Person-Centered Therapy

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: What is Rogerian counseling?
Answer: Rogerian counseling is also known as Person-centered therapy. It was developed by the late Carl Rogers. At first, he described his orientation as Patient-centered, moved to Client-centered, and eventually settled on Person-centered. The motivation behind the name change for his counseling theory was an attempt to move from the sterile medical model of therapist/patient to something more personal and humanistic.
Like most humanistic psychotherapists, Rogers possessed a deep faith in the tendency of humans to develop in a positive and constructive manner if a climate of respect and trust is established. Therefore, the focus of therapy is on the person’s (client’s) responsibility and capacity to discover ways to more fully encounter reality. He believed that reality was subjective. Rogers put forth his theory at a time when behaviorism controlled psychology. Behaviorists described behavior from a distance as observed without involving or asking the individual “Why?” He believed you could learn more about the person by simply asking the person. Person-centered theory is not a set of techniques or dogma, but is rooted in a set of attitudes and beliefs that the therapist demonstrates.
The goal of Person-centered therapy is self-actualization, which is characterized by openness to new experiences, self trust, an internal source of evaluation, and a willingness to continue to grow. Openness to new experiences might include trying new behaviors that seem right for the individual. Self-trust could be described as trusting one’s ability to make decisions. Internal source of evaluation refers to paying attention to one’s own center. Rogers believed that each individual must decide one’s own standards of behavior and looks to oneself for the decisions and choices to live by. A willingness to continue to grow takes risks. This might be demonstrated by daring to change careers, go back to school, or do things that one has always wanted to do, but had been held back from by personally imposed regulations.
Therapy revolves around the relationship between the therapist and client. Rogers gave to psychology and the world of psychotherapy three necessary therapeutic factors—congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy.
Congruence is genuineness on the part of the therapist. If therapeutic change is to occur, the therapist first must be congruent (i.e., genuine or real). Second, the therapist must provide the client with unconditional positive regard. In other words, no matter what the client has done, the therapist must not judge the client, but accept the client as a worthwhile human being. Third, the therapist must respond with empathy, or attempt to understand the individual from the other person’s point of view.
Time has shown that congruence, unconditional positive regard, and empathy are probably not sufficient to bring about therapeutic change, but they are very important in the process of developing a relationship with the client, which in turn may give the therapist power or credibility to work with the client.
One concept put forth by Carl Rogers that I believe is helpful to clients is his concept of “anxiety.” He defined anxiety as the difference between the Ideal Self and the Self. The Self is described as “who you know you are” and the Ideal Self is “the Self you want to present to the world.” The greater the distance between the Self and the Ideal Self the greater the level of anxiety. To reduce the anxiety, you have to either lower the Ideal Self, or find a way to raise the Self.
Initially, you might find that you enjoy working with a Person-centered therapist because you will feel understood. However, with time, you might become frustrated because when you ask for advice, a true Rogerian therapist would have to refrain from giving you an answer because you would know better than the therapist what you need. Many individuals come to therapy seeking answers, not desiring to be told that you already possess the answer.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected].