Client Centered Therapy

This week’s post will discuss client centered therapy, or Rogerian therapy.

About Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers is the originator of client centered therapy. He was born in the early 1900s, which means client centered therapy hit its stride circa 1950s and 1960s. A bit of history about the founder will help us understand how his theory came about:

Carl Rogers grew up on an isolated farm and then visited China during the early part of his career, where he learned to become tolerant of customs that differed from his own. He also married his wife, Helen, over the objection of his parents. Here is what he has said about his wife: “her steady and sustaining love and companionship during all the years since has been a most important and enriching factor in my life.”*

What can we glean from this bit of history? That Carl Rogers valued relationships and he appreciated diversity. Both of these values will become apparent in a moment when I discuss his theory.

The Theory

Carl Rogers believed that people are inherently good, and that they have the natural capacity to self-actualize. However, nurturing relationships are required in order to allow people to reach their potential. It is only when people receive unconditional love that they are able to fully develop into a healthy individual. Why? If a child grows up with conditional love, then he or she will learn that their bad parts are unacceptable. In an effort to adapt, the child will try to hide or ignore these bad parts. It is this suppression that causes personality defects.

Put another way, people get into trouble when they have a large discrepancy between their real selves and their ideal selves. Just as it sounds, the real self is who they truly are, and the ideal self is who they think they should be; perhaps because that’s what they have been told by their parents. It is this discrepancy that causes people to develop mental distress.

How Therapists Can Help

Therapists can help clients by providing the type of nurturing environment that people need to self-actualize. When clients experience this nurturing relationship, they will automatically heal themselves. Therefore, healing is a result of the therapeutic relationship according to this theory.

Or, as Rogers said, “If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth, and change and personal development will occur.” *

More specifically, therapists can provide the following qualities in the therapeutic relationship:

  1. Unconditional positive regard: the therapist accepts all parts of the person, even the negative or undesirable parts.
  2. Genuineness: the therapist will be authentic with the client, openly and honestly sharing thoughts and feelings.
  3. Empathic understanding: the therapist will strive to understand the client, mainly via active listening.

A Final Word

As one of my students very astutely pointed out, this therapy is not completely client centered. Yes, the client provides the goals of therapy and the main direction. However, although it may appear that the therapist is laid back and relaxed, the therapist is actually very active. Through active listening and asking questions, a client centered therapist actually does provide direction in the session. It just may be a bit harder to see as compared with other modes of therapy.

To see Carl Rogers in action, check out this video.

Yours in the Joy of Knowledge,

Barbara LoFrisco

* Source: On Becoming a Person by Carl Rogers, 1961