The Development of Person-Centred Therapy

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Actualizing Tendency
  • The Self
    Self-Actualizing Tendency
    Conditions of Worth
    Organismic Valuing
    Fully Functioning Person
    Unconditional Positive Regard
  • Effectiveness of the Person-Centred Approach


In this essay will to explore Carl Rogers' works and beliefs. Then the person centered therapy essay will go on to explain the therapeutic conditions needed for change as defined and outlined by the Person-Centred approach to counselling, and why they are thought to be effective. The essay will conclude by presenting my own view on the approach and to, somewhat, challenge the principles of this therapy.

According to McLeon (2003), Person-centred therapy was developed in the 1950’s to fill the void that was not covered by the two main therapies in the USA at the time i.e. psychodynamic and cognitive. The most influential person involved in its development was Carl Rogers others who also aided in its formation were Maslow, Buhler and Jourard. Initially Roger’s termed his approach as Client-Centred Therapy, but then later renamed it the Person-Centred Approach.

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The movement became known as the third force as opposed to the other two forces, which were psychodynamic, and behaviourism. It was in answer to the lack of alternatives for American ex-service men after the Second World War that person-centred counselling was supported so much. Not many could afford to have psychoanalysis and there were not enough trained psychoanalysts anyway so an alternative needed to be found. A completely new breed of counsellors emerged, and the non-directive approach of the new therapy met the needs of the traumatised service men returning from the war (Casemore, 2011). Rogers' theory maintains that we have an ‘Actualizing Tendency', ‘The Self', ‘Self Actualizing Tendency'. Conditions of Worth', ‘Organismic Valuing' and the ‘Fully Functioning Person’ (Rogers, l989).

Actualizing Tendency

In Rogers' perspective, all humans have an underlying innate tendency to maintain themselves and be the best they can possibly be. It is an innate drive that gives us the desire to strive to make the very best of our existence as our own unique selves. It can of course be distorted or warped by way of our life experiences and our environment, but Rogers believes it can never be destroyed (Rogers, l989).

The Self

This is how the individual views his/herself, the totality of what that person has experienced, including experiences that are outside of their awareness (conscious and unconscious). It evolves through interactions with others and a recognising of yourself and your own functioning (Rogers, l989).

Self-Actualizing Tendency

Rogers maintains that this is the process of the individual aiming towards enhancing and maintaining themselves or aiming towards their actualizing tendency. It is the wanting to work towards a lifestyle that is more acceptable and comfortable to his or her own unique self (Rogers, l989).

Conditions of Worth

These are introjected values placed upon us; this most commonly occurs when we are growing up with the conditions put upon us through our parents. For example, being told ‘big boys don’t cry’ (can be interpreted as it is unmanly or immature to cry), ‘your brother has achieved far more than you’ that the receiving individual can take that as they me inadequate or stupid.

While our personalities are developing, we go through a series of conditioning processes. For instance, being rewarded for good behaviour and punished for bad behaviour. We subsequently over time tend to routinely exhibit those behaviours that give us positive regard and are pleasing to the people who are conditioning us

However, this can be detrimental to us because we suppress our true selves to impress and gratify our significant others; although this is not always necessarily the case. Conditions of worth can be put upon us by other significant others that we have come across in our lifetime, e.g. peers, spouses and work colleagues. For example, being bullied at school or being abused by your spouse, whether it is physically, mentally or emotionally (Mearns & Thorne, l999).

Organismic Valuing

This is a frame of reference that allows an individual to know if his/her experiences are in agreement with his/her actualizing tendency ‘this fundamental, intrinsic or ‘organismic' valuing process helps the person to have a sense of what they need for their enhancement from both their environment and other people' (Mearns & Thorne, l999:9).

Fully Functioning Person

The fully functioning person will have received Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) has few conditions of worth and has congruence between self and potentialities. Through his works, Rogers maintains that the core of man’s nature is essentially positive, realistic and unique. His ultimate goal is for the individual to become a fully functioning person in accordance with their own unique self, ‘when a person comes to me, troubled with his unique combination of difficulties, I have found it most worthwhile to try and create a relationship with him that is safe and free. It is my purpose to understand the way he feels in his own inner world, to accept him as he is, to create an atmosphere in which he can move in his thinking and feeling and being, in any direction he desires’ (Rogers, l989:l09).

An apt summary to defining the Person-Centred approach to counselling is ‘the aim is to help the client unravel their `personal theory' which he has constructed around his own experiencing' Mearns D & Thorne B (l996:5). Notice the way this is defined using ‘which he has constructed' and ‘his own experiencing'. The Person-Centred approach is what it says, it is ‘person-centred.’ The overall aim is also to help enable the individual, to the best of their ability, as described by Carl Rogers, become a ‘fully functioning person'. The Person-Centred approach believes that to do this there has to be certain core therapeutic conditions (outlined below), also sometimes referred to as ‘favourable conditions' being made available to the individual, to grow and be the best they can be, and ‘places high value on the experience of the individual human being. It also challenges each person to accept responsibility for his or her own life and to trust the inner resources which are available to all those who are prepared to set out the path of self-awareness and self-acceptance’ (Mearns & Thorne, 1999:6).

