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The Key Concepts and the Principles of the Person Centred Approach

The person-centred approach developed by Carl Rogers In the 1930s is a humanistic and non-directive approach to counselling. Its non-directive stance disassociates itself from other approaches such as Freud’s Psychoanalysis as it aims to place most of the responsibility for the client’s enhanced state of well-being on the client. The counsellor facilitates this process, however, takes more of a detached role, which leaves the client free to explore their own feelings. The Person-centred approach aims to enhance self-awareness, improve the client’s self-esteem and explore and analyze the client’s emotions. It aims to do this while decreasing the discomfort of the client actually experiencing the emotions they are facing.

In this essay, I will be exploring the key concepts and key conditions of the Person-Centred approach and attempt to show the role of each concept in terms of the Person-centred approach and how they are applied to the counselling setting. According to Rogers, the three main abilities a counsellor must have who is working with the Person-centred approach is Congruence, Unconditional Positive Regard, and Empathy. Congruence, or the ability for the counsellor to convey ‘genuineness’ or to be ‘transparent’ with the client, is argued to be an important factor in the client’s growth. Rogers states, that at first the client may be in a “state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious” (Rogers 1959:213) Thus, by the counsellor being congruent towards the client, the client may respond to being congruent back to the counsellor. By the counsellor’s congruent and genuine behalf, they are then providing conditions for the client’s growth.

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The likelihood of the client’s enhancement of personal growth increases, as the client, realizes not to look for answers or suggestions from the counsellor, but from themselves. Congruence is important for the therapeutic relationship as it strips away the “mystery” of the counsellor. Through mystery, it can be argued that the counsellor evokes more of a superior role towards the client, a role that isn’t in tune with the person-centred approach. The idea of superiority can be expressed further; If the counsellor portrays are more authoritative role, the client may become withdrawn, or hold a defence whilst communicating with the counsellor. For example, a child getting into trouble and only telling their teacher half of what they did, or what happened because of fear of being punished. Fear of judgement or even feeling a lack of trust in that particular relationship.

However, it is not to presume that an authoritative seeming counsellor cannot form a trusting bond with a client. In the study of Hofling et al (1966) “obedient nurses”, nurses were willing to obey and trust an unknown doctor and administrate an unknown drug, just because of the doctor’s perceived authoritative role. The person-centred theory, however, attempts to adopt an egalitarian approach, in which case the counsellor develops and earns trust from the client, rather than demands it from the client. Another importance of the counsellor’s congruent role and transparency is that it provides an environment where the client can experience self-acceptance. If the counsellor is transparent enough and can be open about their weaknesses, not only does it dissolve the mystery and authoritative stance the counsellor may seem to adopt. But it also allows the client to experience that it is acceptable to not be the best in everything or to admit to their weaknesses.

This can be described as a role model type of scenario. This is not necessarily what the Person-Centred Approach aims to achieve, but nonetheless, it is likely to occur, an extremely beneficial tool to have in the counselling setting. If the counsellor is congruent, then the client will be able to express freely their thoughts and feelings to the counsellor. Or become congruent themselves, rather than hiding them. This only enhances the therapeutic relationship further and eases the client’s progression to growth. If however, the counsellor is incongruent, then it can be argued that the client’s willingness to disclose their thoughts and feelings is hindered. If the client is unwilling to disclose their thoughts and feelings, the therapeutic relationship is weakened, and not as strong as that of a relationship of a congruent counsellor and their client. The incongruent client has no way of facilitating the client’s enhancement of themselves.

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Certain feelings which may be of significance can become unnoticed. In my opinion, the likelihood of the client being able to accept themselves or even bettering themselves is weaker than that of a congruent counsellor. In order for the counsellor to be congruent, the counsellor has to consistently be aware of their inner feelings. The difficulties in ebbing congruent arise when the counsellor discloses too much of their feelings in the counselling setting. If the counsellor does this during a counselling session it could be argued that the session would become more focused on the counsellor rather than the client. A role reversal of the Person-Centred approach aims to do. It should be noted that the counsellor should not disclose personal elements of their life, nor disclose feelings irrelevant to the client’s concerns. In saying this there seems to be a fine line on what is deemed acceptable in terms of being transparent and congruent in the counselling setting. Therefore it is harder for a counsellor to achieve apt congruence for the relationship.

The counsellor is then more likely to achieve incongruence rather than congruence. The counsellor’s incongruence may be seen has to have a damaging affect on the therapeutic relationship, particularly when dealing with vulnerable clients. The next ability the counsellor is expected to convey is empathy. Empathic ideologies have been thought of before the Person-Centred approach. It was a term first thought of by the Philosopher Theodore Lips. Romanticists such as Herder and Novais adapted this way of thinking and viewed it as being vital and just as important as the ideologies of scientists breaking down human nature into its core components. The use of empathy is highly valued in other Psychological approaches; attempts were made to relate to one another. In terms of the Person-Centred Approach, Rogers claims that empathic understanding is one of the abilities the counsellor must have.

Rogers described this process as a way of “laying aside our own views and values in order to enter another person’s world without prejudice” (Rogers 43). Conveying empathy is beneficial to the therapeutic relationship as it’s seemed like an attempt to perceive the world from the client’s point of view, in which the clients view seems to have value, through this the client may feel they are accepted The vulnerable client or the client who views themselves of having little self-worth would benefit from an empathic counsellor. The client may think that an empathic counsellor has taken the time to want to understand the client, thus boost the client’s perception of self-worth. Through paraphrasing and asking tentative questions, the counsellor conveys their empathic nature accurately to the client. It also poses questions to the clients, enabling them to develop further their thoughts and feelings.

