Person-Centred Therapy and Core Conditions

Humanistic therapies evolved in the USA during the 1950s.  Carl Rogers proposed that therapy could be simpler, warmer, and more optimistic than that carried out by behavioral or psychodynamic psychologists.

His view differs sharply from the psychodynamic and behavioral approaches in that he suggested that clients would be better helped if they were encouraged to focus on their current subjective understanding rather than on some unconscious motive or someone else’s interpretation of the situation.

Why Person-Centred Therapy?

Rogers strongly believed that therapists should be warm, genuine, and understanding for a client’s condition to improve.  The starting point of the Rogerian approach to counseling and psychotherapy is best stated by Rogers himself:

“It is that the individual has within himself or herself vast resources for self-understanding, for altering his or her self-concept, attitudes and self-directed behavior – and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided” (1980, p.115-117).

Rogers (1961) rejected the deterministic nature of both psychoanalysis and behaviorism and maintained that we behave as we do because of the way we perceive our situation. “As no one else can know how we perceive, we are the best experts on ourselves.”

Believing strongly that theory should come out of practice rather than the other way round, Rogers developed his theory based on his work with emotionally troubled people and claimed that we have a remarkable capacity for self-healing and personal growth leading towards self-actualization

He emphasized the person’s current perception and how we live in the here and now.

Rogers noticed that people tend to describe their current experiences by referring to themselves in some way, for example, “I don’t understand what’s happening” or “I feel different to how I used to feel.”

Central to Rogers” (1959) theory is the notion of self or self-concept .  This is defined as “the organized, consistent set of perceptions and beliefs about oneself.” It consists of all the ideas and values that characterize “I” and “me” and includes perception and valuing of “what I am” and “what I can do.”

Consequently, the self-concept is a central component of our total experience and influences both our perception of the world and our perception of ourselves.  For instance, a woman who perceives herself as strong may behave with confidence and see her actions as actions performed by someone who is confident.

The self-concept does not always fit with reality, though, and how we see ourselves may differ greatly from how others see us.

For example, a person might be very interesting to others and yet consider himself to be boring.  He judges and evaluates this image he has of himself as a bore, and this value will be reflected in his self-esteem. 

The confident woman may have high self-esteem, and the man who sees himself as a bore may have low self-esteem, presuming that strength/confidence are highly valued and that being boring is not.

Person-Centered Approach

Note: Person-centered therapy is also called client-centered therapy, and Rogerian Therapy.

A person enters person-centered therapy in a state of incongruence.  It is the role of the therapists to reverse this situation.  Rogers (1959) called his therapeutic approach client-centered or person-centered therapy because of the focus on the person’s subjective view of the world.

One major difference between humanistic counselors and other therapists is that they refer to those in therapy as “clients,” not “patients.”  This is because they see the therapist and client as equal partners rather than as an expert treating a patient.

Unlike other therapies, the client is responsible for improving his or her life, not the therapist.  This is a deliberate change from psychoanalysis and behavioral therapies, where the patient is diagnosed and treated by a doctor.

Instead, the client consciously and rationally decides for themselves what is wrong and what should be done about it.  The therapist is more of a friend or counselor who listens and encourages on an equal level.

One reason why Rogers (1951) rejected interpretation was that he believed that, although symptoms did arise from past experience, it was more useful for the client to focus on the present and future than on the past.

Rather than just liberating clients from their past, as psychodynamic therapists aim to do, Rogerians hope to help their clients achieve personal growth and eventually self-actualize.

There is an almost total absence of techniques in Rogerian psychotherapy due to the unique character of each counseling relationship.  However, the quality of the relationship between the client and therapist is of utmost importance.

The therapeutic relationship…is the critical variable, not what the therapist says or does.

If there are any techniques, they are listening, accepting, understanding, and sharing, which seem more attitude-orientated than skills-orientated. 

In Corey’s (1991) view, “a preoccupation with using techniques is seen [from the Rogerian standpoint] as depersonalizing the relationship.”  The Rogerian client-centered approach emphasizes the person coming to form an appropriate understanding of their world and themselves.

Rogers regarded everyone as a “potentially competent individual” who could benefit greatly from his form of therapy. 

Roger’s humanistic therapy aims to increase a person’s feelings of self-worth, reduce the level of incongruence between the ideal and actual self, and help a person become more of a fully functioning person.

Core Conditions of Client-Centered Therapy

Client-centered therapy operates according to three basic principles that reflect the attitude of the therapist to the client:

  1. The therapist is congruent with the client.
  2. The therapist provides the client with unconditional positive regard.
  3. The therapist shows an empathetic understanding to the client.

