What is Person-Centered Therapy?

C. Martin

Person-centered therapy (PCT) is a form of talking psychotherapy in which the therapist takes a non-directing role. In contrast with some other types of psychotherapy, in PCT the therapist acts in a facilitating role and does not directly guide the client toward understanding of or solutions for his or her problems. The aim of person-centered psychotherapy is to create a comfortable environment and to provide the client with unconditional positive regard. The theory is that this environment will aid the client in finding solutions to his or her problems.

Person-centered therapy is often delivered in a one-on-one setting.
Person-centered therapy is often delivered in a one-on-one setting.

The psychologist Carl Rogers first developed person-centered therapy techniques in the 1940s and 1950s. As such, it is sometimes called "Rogerian" psychotherapy. PCT is generally considered one of the major types of psychotherapy, some of the other types being psychodynamic therapy, psychoanalytic or Freudian therapy, existential therapy, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

In person-centered therapy, patients are free to express themselves without judgement.
In person-centered therapy, patients are free to express themselves without judgement.

In the person-centered therapy approach, there are considered to be six important conditions that are believed to act together to enable positive change in the client. The first condition is the existence of a positive relationship between the therapist and the client, which is regarded by both to be important. The second condition is termed client incongruence. This means that there is a discrepancy between the client’s experiences and his or her self-image.

The third condition for person-centered therapy is that the therapist must be congruent. This means that the therapist must be genuinely involved in the therapeutic relationship and able to draw on his or her own experiences in order to empathize with the client and build the relationship. The fourth condition, and perhaps the most vital, is Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR), whereby the therapist demonstrates a genuine, non-judgmental, and unconditional acceptance of the client.

The fifth condition is empathic understanding of the client by the therapist. Accurately empathizing with the client is a very important way in which is the therapist able to communicate unconditional regard to the client. Finally, the sixth condition for successful person-centered therapy is that the client is able to perceive the empathy and unconditional acceptance offered by the therapist.

A person-centered therapy session is often delivered in a one-to-one setting, but person-centered group therapy is also possible. In group therapy of this kind, the leader of the group is responsible for creating an atmosphere of trust. Another variation on the person-centered therapy approach includes certain styles of play therapy, often employed with young children.

Person-centered therapy provides clients with unconditional positive regard.
Person-centered therapy provides clients with unconditional positive regard.

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Discussion Comments



Empathy and group trust are a key part of this kind of therapy. A patient will understand themselves well in the context of a group and of a community. Obviously, no therapist is going to be encourage a patient to think of himself as the center of the world, and that is not necessarily what positivity implies.


Is person-centered therapy narcissistic? If someone is made to be the center of a conversation without the context of community, it seems to me that this kind of therapy could encourage autonomy.



In the case of forensic psychology, person-centered therapy might work surprisingly well. Caution is necessary, however, because a therapist will want to avoid affirming any line of thinking which would lead up to encouraging further crimes. In encountering an environment of redemptive positivity, a criminal would be learning that he or she could be forgiven and have a new life of doing good. It could be a rare and wonderful part of their life to finally encounter someone who seeks to understand them and give them a positive attitude. Most criminals have become the way they are through reacting negatively to very negative circumstances and a lack of understanding.


How would this kind of therapy play out in a setting of forensic psychology? If someone was counseling a criminal who had committed atrocious crimes, it wouldn't seem appropriate to foster an environment of blithe positivity.

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