Research Integration: Person-Centered Therapy 

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Updated: Mar 18, 2023
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After learning about and reflecting on all of the counseling theories this semester, I believe that person-centered counseling fits my beliefs and worldview. Person-centered counseling is housed within the third force and is considered a humanistic therapy (Neukrug, 2011). All of the theories that I found myself connecting to were in this force, having a real focus on the individual and exploring their worldview and truth, and I found that I connected with person-centered the most. In this paper, I will be discussing many different aspects of person-centered theory and therapy and describing how it does (or does not, in some cases) fit my own beliefs, values, and overall worldview.

Founder of Person-Centered Counseling

The founder of person-centered therapy was Carl Rogers (Neukrug, 2011). According to Neukrug (2011), in pages summarizing Rogers’ life, he grew up in a strict yet tightly-knit home with his parents and six siblings. He developed independence and self-discipline because of the strict nature of his parents, and he performed very well throughout his schooling. He went to the University of Wisconsin to get his undergraduate degree in history, even though he began studying agriculture and actually switched to religion at one point, which led him to explore many of his beliefs and values. He entered the ministry but left to pursue a master’s and then a doctoral degree in psychology at Columbia University (Neukrug, 2011).

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After completing his doctorate, he became a child psychologist at the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, and he served as the director of the Child Study Department. Also, at this time, he began studying Otto Rank’s existential-humanistic framework. He became a full professor at Ohio State University and later took a position at the University of Chicago, where he opened a counseling center. Also, during this time, he served as the president of the American Psychological Association. He later took a position at the University of Wisconsin and then a research position in La Jolla, California. Rogers was also a prolific writer and received many awards and recognitions throughout his life, including the Nobel Peace Prize (Neukrug, 2011).

In terms of Rogers’ personal life, he married Helen Elliott shortly after his time as an undergraduate. They had two children: a son, who eventually became a medical doctor, and a daughter, Natalie, who followed in her father’s footsteps. She became well-known for using expressive arts therapy (Neukrug, 2011).

Philosophical Influences and Stance

Rogers was influenced by many others before him when creating his theory (Neukrug, 2011). One was Abraham Maslow and his concept of self-actualization (Neukrug, 2011). Another was Otto Rank, who emphasized the importance of an orientation to the present, had a strong belief in the power of the clients to change, and placed emphasis on the therapeutic relationship (Neukrug, 2011). John Dewey stressed reflection and experience while learning (Neukrug, 2011). Soren Kierkegaard had an influence also; he believed that subjectivity has an effect on people’s choices (Neukrug, 2011).

Before reading and learning about these other influencers, I did not know much about them. I was, of course, familiar with the work of Abraham Maslow and have always loved his concept of the hierarchy of needs. It makes sense to me that Rogers was influenced by Maslow because many of the concepts of person-centered therapy seem very connected to Maslow’s ideas. I find this true for the others as well, I just was not as familiar with them and their ideas before learning about them recently.
Free Will Versus Determinism

Person-centered therapy is considered anti-deterministic (Neukrug, 2011). Rogers (1961) discusses the “dilemma” of free will and determinism. Basically, a person who is fully functioning or in the optimum of therapy experiences free will. His or her choices will be more effectively implemented in his or her behavior. On the other hand, someone who is not fully functioning or who is experiencing incongruence cannot always function in the situations or manners that he or she chooses. The incongruences will be in the way and will prohibit or distort what is wanted in some way or another; it will not be completely satisfying for the individual or really be what he or she wanted. The congruent or fully functioning person experiences and utilizes what he or she voluntarily chooses (Rogers, 1961).

I personally believe that we, as humans, have free will, at least to some extent. I think that this is especially true when we are congruent with ourselves and are able to trust ourselves to make decisions and follow what we wish to do. I also can also agree that those incongruent with themselves will not be able to make free choices because of those incongruences holding them back. Also, those who are incongruent with themselves may not know what they actually want, making it difficult to say free will is present for those individuals.

Holistic Versus Atomistic View of Humans

This theory holds a holistic view of humans. Rogers (1951) discusses how individuals react as an “organized whole” to their own phenomenal field. He believed that one of the most basic characteristics of life is the tendency toward “total, organized, goal-directed responses” (Rogers, 1951, p. 487). He believed that this is true for both biological and psychological responses.
Before this class, I was not sure I had ever thought about this aspect of human life. With that being said, I guess it is kind of difficult to automatically say that I believe exactly what Rogers did, and I think that I do, though. As I mentioned, I felt rather connected to all of the theories in the third force, including Gestalt therapy, which is exactly what this view reminds me of. I think that we, as humans, tend to react and live as whole people.