Congruence in Counseling

Congruence is also called genuineness.  According to Rogers, congruence is the most important attribute in counseling. 

This means that, unlike the psychodynamic therapist who generally maintains a “blank screen” and reveals little of their own personality in therapy, the Rogerian is keen to allow the client to experience them as they really are.

The therapist does not have a façade (like psychoanalysis); that is, the therapist’s internal and external experiences are one and the same.  In short, the therapist is authentic.

Unconditional Positive Regard

The next Rogerian core condition is unconditional positive regard.  Rogers believed that for people to grow and fulfill their potential, it is important that they are valued as themselves.

This refers to the therapist’s deep and genuine caring for the client.  The therapist may not approve of some of the client’s actions, but the therapist does approve of the client. In short, the therapist needs an attitude of “I’ll accept you as you are.”

The person-centered counselor is thus careful to always maintain a positive attitude to the client, even when disgusted by the client’s actions.


Empathy is the ability to understand what the client is feeling.  This refers to the therapist’s ability to understand sensitively and accurately [but not sympathetically] the client’s experience and feelings in the here and now.

An important part of the task of the person-centered counselor is to follow precisely what the client is feeling and to communicate to them that the therapist understands what they are feeling.

In the words of Rogers (1959), accurate empathic understanding is as follows:

“The state of empathy, or being empathic, is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the “as if” condition.

Thus, it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth. If this “as if” quality is lost, then the state is one of identification” (p. 210-211).

Common Person-Centered Therapy Techniques

1. Set clear boundaries

For example, when and how long you want the session to last. You may also want to rule out certain topics of conversation.

2. The client knows best

The client is the expert on his/her own difficulties. It’s better to let the client explain what is wrong. Don’t fall into the trap of telling them what their problem is or how they should solve it.

3. Act as a sounding board

One useful technique is to listen carefully to what the client is saying and then try to explain to him/her what you think he/she is telling you in your own words.
This can not only help you clarify the client’s point of view, but it can also help the client understand his/her feelings better and begin to look for a constructive way forward.

4. Don’t be judgmental

Some clients may feel that their personal problems mean falling short of the ‘ideal.’ They may need to feel reassured that they will be accepted for the person that they are and not face rejection or disapproval.

5. Don’t make decisions for them

Remember, advice is a dangerous gift. Also, some clients will not want to take responsibility for making their own decisions.
They may need to be reminded that nobody else can or should be allowed to choose for them. Of course, you can still help them explore the consequences of the options open to them.

6. Concentrate on what they are really saying

Sometimes this will not be clear at the outset. Often a client will not tell you what is really bothering him/her until he/she feels sure of you.
Listen carefully – the problem you are initially presented with may not be the real problem at all.

7. Be genuine

If you simply present yourself in your official role, the client is unlikely to want to reveal personal details about themselves. This may mean disclosing things about yourself – not necessarily facts, but feelings as well.
Don’t be afraid to do this – bearing in mind that you are under no obligation to disclose anything you do not want to.

8. Accept negative emotions

Some clients may have negative feelings about themselves, their families, or even you. Try to work through their aggression without taking offense, but do not put up with personal abuse.

9. How you speak can be more important than what you say

It is possible to convey a great deal through your tone of voice. Often it will be found helpful to slow down the pace of the conversation.
Short pauses where the client (and you) have time to reflect on the direction of the session can also be useful.

10. I may not be the best person to help

Knowing yourself and your own limitations can be just as important as understanding the client’s point of view. No person-centered counselor succeeds all the time.
Sometimes, you will be able to help, but you will never know. Remember, the purpose of a counseling session is not to make you feel good about yourself.

Learning Check

Joyce is a successful teacher and is liked by her colleagues. However, Joyce has always dreamed of becoming a ballroom dancer.

She spends much of her free time with her partner practicing elaborate lifts and can often be seen twirling around the classroom during break times. Joyce is considering leaving teaching and becoming a professional dancer.

Her colleagues described her plans as ‘ridiculous,’ and her parents, who are very proud that their daughter is a teacher, have told Joyce that they will not speak to her again if she does leave teaching to become a dancer. Joyce is beginning to feel sad and miserable.

Referring to features of humanistic psychology, explain how Joyce’s situation may affect her personal growth. [8 marks].

Contemporary Branches

Various contemporary offshoots have developed, guided by different Rogerian principles:

Child-centered play therapy applies the nondirective principle to therapy with children, using play as children’s natural mode of expression. Pioneered by Virginia Axline and Garry Landreth, it believes in the child’s capacity for inner growth and healing through play and creativity in an accepting relationship.

