Carl Rogers is the founder of Person-centered theory that was developed in the 1940s. The central idea of the Rogerian approach is that if the practitioner is empathetic and accepts the clients with absolute positive regards, the outcome can be positive. Even today this theory is widely accepted and is said to assist in the treatment process and progress. The theory has become one of the most accepted theories of counseling and therapy ever since its origin in the 1940s (Greene, 2000). Psychological problems have been a major area of research.
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Today there are several theories and therapies that are developed to aid the treatment of people with psychological problems. However, there are only a few who have worked on aspects such as how to deal with patients. The person-centered theory is also called client-centered, student-centered, and even non-directive theory based on its application. This paper intends to discuss the origin, importance, assumptions, and relevance particularly in the field of social work. Additionally, major assumptions of Person-centered therapy, the goals of treatment, the role and attributes of the therapist, and the contributions and limitations of Person-centered therapy are discussed in detail.
Historical Origins of the Theory
Carl Rogers while working for his doctoral work, engaged in child study. He developed a deep interest in this subject and wanted to spend his expertise in this field. Due to his deep interest, he worked with various organizations dealing with children and in 1939, Rogers wrote: “The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child” which was based on his experience in working with troubled children. In 1942 while he was a professor of clinical psychology at Ohio State University, he wrote his second book, “Counseling and Psychotherapy”. This was the book in which he brought out his thoughts that the client, by establishing an understanding relationship with an accepting therapist, will be able to concur with the difficulties. Additionally, they will also be able to gain the confidence and insight needed to streamline their life.
In 1945, Rogers was invited to set up a counseling center at the University of Chicago which gave him an opportunity to put into practice all his thoughts. He conducted studies to determine the effectiveness of his methods. The results of this research and the theories he formulated were put together in his publications called “Client-Centered Therapy” (1951) and “Psychotherapy and Personality Change” (1954). In fact, all these studies and the experiences he had in the counseling center resulted in the origin of the Person-centered theory. It was in the year 1956 Rogers was appointed as the first President of the American Academy of Psychotherapists (Hjelle and Ziegler, 1981). His best book entitled On Becoming a Person was published in 1961 while he was a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Major tenets of the theory
It has two broad postulations of the Client-Centered Therapy is as follows:
- “Formative Tendency – This tendency claims that each and every matter that includes both organic and inorganic matter is formed or evolved from simpler forms to more complex forms.
- Actualizing Tendency – According to this there is a tendency in every organism including human beings to move toward completion or fulfillment of potentials, or in other words, achieve wholeness”
In addition to these two main postulations, there are several other propositions (Porter, 1950). For instance, his theory postulated that each and every individual or organism which can include both plants and animals exists in an ever-changing world of experience or the phenomenal field where the organism is in the center. It is the organism that reacts to the field based on the previously gained experience and the field is a reality for the organism. It is also postulated that the organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field. Later a part of this field gradually becomes the part of the individual.
As a consequence of communication with the environment, and mainly as a consequence of assessment communication with others, the organization of the self is formed – a structured, fluid but steady theoretical pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the “I” or the “me”, together with values attached to these concepts is another postulation. Besides, the organism has one fundamental inclination and striving – to actualize, preserve and increase the experiencing organism. The theory also assumed that the good vantage point for understanding conduct is from the internal frame of the orientation of the individual. The basic conduct is in essence the objective-directed effort of the organism to suit its requirements as experienced, in the field as apparent. It is also assumed that emotion comes along, and usually helps, such objective focussed actions. Here the kind of emotion relates to the apparent consequence of the behavior that is helpful for the protection and improvement of the organism.
There are also assumptions about the values experienced by the organism. In some cases, these values are the ones that are taken over from others but are supposed in a deformed fashion, as if they had been experienced directly by the organism. There are three probabilities of this kind of experience in the life of the individual. The first possibility is that they are symbolized, perceived, and organized into some relation to the self. Secondly, these experiences may be ignored because they might not be of any relevance to the perceived relationship to the self-structure, or it can also be a denied symbolization since the experience is not in agreement with the structure of the self.