Phenomenological Versus Objective Reality

According to Rogers (1951), people react to the world as they experience and perceive it, and their perceptual field is their reality. There is no absolute reality, only people’s perception of it. Individuals’ realities are based on what they experience, even things that they are not necessarily conscious of. Rogers (1980) discusses how we all have different realities, and this is how we should think about life. He said, “It appears to me that the way of the future must be to base our lives and our education on the assumption that there are as many realities as there are persons…” (Rogers, 1980, p. 104-105).

I think that this raises some interesting questions when it comes to science and “factual” information. Would those things be considered “reality”? Either way, I believe that, when it comes to living and life experience as a whole, individual perception absolutely does matter more than an “objective reality” ever could. Especially in a therapeutic situation, I think that what matters is the client’s experience and their perceptions, not what I, or anyone for that matter, would consider “objective reality.”

Personality Development

Major Developmental, Personality, and Learning Constructs

There are several constructs or ideas that need to be understood in order to better conceptualize this theory. First is the actualizing tendency. This is what Rogers (1951) believed to be the thing in all individuals that motivates them to reach their full potential. We are born with these tendencies. We also have a need for positive regard, which is a need to feel loved, supported, and appreciated by those around us and who are important to us (Rogers, 1951). We experience conditions of worth, though, which is when those around us place expectations on us and threaten to withdraw love or care if we do not respond appropriately (Neukrug, 2011). Similarly, non genuineness occurs when conditions of worth are placed on an individual, and this is when the person becomes incongruent with whom they want to be and who they really are (Rogers, 1951). The organismic valuing process is the tendency for the individual to be pulled toward those who positively value them and away from those who place conditions of worth on them (Neukrug, 2011). A fully functioning person is when an individual who is congruent and experiences his or her feelings fully and completely so that he or she is those feelings; and with that, behaviors and other experiences change as well (Rogers, 1951).

Since they are so central to this theory, it is important to discuss and even define the three core conditions. Genuineness, or congruence, is that the feelings of the therapist are known by him or her, he or she is aware of them, and he or she is able to live these feelings, be these feelings, and communicate them (Rogers, 1961). Empathy is when the counselor attempts to have a deep understanding of the client; he or she perceives the “hates, hopes, and fears” of the client (Rogers, 1951). Unconditional positive regard is a warm, positive, and acceptant attitude toward the client; it is letting the client be and caring for the client no matter what (Rogers, 1961).

Nature of Humans

From this perspective, humans are born basically good (Neukrug, 2011). We are growth-oriented and forward-moving, and are born with actualizing tendencies, discussed earlier (Rogers, 1951). We move in the direction of greater self-responsibility or independence. We are also concerned with existential choice and have a desire for close relationships and socialization (Rogers, 1951). We also already have an organismic valuing process in tact (Neukrug, 2011).

I like and agree with this view of the nature of humans. Even though it can be difficult to believe it all the time, I have always thought that people are basically good. I do not think anyone is born evil. I also think that we are forward-moving and have a tendency to strive to be our best selves, but sometimes things get in the way of that. So in this sense, my thoughts and beliefs, again, align with this theory.

Role of Environment

As discussed earlier, we respond to the environment as we perceive it; there is no objective or “real” reality (Rogers, 1951). As we interact with the environment, we develop a sense of “I”; a part of an individual’s perceptual field, or private world, becomes the “self” (Rogers, 1951). Values attached to experiences, even values projected onto us from others, become a part of who we are. Also, these experiences are either integrated, ignored, or denied (Rogers, 1951). We also experience conditions of worth being placed on us by others, which can and will likely result in incongruence with the self (Neukrug, 2011).

Even though I do think that nature plays a bit of a role in the whole nature versus nurture debate, I think that the environment really makes us who we are. It is our experiences and our perceptions of those experiences that shape us and what becomes our own world. I found Roger’s belief that we either integrate, ignore, or deny experiences to be interesting, and I also found this to be true, at least in my experience.

