to the possibility of becoming aware of it and experiencing anxiety. The third, fourth and fifth conditions are often referred to as the core conditions, they are about the qualities which the counsellor brings to the relationship. 3. The second person, whom we shall term the therapist, is congruent or integrated in the relationship.
As far as possible Counsellors are aware of what they are experiencing in their relationships with clients. Their inner feelings are available to them allowing the counsellor to be openly themselves and to share some of their experiencing when this seems to be in clients’ best interests. These qualities of presence and genuineness create a trustworthy and safe environment for the client to explore them self and their issues.
4. The therapist experiences unconditional positive regard for the client
As far as possible counsellors are genuinely accepting, respectful and warm towards clients who are free to be themselves and to explore their situation without being judged or criticized. When people are valued they are more likely to value themselves, to become more confident and to develop greater self esteem. 5. The therapist experiences an empathic understanding of the client's internal frame of reference and endeavors to communicate this experience to the client.
Counsellors understand clients empathically as if they were in the client's shoes. This can reduce feelings of isolation and of being alone with one’s troubles. Counsellors reflect back what the client tells them, helping clients to hear themselves and to check their own views and meanings.
Counsellors endeavour to understand clients at a deep level, and at the same time it is important to also be in touch with their own reality.
6. The communication to the client of the therapist's empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard is to a minimal degree achieved.
Counsellors communicate their empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard to clients so that clients can benefit from being understood and accepted.
In my early professional years I was asking the question: How can I treat, or cure, or change this person? Now I would phrase the question in this way: How can I provide a relationship which this person may use for his own personal growth? Carl Rogers (1961)