Therapy FAQ

Transform Your Life with Person-Centered Therapy

Stigma, fear of judgment, doubt, and misinformation about what therapy entails usually makes people hesitant to seek mental help. Others may drop out of therapy because they believe their therapist has unduly control over the process, an unbalance that leaves them feeling uneasy.  If surrendering control breeds resistance to treatment, you should consider person-centered mental […]

therapist sean abraham By Sean Abraham, LCSW

Updated on Jan 12, 2024

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Stigma, fear of judgment, doubt, and misinformation about what therapy entails usually makes people hesitant to seek mental help. Others may drop out of therapy because they believe their therapist has unduly control over the process, an unbalance that leaves them feeling uneasy. 

If surrendering control breeds resistance to treatment, you should consider person-centered mental health treatment. Also known as Rogerian therapy, this therapy approach lets you play an active role in your journey to mental wellness. 

This article will delve into person-centered therapy, also known as patient-centered therapy, its techniques, and why it’s a great option for people looking to take charge of their lives and mental health.

What Is Person-Centered Therapy?

Person-centered therapy (PCT) is a humanist form of therapy developed by Carl Rogers that allows the client to take charge of the therapeutic process while the therapist plays a supportive role. Instead of a directive approach, a person-centered therapist provides a safe space that facilitates self-exploration and self-understanding. 

In PCT, the therapeutic relationship is characterized by warmth, trust, and authenticity. The relationship hinges on the therapist being genuine, empathetic, and non-judgmental and the client committing to self-exploration and personal growth. 

The modality employs reflective listening, empathy, and acceptance instead of the standard behavioral analysis approach. Person-centered therapy holds that people always want to do better and self-actualize. It believes that you’re an expert in your life, and grounded in this knowledge, only you can provide viable solutions to resolve your concerns. 

According to Rogers, a client may be in a state of instability if there’s a separation between their self-image and reality. This separation may leave them feeling vulnerable and anxious. Person-centered therapy promotes personal growth by helping you resolve the differences between your self-perception and reality. 

Shakirah Forde, a licensed clinical social worker at Grow Therapy, explains how person-therapy works: “Authenticity and genuineness form the bedrock of trust in the therapeutic relationship. Being authentic as a therapist creates a trustworthy atmosphere for clients to express themselves openly without fear of judgment. It fosters a mutual, respectful alliance that encourages honest self-expression.”

A PCT therapist listens reflectively and helps clarify questions but won’t offer advice. The core idea here is to eliminate the notion that the solutions to your problems lie in factors beyond your control. By facilitating self-exploration and reinforcing your worth, PCT builds your self-esteem and boosts your ability to make decisions and live with their consequences. Since a psychological diagnosis isn’t necessary, anyone interested in personal growth and development can sign up for person-centered therapy. 

Person-centered therapy is also at the core of another modality called Motivational Interviewing (MI). Motivational Interviewing utilizes the client focused tenets of person-centered therapy to put the client in the driver’s seat in the therapeutic relationship. For example, the client is the person deciding the goals of therapy, rather than the therapist prescribing goals to the client that may not be important to the client. People are much more likely to accomplish things when they are the ones that want to do those things – so PCT coupled with MI usually leads to some of the best client outcomes.

The Six Elements of Person-Centered Therapy 

The Rogerian theory identifies six key factors that enhance personal growth:

  1. Therapist-Client Contact: A client must seek a PCT therapist and establish a psychological relationship.
  2. Client Incongruence: The client is in a state of incongruence — their internal environment doesn’t align with their reality.
  3. Therapist Congruence: The therapist can genuinely engage with the client to create a trustworthy and authentic relationship where they feel safe to be themselves without fear of judgment.
  4. Therapist Unconditional Positive Regard: A therapist must always display unconditional acceptance, respect, and care for the client, regardless of their thoughts, behavior, or circumstances.
  5. Therapist Empathic Understanding: The therapist will reflectively listen, accept you and your struggles, and help clarify your feelings and current efforts. They reinforce your positive characteristics to help you develop the insights you need to change your status. 
  6. Client Perception: You must understand that the therapist is rooting for your success. PCT helps the therapist reflect on your feelings, and they use positive reinforcement to overcome resistance and replace negative attitudes with positive ones.

