When dealing with daily life, sometimes we encounter thoughts or feelings that are more difficult than others to deal with.
Whether we’re struggling with anxiety and depression or any other mental health conditions, therapy can be a helpful tool.
Different types of therapy, however, take on different techniques and approaches for whatever is best for the client and their condition.
For some, the ideal therapeutic approach doesn’t mean consulting a professional and listening to their advice on how to work through struggles.
The therapeutic process can take on a more humanistic approach, where your therapist guides your journey of self-discovery and supports you in finding the answers you’re looking for. After all, you’re the expert on your own life.
This is what person-centered therapy is all about.
Person-centered therapy — also known as person-centered psychotherapy, client-centered therapy or Rogerian therapy — is a non-directive form of therapy.
This form of therapy allows the client to take the lead more in sessions and come to their own conclusions.
You act as an equal partner in the therapy process while your therapist remains non-directive — they don't pass judgments on your feelings or offer solutions.
It’s believed this person-centered approach can help a person reflect on their personality which provides a mirror image of their strengths and weaknesses to better adapt to life’s many challenges.
One major difference between person-centered therapists and other therapists is that those in therapy are referred to as 'clients', not 'patients' because the therapist and client are seen as equal partners rather than as an expert treating a patient.
In other types of therapy — such as cognitive-behavioral therapy — the therapist-client relationship is considered asymmetrical, as the therapist and “patient” have different roles.
Person centered therapy was developed by humanist psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1940s, who thought that psychotherapy could be warmer and more optimistic than behavioral psychology at the time.
Carl Rogers thought that clients would be better helped if they focused on their current subjective understanding rather than someone else's interpretation of the situation. He believed individuals understood themselves best — that we are the best experts on ourselves.
Rogers believed that client-centered therapy — a type of humanistic therapy — emphasized the client’s ability to make rational choices and allowed them to maximize the potential for their personal growth.
Initially referred to as non-directive therapy, person-centered therapy requires the therapist to follow the client’s lead and not direct discussion.
During client-centered therapy, a therapist listens without judgment and acknowledges the client’s experience while encouraging and supporting the client in their process of self-discovery. The client is the one who discovers what hurts and what is needed to repair it.
For person centered therapy to be effective and take on a person-centered approach, the client must have a complete awareness of themselves and the will to direct their future.
The therapist must also have respect for the client and understand they are more than their symptoms and past medical history. These traits are what make a clinician a person-centered therapist.
The self-awareness of the client and the non-direct approach from a person-centered therapist are what make this a unique therapeutic relationship compared to other types of psychotherapy.
There is almost no concrete person centered therapy techniques because of the unique nature of each client-therapist relationship based on the individual client.
Person centered therapy does, however, need to be in an environment that is conformable, non-judgmental and empathetic for the client to be successful.
In this type of environment, a client feels safe and free from judgment.
Typically, there are three client-centered therapy techniques mental health professionals employ to achieve this environment. They are:
In person centered therapy, the therapist should present a true and accessible self that the client can see is honest and transparent.
The genuineness and congruence technique involves the therapist being genuine toward their clients. The therapist is open and honest about their thoughts and feelings so their clients learn to do the same thing.
This technique also teaches the client self-awareness and knowing how thoughts and feelings affect a person’s experiences.
This technique helps the client feel safer which can help build a trusting relationship between the client and therapist.
An important part of person centered therapy is that clients feel they can confidently make better decisions and choices for their life on their own.
This comes from the therapist fostering encouragement in their clients by conveying feelings of understanding, trust and confidence so the client is more likely to feel comfortable making positive changes in their life.
The therapist is empathetic and non-judgmental as they listen to and accept what the client is saying. They always completely accept and support their client when participating in person-centered therapy.
The therapist takes all their client's feelings and emotions seriously and validates what they are feeling while also offering reassurances through active listening and positive body language.
In person-centered therapy, the therapist accepts the client as they are.
Empathy is defined as people genuinely understanding others and where they are coming from emotionally.
In person-centered therapy, the therapist uses empathetic understanding to get to know who the client is, the way their experiences shaped their life and their point of view of themselves, the world and the people in their lives.
The main goal of empathetic understanding is to ensure that the client feels completely understood in everything they say. This allows clients to gain better insights into themselves, helping them make better life decisions.
Person-centered therapy can certainly be a good choice for certain conditions.
There is some small evidence that person-centered therapy can be an effective option for the treatment of depression symptoms in adults.
A review of 31 studies on the effects of non-direct therapeutic approaches had a moderate effect on depressed adults.
As person-centered therapy is considered a more humanistic approach, this form of therapy is considered effective for people with dementia.
A review of several studies found that those suffering from dementia who received person-centered therapy showed reduced agitation, neuropsychiatric symptoms, symptoms of depression and improved quality of life.
In some individuals with anxiety and other mood disorders, client-centered therapy may be the right form of therapy to try.
An initial study on the impact of person-centered therapy on those with mood disorders showed that the client-focused approach can be beneficial when therapists take a better understanding of how their clients manage symptoms.
However, those who experience higher levels of anxiety or stress may benefit from a more direct therapeutic approach. Similarly, those with symptoms of certain personality disorders may not achieve change with this form of therapy since a person-focused therapist doesn’t diagnose a client or direct sessions.
While certain types of psychotherapy — such as cognitive therapy or exposure therapy — are the usual treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), person-centered therapy could also prove to have a positive outcome for clients.
Although research on person-centered therapy and PTSD is very limited, this type of therapy could be more effective as clients would not have to re-experience past traumatic events to heal and could be more present to openly share their thoughts and feelings.
A study on 61 adolescent participants found that a combination of client-centered therapy and exposure therapy showed a reduction in depressive thoughts as a result of PTSD.
There are several benefits of person-centered therapy techniques and ways this therapy method can help people.
Randomized controlled trials of person-centered therapy have lower drop-out rates and relapse amongst clients than other treatment approaches.
The connection between positive regard from the therapist and a positive outcome for the client is significant.
When person-centered therapists are genuine — one of the techniques used in person-centered therapy — this builds trust between the therapist and client. This trust in the therapist can help the client feel more comfortable opening up in a genuine way.
Studies have found that when clients feel like their therapist is genuine, empathetic and regards them positively — particularly the professional’s unconditional positive regard for the client — they are more likely to achieve positive outcomes.
You may want to consider person-centered therapy if you:
Have a desire for growth and change
Feel empty or lost but aren’t sure why exactly
Want to develop an improved sense of responsibility or accountability
Want and can be a better person in one or more aspects
Person-centered therapy is regarded to have a more humanistic approach than other traditional psychotherapies according to the psychologist Carl Rogers. This form of therapy focuses on empathetic understanding, acceptance, respect and personal growth.
Person centered therapy can be helpful for some. If you’re struggling with depression, a personality disorder or another mental health condition, talk to your healthcare professional for recommendations.
You can also find access to professional help from your home using our online mental health services to go through a consultation to find the best option.
Dr. Vicky Davis is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in clinical practice, leadership and education.
Dr. Davis' expertise include direct patient care and many years working in clinical research to bring evidence-based care to patients and their families.
She is also an active member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
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