Self-awareness and self-acceptance are two key factors to enable an individual to ‘move on' and go forward with their lives. However, it must be noted that it is not the counsellor’s role, in the person-centred approach, to tell the client what to do or indeed give advice. lt is the counsellor’s role to offer a comfortable space, a safe environment and confidentiality, to encourage the client to work towards a way of living that is more satisfying, acceptable and positive for that individual.

Rogers (l989) suggests that at the heart of therapeutic change within the Person-Centred approach are the core conditions for:

  1. To be congruent or genuine
  2. Offer Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) and total acceptance
  3. Feel and communicate a deep and empathetic understanding


Congruence or genuineness requires the counsellor to behave in a genuine and non-threatening manner. The idea of seeing a counsellor for the first time can pose as a threat and feel very uncomfortable to some people, therefore it is important for the counsellor to be as real and detached to their role as they possibly can, to help the client feel at ease (McLeon, 2003).

The counsellor must be aware of their own thoughts and feelings and should be able to communicate these to the client when necessary and appropriate to do so. Honesty therefore plays a crucial role, ‘when we talk about congruence we are referring to the counsellor’s response to the client's experiencing. The counsellor may have lots of feelings and sensations flowing within her, but it is only those which are in response to her client which are appropriate for expression.' (Mearns & Thorne, 1999:91).

Unconditional Positive Regard

The client must be made to feel that they are being accepted for who they are without any reservations from the counsellor. This condition helps to build a sense of security for the client. Viewing the client to be a person of worth and value is essential to help the client work towards change by way of having a sense of self-worth towards themselves (McLeon, 2003).


Empathy is seeing how the client sees it in his/her world, through their eyes and in their perspective. When the client is given empathy, they can then learn to empathise with themselves. In some cases, the counsellor may not be able to truly understand what the client is experiencing, but the key words here are ‘to try' or imagine ‘as if' they were in that situation. The counsellor must also give accurate empathy, and not presume that they know what the client is feeling and experiencing. This is achieved by actively listening to what the client is saying and reflecting on what the client has said so the counsellor can make sure he/she are hearing and understanding correctly (McLeon, 2003).

This type of counselling, however, is not always an easy task for the counsellor, especially when the client is a, ‘victim of conditions of self-worth' which others have imposed upon them, but so great is their need for positive approval that they accept this straitjacket rather than risk rejection by trespassing against their conditions set for their acceptability.' (Mearns & Thorne, 1999:8).

With the counsellor working with clients with these poor conditions of worth, the client could find this a hard and possibly a traumatic time to realise and to deal with. They may have been this experiencing for such a long time, they have probably developed coping strategies, that they may not have even been aware of. In turn also, it will be likely that the client will have some degree of difficulty on making their own decisions and getting back in touch with which they really are (Ballantine Dykes, 2010).

With the core therapeutic conditions as mentioned above, the Person-Centred approach believes that these conditions are essential to the client becoming a ‘fully functioning person’. Rogers has sometimes referred to this as a ‘potato’, with just that little bit of light (i.e. the core therapeutic conditions) the potato has been given the chance to grow towards the light.

With these core conditions, the client would go on to be more confident (with whom they are) and comfortable enough to move on and make those changes within themselves. or indeed their environment. Conversely, an insufficient or unfavourable environment can thwart psychological growth. In short, the ideal fully-functioning person has few conditions of worth and has received unconditional positive regard. With this method of counselling, the counsellor believes in the client’s own capabilities to manage their own problems, which encourages the client to believe in their own strengths, values and self-worth (Katzow and Safran, 2007).

It is not the counsellor’s task to direct or diagnose the individual; their role is to listen and understand in a non-judgemental manner, allowing the clients to help themselves. This approach is thought to be extremely beneficial and effective in repairing a person’s self-concept this allows their own journey of self-awareness, self-acceptance, to grow and to heal enabling them to live a life which is more acceptable and more agreeable to their individual needs (Ballantine Dykes, 2010).

Effectiveness of the Person-Centred Approach

The Person-Centred approach is thought to be effective because it is a humanistic, client focused approach and as everyone is an individual only that person knows what hurt and confusions they are experiencing, only they know what they would like to change. Rogers believes that it is better to rely upon the client for the direction of movement as everyone has their own actualizing tendency, which is innate in all humans to grow to the best of their ability to be constructive and to have a more satisfying life or lifestyle. To be offered space, freedom, congruence, empathy and UPR. to an individual who is experiencing times of anxiety, distress and confusion, to be in control of that time and space, is a human need to enable that individual to gain self-awareness, self-acceptance to heal and to grow into their own unique self.

However, the person-centred approach has attracted criticism for supposedly being “theory-thin” (Casemore, 2011). However, as has been shown, it is rooted in humanism, existentialism and phenomenology, and was developed as a challenge to the authoritarian, dogmatic approaches that were prominent at the time. Carl Rogers is overwhelmingly regarded as the most influential figure in the therapy field, even among practitioners of cognitive-behavioural therapy (Farber, 2007, cited in Ballantine Dykes, 2010).

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