Person-Centred Therapy: History and Concepts
The person-centred approach was developed from the concepts of humanistic psychology. The humanistic approach “views people as capable and autonomous, with the ability to resolve their difficulties, realize their potential, and change their lives in positive ways” (Seligman, 2006).
Carl Rogers (a major contributor of the client-centred approach) emphasized the humanistic perspective as well as ensuring therapeutic relationships with clients promote self-esteem, authenticity and actualisation in their life, and help them to use their strengths (Seligman, 2006).
The person-centred approach was originally focused on the client being in charge of the therapy which led to the client developing a greater understanding of self, self-exploration, and improved self-concepts. The focus then shifted to the client’s frame of reference and the core conditions required for successful therapy such as ensuring the therapist demonstrates empathic understanding in a non-judgemental way.
Currently, the person-centred approach focuses on the client being able to develop a greater understanding of self in an environment which allows the client to resolve his or her own problems without direct intervention by the therapist. The therapist should keep a questioning stance which is open to change as well as demonstrating courage to face the unknown.
Rogers also emphasised the attitudes and personal characteristics of the therapist and the quality of the client-therapist relationship as being the determinants for a successful therapeutic process (Corey, 2005).
The humanistic influence on person-centred therapy — As previously mentioned, the humanistic approach has been a major influence on person-centred therapy. Person-centred therapists believe that clients are capable and trustworthy and they focus on clients’ ability to make changes for themselves.
Actualisation — People have the tendency to work towards self-actualisation. Self-actualisation refers to developing in a complete way. It occurs throughout the lifespan as the individual works towards “intrinsic goals, self-realization and fulfilment, involving autonomy and self-regulation” (Seligman, 2006).
Conditions of worth — Conditions of worth influence the way in which a person’s self-concept is shaped from important people in his or her life. Conditions of worth refer to judgemental and critical messages from important people that influence the way the individual acts and reacts to certain situations. When an individual has conditions of worth imposed on him or her, self-image is often low. Also, if the individual is exposed to overprotective or dominating environments, this can also have a negative impact on self-image (Seligman, 2006).
The fully functioning person — The fully functioning person is an individual who has “ideal emotional health” (Seligman, 2006). Generally, the fully functioning person will be open to experience, lives with a sense of meaning and purpose, and trusts in self and others. One of the main goals of person-centred therapy is to work towards becoming “fully functioning”.
Phenomenological perspective — The phenomenological approach refers to the unique perception by each individual of his or her own world. The individual experiences and perceives own world and reacts in an individual way. Person-centred therapy focuses on the individual’s own experience informing how treatment will work.
There are a number of general ideas about personality development with regard to person-centred therapy. Basically, person-centred therapy states that personality can be fully actualised when the individual is exposed to unconditional positive regard.
An individual who has been exposed to conditional positive regard can have low self-esteem and low feelings of worth. An individual who is self-actualised will be more open to experience and less defensive, will learn to live in the moment, will trust own decision-making skills, will have more life choices and be more creative.