Rogers also postulated that the way in which an organism behaves are those that are steady with the concept of self. In income cases, the behavior may be a result of the organic experiences and requirements that is not apparent. It is also assumed that there are psychological adjustments that are made when the concept of the self is in such a manner that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or perhaps, assimilated on an emblematic level into a steady association with the concept of self. There are also possibilities that psychological maladjustment is present when the organism refuses the consciousness of important sensory and visceral experiences. As a result, these experiences are not symbolized and organized into the self-structure and thereby can cause a basic or potential psychological tension. In this process, it is also essential to note that any experience that is not in agreement with the organization of the structure of the self may be considered a danger. As a result, the behavior of the self-structure is dependent on this factor.
Occasionally, there are also possibilities that in the absence of danger to self-structure, experiences that are not in agreement with it may be considered and studied and thereby the structure of self learns to accept the new experiences. When the individual takes in and believes in one consistent and integrated system all his sensory and visceral experiences help him to understand others and accept others as separate individuals. These changes in one may further help the individual to perceive and accept into his self-structure many of such organic experiences. Ultimately it is possible that one may even replace his present value system – based on the experiences (Porter, 1950).
The intervention skills and techniques associated with the theory
Rogers suggests that Person-centered counselors do not need any kind of previous diagnostic reports because of the general assumption that the counselors only need to encourage a trusting, considerate, tolerant, and accepting positive atmosphere wherein the clients will on their own become aware and self-accept and as a result, growth continues. Rogers says that the counselor is not seen as assuming the expert role. However, there are some preconditions required for the treatment. For instance, Facilitative Conditions that are essential for growth calls the counselor to be genuine, be unconditionally positive regard and have empathy towards the client.
As a result of such an attitude, the clients will probably become more self-aware through counselors’ empathy that mainly focuses them on their experiences. The counselor needs to have general counseling goals and need not be focused on any particular resolution. They need to be open to all experiences, in addition, to be retreating situations of value and unquestioning their own self. Finally, they need to be going back to the step of self-actualization (umdrive.memphis.edu).
The basic requirement of a consoler using this client-centered approach is unconditional positive regard. They need to understand that in order for weak or anxious people to grow psychologically, it is essential that they meet a therapist who is harmonious and whom they recognize as providing an environment of unconditional acceptance and accurate compassion. The counselor must be harmonious which involves being aware of the basic feelings of the client, their awareness, and also their expressions. Above all, it is the unconditional positive regard that matters the most of all through the treatment. It is also important that the counselor empathically listens and accurately senses the feeling of their client and effectively communicate with them in an open way. This therapy does not claim an overnight change but promises a positive change in a stage-by-stage manner (ivcc.edu).
The empirical base and methods to evaluate client change
The basic concept of the client-centered approach or the person-centered approach is to understand that each person is unique and has the capability of self-actualization. In other words, every individual has the capability or potential to recover from any challenge provided a positive and warm atmosphere is created around him. This approach focuses on how positive growth that occurs within such an atmosphere of clinical social work relationships can be transferred to daily life (Greene, 2000). This is considered one of the most powerful theories in psychology and is a part of several other approaches and the therapeutic relationship.
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Several researchers have found that the techniques and theoretical formulations are basically meant for the therapist. However, the client is not concerned with this aspect. Therefore, this provides the therapist’s liberty to go into the person-to-person relationship with their clients by taking the suitable approach. Several researchers who have practiced this approach have claimed that even though Client-Centered Therapy probably maximizes the chances of developing an interpersonal relationship the success depends on the way the therapist holds the principles of the approach. If the therapist focuses on the relationship and the basic principles the results can be outstanding as it will be able to provide the client’s inner and outer resources in every therapeutic venture (personcentered.com).
It is also important to follow some of the cautions. For instance, an erroneous conviction that counselors are just reflecting and passively following the clients can occur when another person or a relative of the client is overviewing the therapy. In fact, counselors are dynamic associates with clients. In income cases the client or the associates may neglect the important instruction given by the counselors gives, that can be cases where a misunderstanding can occur and the model may lead to being supportive without challenge. There are also critics who have said that this approach is too positive (umdrive.memphis.edu).