The theory suggests that meeting all six conditions will facilitate change and propel therapy clients toward constructive fulfillment. 

The Core Conditions of Client-Centered Therapy

Carl Rogers recommends that a therapist offering person-centered therapy must have three attitudes, known as the core conditions:  

Accurate Empathy: This is the ability to deeply grasp and appreciate your experience, feelings, and perspectives. A therapist steps into your shoes and sees the world from your viewpoint without evaluation or judgment to make you feel truly understood and accepted.

Congruence: A therapist must be genuine, authentic, and transparent during your interactions. They should communicate openly and honestly and should not attempt to hide under their professional facade.

Unconditional Positive Regard: This refers to the therapist’s unwavering acceptance, respect, and warmth towards you. They should demonstrate genuine care, and non-judgmental acceptance and create a safe space to explore your true self without fear of rejection or criticism. 

These core conditions help PCT counselors create a safe and nurturing environment that encourages clients to come out of their shells.

How Does it Work? 

The goal of client-focused therapy is to assist clients in taking charge of their lives and recognizing that they have the power to control their circumstances. It is designed to help individuals become more mindful and purposeful in their actions.

As we touched on earlier, this therapy modality is grounded in the Humanist Theory and hypothesizes that you have an inherent understanding of your life and what’s causing you pain. As such, you have the innate ability to readjust your life and take constructive action. 

PCT therapists use a non-directive approach to strengthen this capacity. They recognize that you don’t need interpretation or expert advice but the support to rediscover and trust your inner experience, develop insight, and set a direction. 

Your counselor will help you understand how past experiences, future expectations, and present perceptions influence your reality. If you know how your experiences assume meaning, you can gain insights that allow you to choose new behaviors. 

During the initial session of a PCT, a therapist will: 

The goal is to engage the client early on and encourage them to stay the course as the degree of motivation a client feels after the initial session determines their commitment. 

Is Person-Centered Therapy Effective?

Client-centered therapy doesn’t seek to interpret your unconscious motivation or conflicts; rather, it helps you to reflect on how you feel and enables you to overcome resistance and obstacles through consistent acceptance. It aims to help you replace negative attitudes with positive ones without relying on the therapist for direction or guidance. 

Person-centered therapy is effective because: 

PCT is non-directive to prioritize your autonomy and enhance self-direction. By taking charge of the therapy session, you’re likely to introspect, develop a greater self-understanding, and improve your self-concepts. 

Patient-Centered Therapy vs. Other Forms of Therapy

The core principles and techniques of patient-centered therapy differ significantly from other forms of treatment. Here’s a high-level overview of these distinctions: 

Person-Centered Therapy vs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): PCT prioritizes self-exploration and revolves around the client’s experiences and feelings in the present moment. CBT focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors that cause psychological distress. 

Patient-Centered Therapy vs. Psychodynamic Therapy: PCT focuses on your current feelings and experiences while aiming to increase self-awareness and acceptance. Psychodynamic therapy explores the influences of your childhood, past experiences, and unconscious conflicts on your current thoughts and behaviors. 

Person-Centered Therapy vs. Behavioral Therapy: PCT emphasizes self-growth, self-exploration, and personal growth to increase self-awareness and acceptance. Behavioral therapy uses structured interventions and behavioral techniques such as reinforcement to modify specific behaviors.

Person-centered therapy stands apart from other therapy modalities because it emphasizes self-exploration and uses a non-directive and empathic approach. It’s particularly effective for individuals seeking self-awareness, personal growth, and a supportive therapeutic environment.  

Can Person-Centered Therapy Treat Psychiatric Conditions?

Person-centered therapists often use non-directed supportive therapy to treat various mental health illnesses, including: 

Therapists will often use PCT alongside other therapeutic modalities when dealing with psychiatric diagnoses since some require a structured and directive approach. 

Criticisms of Person-Centered Therapy 

While PCT is valued for its emphatic and client-centered approach, it’s not without criticism.

Some critics argue that the unstructured, non-directive approach is too vague, may not give clients sufficient direction, and may lead to slow progress or stagnation. Others argue PCT may not be the best approach for treating certain mental illnesses like severe depression and anxiety that benefit from structured and goal-oriented interventions. 

