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What Is Unconditional Positive Regard?

Unconditional positive regard allows people to be accepted for who they really are.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2014
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Unconditional positive regard is a concept arising from the early humanist therapists, especially person or client-centered therapy. Though this definition is brief to a fault, one of the core ideas expressed in this early work is that any person receiving therapy is deserving of respect and ultimately has the tools to move from a self that is less desired to one that is desirable. This gets facilitated by the therapist’s presence and acceptance of the client at all times, and especially by the concept of unconditional positive regard, which asserts the client’s acceptability, though they have both good and bad qualities.

Understanding the difference between conditional and unconditional positive regard is of value in grasping the latter term’s meaning. Conditional means hinged or dependent on. A person in this scenario can only earn regard or attachment if they behave or think in certain ways, and failure to come up to another person’s standards may make them isolated or alone. A parent who shows affection to a child only when that child performs well in school or in some other way is not expressing any kind of unconditional love. Instead, the parent has set the terms upon which regard will be awarded, and the child is left to grow up with the attitude that differentiation from the parent is wrong or bad.

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Humanist psychologists like Carl Rogers asserted that in the therapy environment, people might for the first time encounter unconditional positive regard. Most relationships set conditions, meaning most people have never been fully accepted for both failures and triumphs. When the therapist adopts this attitude, it may be, according to Rogers and others, one of the most healing environments possible. A person allowed to be who he or she is doesn’t have to strain against the constant conditions and judgments that meet him or her in the real world, and this is an environment in which dynamic change may occur.

Many people would look at this concept and see immediate flaws in it, for what if the person has behaviors that are dangerous to self or others. With self-injurious behaviors, Rogers and other point out that it is possible to accept a person without approving a behavior. If a person cuts for instance and the therapist denies care and concern, that is not very healing. In contrast, a client who self-injures and evokes the care and concern of a therapist may be able to move to a place where injury ultimately doesn’t occur. Especially in modern therapy, unconditional regard does not mean a therapist cannot intervene to save a client from harm, but this action would arise from deep concern and respect instead of from any type of punitive position.

This posture of unconditional positive regard is not just a model in therapy. There are many that contend that it can be a model for heads of state, drivers on the road, parents and their children, and businesses and the people they serve. It has been argued that coming from the direction that all people have a basic right toward love and respect might be transformational to a whole world.

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