Nature of Maladjustment

Maladjustment or distress occurs when there is a discrepancy between the real and ideal experience of the individual (Rogers, 1951). The individual tries to satisfy needs that are not consciously being admitted and reacts to experiences that are being denied. Tension can then exist if the individual is aware of the discrepancy, and anxiety can occur because he or she feels inconsistent or unintegrated (Rogers, 1951). Oftentimes, it seems as though the environmental difficulties being faced are the causes of distress, but really, it is often deeper than that and has to do with the inconsistencies or discrepancies of the individual (Rogers, 1951).

I think that incongruency of the self could definitely cause maladjustment and stress within an individual. Not truly understanding yourself and being true to yourself can be a very dangerous thing, in my opinion. I do think, though, that there might be some other causes of maladjustment. For example, I do not think that people with schizophrenia are distressed just because they are incongruent. I think that it can have some biological roots as well. Maybe these ideas are more integrated than I currently understand; I will have to do some more looking into this as I progress in and work on my understanding of this theory.


People have, within themselves, resources for understanding the self and for changing self-concepts, attitudes, and self-directed behavior. These resources can be found and used by individuals if the correct climate is present (Rogers, 1980). Neukrug (2011) discusses the six “necessary and sufficient conditions” that Rogers believed would lead to personality change in therapy. They are as follows: two people are in psychological contact; the client is in a state of incongruence, being anxious and/or vulnerable; the counselor is congruent and integrated in the relationship; the counselor expresses unconditional positive regard toward the client; the therapist expresses empathic understanding to the client’s internal frame of reference, and the counselor communicates this to the client; and this communication of unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding is achieved.

According to Rogers (1951), when a client comes in for therapy, he or she looks at him or herself critically, feeling worthless, and judging him or herself largely based on what others expect or want. The ideal self is far off from the present self, and he or she also feels negative about him or herself. As therapy progresses, it is common that he or she continues to feel this way, maybe even worse at times. This is because he or she will often find feelings or attitudes that are contradictory toward what is to believe to be him or herself. As the client sees this and explores this, he or she starts to become more realistic in the perception of self, and he or she will become more able to accept him or herself “as is” (Rogers, 1951).

As he or she begins having more concern about feelings and attitudes, they will be able to be looked at objectively, and they will not serve as a basis for “emotional self-condemnation” or approval of the self (Rogers, 1951). This process is not easy, and it is likely that the client will, at times, feel hopeless and worthless. As change begins to occur, the client develops less fear of his or her own attitudes and of how other people are judging him or her and focuses more on his or her own values. Over time, this results in a more unified or congruent person (Rogers, 1951).

I believe that many times, people do struggle with whom they want to be versus who they really are, and it may not always be very obvious to this person. Being in therapy with the core conditions present could definitely lead to change, in my opinion. It is interesting that being in therapy could actually make negative feelings and perceptions of self worse before they get better, and it makes sense, especially if the individual was not aware of the incongruency. To me, being able to look at yourself openly and honestly and admit that change needs to occur is important and essential, really, in order to become a more unified and congruent person.

Role and Activity of the Counselor

The counselor’s role is to “perceive as sensitively and accurately as possible all of the perceptual fields as it is being experienced by the client…to the full degree that the client is willing to communicate that perceptual field” (Rogers, 1951, p. 34). The counselor puts him or herself aside and enters the world of the client as much as they are able to.

Relationship with the Client

According to Rogers (1961), the counselor-client relationship should be egalitarian and non-directive. The counselor should provide the three core conditions, genuineness, empathy, and unconditional positive regard, to the client, and then the client will use this relationship to begin to create change in him or herself. Rogers (1961) characterized the relationship with transparency on his part, acceptance of the client, and empathic understanding of the client. When these three things are achieved, he becomes a “companion” to his clients.

I absolutely love this frame for relationships with clients. I have always viewed counselors as helpers and as equals, not as superiors or in authority. I also think that, since it is the client coming in to therapy to better his or her life, he or she should be the one to lead it, like Rogers suggests. I hope that, wherever I end up in my career, I can portray this relationship with my clients.

Major Techniques Used

This kind of therapy is more rooted in feeling and attitude than technique (Neukrug, 2011). Really, the major “techniques” go back to the three core conditions that the counselor provides to the client: genuineness, empathy, and unconditional positive regard (Rogers, 1961). There are several other important techniques or skills that go along with this as well. One is listening and/or “receiving” the client where he or she is (Rogers, 1961, p. 130). Rogers talks about “receiving the client” often. Basically, it is meeting the client where he or she is and just being with them (Rogers, 1961). Others include the reflection on feeling, the reflection of content, immediacy, and confrontation (Neukrug, 2011).

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