Focusing-oriented psychotherapy comes from Eugene Gendlin and sees experiencing as central to growth. It gently guides clients to bring awareness to their bodily “felt senses” to get in touch with unclear feelings that can carry forward change if articulated.

Emotion-focused therapy from Leslie Greenberg integrates person-centered principles with Gestalt therapy and contemporary emotion research. It sees problematic emotion schemes as causing disturbances, which can be worked through and transformed in the therapeutic alliance via emotional processing tasks.

Dialogical/relational approaches emphasize the two-way, co-created therapist-client encounter as central. Inspired by Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” concept, the client is seen as infinitely foreign but can be related openly with flexibility beyond just empathy.

Creative person-centered approaches use arts, movement, music, and other creative modalities to facilitate self-discovery and spontaneous expression within a nondirective relationship. Pioneered by Natalie Rogers, creative processes are seen as actualizing growth pathways.

Pre-therapy is for clients with severe contact impairments from Garry Prouty and uses very concrete mirroring and repetitions of client behavior to try and reestablish psychological contact gently as a precursor to therapy.

Integrative person-centered approaches combine core conditions with other practices, challenging “purism” and recognizing different clients need different things. Pluralistic therapy from Mick Cooper and John McLeod is one prominent integrative framework emphasizing client preferences.

Person-Centered Training and Supervision

In training and supervision, the focus is on using person-centered relating to stimulate trainee/therapist personal growth and self-understanding. The assumption is that their own actualization will transfer to more effective practice.


  • Belief that trainees have inherent capacity for professional development. Allows programs to be highly self-directed – trainees shape curriculum, assessments etc.
  • With less didactic input, focus is instead on experiential learning to catalyze growth:
    • Personal development groups
    • Encounter groups
    • Skills practice sessions
  • Feedback centers on helping develop empathy/acceptance capacities and active listening skills.


  • Primary aim is to facilitate therapist self-awareness and congruence.
  • Supervisor takes exploratory, person-centered style rather than authority role.
  • Discussion explores supervisee’s experiences/reactions to client to reveal material at the “edge of awareness.”
  • Audio recordings of sessions often used to understand relational dynamics.
  • Supervisory relationship itself models acce


Because the person-centered counselor places so much emphasis on genuineness and being led by the client, they do not place the same emphasis on time and technique boundaries as a psychodynamic therapist. 

A person-centered counselor might diverge considerably from orthodox counseling techniques if they judged it appropriate.

As Mearns and Thorne (1988) point out, we cannot understand person-centered counseling by its techniques alone.  The person-centered counselor has a very positive and optimistic view of human nature.

The philosophy that people are essentially good and that, ultimately, the individual knows what is right for them is the essential ingredient of a successful person-centered therapy is “all about loving.”


What is person-centered therapy?

Person-centered therapy, also known as client-centered therapy, is a psychological approach developed by Carl Rogers. It emphasizes the client’s autonomy and capacity for self-determination in the therapeutic process.

The therapist provides a supportive environment, demonstrating empathy, unconditional positive regard, and congruence (genuineness), facilitating the client’s self-exploration and self-understanding.

The goal is to promote personal growth and help individuals achieve their full potential by resolving incongruences between their self-perception and reality.

Which techniques are most often used in person-centered therapy?

Person-centered therapy doesn’t use specific techniques like other therapeutic approaches. Instead, it relies on three core principles: unconditional positive regard, empathy, and congruence.

Unconditional positive regard involves accepting and supporting the client without any conditions. Empathy requires the therapist to understand and share the feelings of the client.

Congruence refers to the therapist being genuine and transparent. The therapist’s role is to create a safe, non-judgmental environment that encourages self-exploration and self-understanding, facilitating the client’s natural tendency toward self-actualization.


Corey, G. (1991). Invited commentary on macrostrategies for delivery of mental health counseling services.

Mearns, P., & Thorne, B. (1988). Person-Centred Counselling in Action (Counselling in Action series). London: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable.

Rogers, C. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context. New York: McGraw Hill.

Rogers, C. R. (1961). On Becoming a person: A psychotherapists view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. (1975). Empathic: An unappreciated way of being. The counseling psychologist, 5(2), 2-10.

Rogers, Carl R. (1980). Way of Being. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Rogers, C. (1986). Carl Rogers on the Development of the Person-Centered Approach. Person-Centered Review, 1(3), 257-259.

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Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Educator, Researcher

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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