Critics also argue that prioritizing a client’s current experiences and emotions over delving into their past and early life experiences may not adequately address underlying issues rooted in their history. 

However, it’s important to note PCT is a highly adaptable therapeutic approach, and therapists use it alongside other modalities when treating psychiatric disorders.

Person-Centered Therapy Techniques 

Person-centered therapy uses flexible and adaptable methods tailored to your needs and preferences. This form of treatment is collaborative, as patients work with therapists to facilitate personal growth, self-discovery, and positive change. 

Congruence: It requires a therapist to be genuine and transparent in everything they say and do. Your therapist knows you may read into their body language, which could impact your ability to express your feelings or pursue a line of thought. As such, your therapist should always seek clarification if they need help understanding something you’re saying.  

Unconditional Positive Regard: Your therapist will accept, respect, and care about you as you are. However, they’ll not agree with everything you say or do. Rather than disagree with you, they will express their concerns without being judgmental.

Acceptance: Your therapist will accept you and your past and appreciate your efforts to rise above your current circumstances. They won’t judge you for your current predicament but encourage you to face your fears, uncover your inner strengths, and take corrective measures. 

Empathy: PCT therapists show compassion instead of sympathy. Clients are more likely to open up and explore their thoughts and feelings when their therapist shows understanding, paving the way to self-exploration.

Reflection of Feelings: A therapist will identify and validate any emotions you convey while expressing your thoughts and feelings. They may use statements such as, “It sounds like you’re feeling sad” or “I can see you’re feeling frustrated.” That allows you to correct misunderstandings or add more context to your emotions. Acknowledging and verbalizing feelings is cathartic and may provide psychological relief. 

Non-Directiveness: Your therapist will let you take the reins so you’re the primary focus of the therapy session. The key here is that you’re the expert on your life, and your counselor will support you in developing actionable solutions. 

Paraphrasing: PCT prioritizes reflective listening, and your therapist will often paraphrase something you’ve said. Restating allows counselors to capture what you’ve said while presenting it from a slightly different perspective. It confirms that they’ve understood the message or you need to clarify to avoid miscommunication.  

Encouragers: Your therapist may use verbal and non-verbal responses during therapy. They may include verbal affirmations, positive reinforcements, reflective responses, nods and gestures, and open body language. The goal of encouragers is to help you feel safe to share your innermost thoughts and emotions. 

PCT techniques don’t primarily focus on what you can do during therapy but on how a therapist can create a conducive environment for self-awareness.

When to Consider Person-Centered Therapy

Person-centered therapy is a dynamic and effective therapeutic approach with diverse applications. Since it champions personal growth, person-centered therapy benefits anyone interested in personal development. You should consider person-centered therapy when: 

PCT is equally beneficial to clients with or without a psychiatric diagnosis. It’s ideal if you wish to go for therapy but don’t want to get a diagnosis.   

Find a Person-Centered Therapist

Person-centered therapy uses a humanistic approach that empowers you to take charge of the therapy sessions while your therapist plays a supporting role. Since person-centered therapy doesn’t require a psychiatric diagnosis, it won’t beholden you to a mental health condition.

Finding a person-centered therapist doesn’t need to be difficult. Grow Therapy is home to a range of therapists who specialize in your area of need, are located close by, and accept your insurance form. Use our search tool to find a person-centered therapist today.

FAQs

  • Person-centered therapy is a specific approach within the broader framework of humanistic therapy. PCT focuses on building a trusting therapeutic relationship and galvanizes the client's self-actualization through introspection. Conversely, human therapy takes a more holistic approach.

  • A person-centered therapist may face challenges when dealing with clients who don't wish to self-explore or have a mental illness that deprives them of this capability. Some clients may struggle to connect with their therapist, and PCT may not benefit a client needing a quick or immediate solution.

  • The duration of person-centered therapy varies depending on your specific needs and goals. It can be short-term or long-term and may continue long after you've achieved your desired outcome.

About the author
therapist sean abraham Sean Abraham, LCSW

Sean Abraham is a licensed clinical social worker who works with those who have struggled with substance use, depression, anxiety, loss, communication problems, student life, as well as other mental health concerns.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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