Elias Porter was the first person to publish the empirical evidence of the effectiveness of the client-centered approach in 1941 at the Ohio State University. This was done by using the recordings of therapeutic sessions between Carl Rogers and his clients (Porter, 1941). Porter made use of Rogers’ transcripts to formulate a method to compute the scale of directiveness or non-directiveness used by the counselor (Kirschenbaum, 1979).
Application of Person-centered theory
Social workers, educational institutions, and various organizations have successfully applied the principles of this approach. In fact, Rogers was found that even before the publication of “Client-Centered Therapy” in 1951, he believed that the principles could be applied in a variety of contexts and not just in the therapy situation. Hence he began to use the term person-centered approach to describe this theory. As a matter of fact, person-centered therapy was only used when it came to therapy situations.
Client-Centered Therapy is been applied in various situations including but not restricted to the theory of personality, interpersonal relations, social work, education, nursing, cross-cultural relations, and other “serving” professions and situations. Another example of utilization of this approach can be seen in as early as 1970, when Richard Young, Alton Becker, and Kenneth Pike published a book entitled “Rhetoric: Discovery and Change”. This textbook was a widely influential college writing textbook that used a Rogerian approach to communication in order to adjust the usual Aristotelian framework for public speaking.
The relevance to education has a vigorous research practice comparable to that of therapy (Rogers, 1951). Rogers linked the approach to education in Client-Centered Therapy and published another publication in 1969 with the title “Freedom to Learn” dedicated completely to this subject. The recently published Learner-Centered Model is similar in many aspects to this person-centered approach to education. Additionally, the application of Client-Centered Therapy to cross-cultural relations has implicated workshops in extremely stressful circumstances and in various parts of the world as well as conflicts and challenges in South Africa, Central America, and Ireland. As a result of the significance of this, the work gained a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for Rogers (Wikipedia, 2008).
The person-centered theory has offered a discrete alternative to the behavioral and psychoanalytic theories that have been dominating the field of psychology for years. In reality, this concept came up as an issue involving the impartiality of participants in the association and has a focus on the positive approach towards life. It provides an opportunity for helping more and more individuals. It can be said that person-centered theory emphasizes the individual’s ability to move in positive directions and take life and situations in a positive approach. The view of clients as proficient, responsible, and moving ahead in life gives a good confidence. They are positively motivated through this approach and this confidence in the client directs the counselor to offer the situation for that positive change (Pearson, 1995).
In simple terms, it can be said that a counselor is only a person who guides the client to bring about specific changes. Since the clients themselves are bringing about the necessary changes, the confidence level increases. The only requirement for the counselors and therapists is to preserve a true human relationship in which they offer unconditional positive regard to their clients which portraits their faith in clients and support of the process. Person-centered counseling and psychotherapy have provided much to the field, and experts persist to stress the need for growth of the theory rather than just the use of the theory’s several positive contributions.
- Greene, R.R. (2000) Carl Rogers and the Person-Centered Approach. In: Human Behavior Theory and Social Work Practice: Second Edition, 145-161.
- Hjelle, L. A.; Ziegler, D. J. (1981). Personality Theories: Basic assumptions, research and applications (2 ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
- ivcc.edu (N.D.) Carl Rogers – Client Centered Theory.
- Kirschenbaum, H. (1979). On Becoming Carl Rogers. pp. 206-207.
- personcentered.com. Research on Psychotherapy Outcome and the Person-Centered Approach. Web.
- Pearson, (1995) Chapter 7. Person-Centered Theory. Web.
- Porter, E.H. (1950) An Introduction to Therapeutic Counseling. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
- Porter, E.H. (1941) The development and evaluation of a measure of counseling interview procedure. Ph. D. Dissertation, Ohio State University.
- Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy.
- umdrive.memphis.edu (N.D.) Person-Centered Theory: But first, why theories anyway?
- Wikipedia, (2008) Carl Rogers. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Web.