The client’s willingness to be understood by the counsellor, therefore, provides an environment where the client could delve deeper into the hidden feelings and explore their current situations. If the empathic relationship is lost, then the counsellor does not fully understand the client’s frame of reference, but rather from the experiences they have faced themselves. The disadvantages of this empathic response however could be that the client becomes aware of the paraphrasing and bored of this method. The final ability important to the person-centred approach is unconditional positive regard. To achieve unconditional positive regard, the counsellor must be respectful of the client and non-judgmental. Unconditional positive regard is important for the therapeutic relationship, as it helps demolish as Rogers describes, the client’s condition of worth.

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Conditions of worth are the idea that our worth, is based on our compliance with ‘normal’ behaviours. Our worth depends on whether or not one displays the ‘right’ attitudes or shows that we are worthy. For example, a child gets a present for doing well in an exam; the condition for the child receiving the present is then only if the child does well in an exam. Society gives us what is needed depending on if we show that we are worthy. The conditions of worth can be said to allow ‘us to adapt to situations that define us but can restrict that definition from a part of the self’. These conditions of worth may have a hindrance on the client’s wellbeing. The client could internalize the values and beliefs of others, which could prove to be detrimental, i.e., the boy who is told constantly by his parents that boy’s do not cry may believe that expressing that kind of emotion is wrong, or feel weak because of doing so when it is perfectly acceptable to be upset.

Conditions of worth seem to hinder the self-actualization tendency and the organismic valuing processes. The Actualization tendency is the idea humans as an organism have the innate sense of bettering themselves. This innate need to better oneself is indestructible unless the death of the organism. This concept is the driving force of the person-centred approach, for, without it, the counsellor could not depend on the client to enhance eventually themselves through the therapeutic relationship. The self-actualizing tendency is related to the ‘self’, “the organized set of characteristics the individual perceives as peculiar to himself/herself” (Ryckman, 1993, p.106), the self-concept is based on social experiences. The self-actualizing tendency, therefore, presumes that every human has a ‘true ‘ self, which is motivated and constantly tries to enhance itself. Through the conditions of worth set upon us by society, humans develop a ‘false’ self for survival.

This false self could be a negative way of thinking that conflicts with the self-actualizing tendency. Human’s desire for acceptance seems to be strong, once we are not accepted as our “true” self we feel hurt by this and merge into our “false” self. The conditions of worth hinder the organismic valuing process, a process in which our experiences are symbolized accurately. This means that the organismic valuing process has a direct link with the self-actualization tendency, as our ‘true’ self would be motivated and constantly strive to enhance itself. Theoretically, if an individual received only unconditional positive regard, and lived in a society, where only unconditional positive regard exists without the existence of worth based on conditions. The individual would develop fully functioning, the ideal human condition. There would be an equal link between ‘self’ and experience, the organismic valuating process would be instant, and not hindered by the conditions of worth.

The “Fully functioning person” would be open to experience and ability to live existentially trusting their own organism. This means they would feel free to express themselves and their feelings freely, acting independently free from conditions of worth. (Rogers, 1961). Thus by providing unconditional positive regard towards the client, it can be argued that it restores the Organismic Valuing process.“In separating the conditions of worth, unconditional positive regard breaks into the client’s self-defeating cycle” The effectiveness of Unconditional positive regard in the counselling setting can be shown. In ‘The case of Mary Jane Tilden’ after receiving unconditional positive regard from Rogers, she realized her hindrances, her mother’s overprotective attitude made her ‘more reliant on her’. Mary Jane Tilden felt compelled to live up to her families’ expectations, to receive praise for acceptance from her family. “We know that we feel guilty because we have failed to satisfy the standards imposed by others whose approval we crave”.

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The very fact that humans have a necessity to receive positive regard is extremely crucial as to why unconditional positive regard is important to the therapeutic process. In terms of ‘Mary Jane Tilden’, her desire to meet her families’ expectations and the feeling of guilt about not doing so, resulted in negative feelings towards herself. These were her conditions of worth. The fact that Rogers maintains unconditional positive regard with her, leaves her to feel less criticized. This is important for all client counsellor relationships, as it leaves the client free to express feelings without having to meet any standards of behaviour to earn positive regard from the counsellor. This also can be shown in the case of Mary Jane Tilden after she doesn’t turn up to a session. The letter Rogers writes to her is completely non-directive, the language used is non-judgemental, it leaves her to feel free to make a choice without being thought of differently whether or not to return. By doing so she was able to take responsibility for herself and trust her ‘organismic valuing processes

Thus providing unconditional regard with clients, you are enabling the client to accept their thoughts and feelings, or explore them without feeling judged. The therapist is then providing an apt environment or circumstance for the client to experience personal growth. The client can then become aware of their experiences which had come to affect their ideologies of self-worth. The client is “More likely to face himself honestly without the fear of rejection or condemnation” The difficulties of Unconditional Positive Regard are that the counsellor must withdraw themselves from any personal judgment and accept the client in spite of any decisions, past or previous actions they have made. Despite what the client may have done, the counsellor must remain unbiased in their opinion of the client, or not portray their biases during the counselling session. This is difficult, as perceptions and judgements are made during a very short amount of time, it may be difficult for the counsellor to overcome this natural reaction.

The counsellor would have to undergo specific training to able to provide unconditional positive regard for the client. Without the counsellor fully providing Unconditional positive regard for the client, the development of the client could be possibly be hindered. Another difficulty in portraying Unconditional positive regard during the counselling setting is the client’s reaction to receiving this regard. The client may not have had a previous experience of unconditional positive regard or even conditional positive regard. The client may reject this positive regard, or not understand the positive regard. The counsellor would have to then work on how they would express unconditional positive regard to the client, in which case the process for unconditional positive regard helping the client may be extensive.

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The Key Concepts and the Principles of the Person Centred Approach. (2021, May 30). Retrieved September 30, 2022, from