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Back To Blog > Carl Roger's Core Conditions for Therapy


This post is by associate Triage Practitioner, and guest blogger, Matthew Savage 

Whilst there are many different types of therapy, from CBT, to Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) to Person-centred counselling, many people are unsure of how a therapy session may be structured or what to expect from their therapist. Because of this, it is interesting to consider how therapies are structured and what are the core principles that many therapeutic approaches are based on. With humanism and person-centred approaches extremely popular today, we can examine the core conditions on which a therapist’s approach may be based on when using these techniques. Carl Rogers, an extremely influential American Psychologist, is often cited as one of the most influential psychological thinkers of the 20th century and a key influence on many core principles that therapists use today.

Who was Carl Rogers?

Carl Rogers was born in 1902 and is known as a founding member of the humanistic approach (Cherry, 2020). He is well known as the psychologist who introduced Person-centred therapy, with his early ideas developing through his work and observation of children and their families. Rogers believed that all individuals have the capacity for self-growth and his understanding of personality and relationships influenced diverse domains, for instance counselling and psychotherapy, education (student-centred learning), and patient care. He was honoured by the American Psychological Association with the Award for Distinguished Scientific Contribution in 1956 and was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987.

So What is Person-Centred Therapy?

Person centred therapy is a humanistic approach to therapy and it is based on three key concepts or “conditions”. Rogers believed that all humans are born with the capacity to grow, something he coined as self-actualization. This is the process of realising one’s full potential and is a central part of the person-centered approach. During sessions, a client is encouraged to explore and understand their own feelings, thoughts and behaviours and is supported to find the best version of him or herself. Rogers believed that a client (as he did not like to use the term patient) and their perception of the world is the most important factor during the therapeutic process (BACP, 2022). A genuine and understanding therapist provides an environment that supports self-exploration and self-growth and the client is seen as an expert of him or herself. The therapist plays the role of a co-worker with the aim to increase a client’s self-acceptance and simultaneously decrease their level of incongruence.

Core Conditions for Person-Centred Therapy?

In 1980 Carl Rogers called his principled approach of using his core conditions a ‘way of being’.  He believed that these conditions should be used as values, human qualities and attitudes in life and not just as a set of techniques or tools for a therapist. He believed all individuals have the core conditions within them, and one does not have to put them on or act them out. Individuals express these values as a natural part of themselves because they are held at the core of all human essence. These core conditions were defined as; unconditional positive regard, empathy and congruence.

Empathy - Rogers defined empathy as trying to see the world of another person from their point of view and the ability to feel and sense another person’s world so accurately and sensitively that you can translate that experience back to that person. Empathy is further defined as being able to do this without getting the other person’s feelings muddled up with your own. Rogers further describes empathy as the ability to sense the client’s world as if it were your own, without losing the ‘as ifquality. We can never experience the same things as others as, even if we have a similar experience, our feelings will not be exactly the same.

Congruence - According to Rogers, a therapist should be truly themselves throughout the whole therapeutic process and should be fully genuine in what he or she says and does. Due to the deep involvement of the therapist, it is crucial to gain a client’s trust and a therapist may use their own experiences to improve the therapeutic interaction. Transparency of feelings and emotional reactions are also an essential behaviour a therapist should exhibit. Rogers noted that: “It has been found that personal change is facilitated when the psychotherapist is what he is, when in the relationship with his client he is genuine and without “front” or facade, openly being the feelings and attitudes which are at the moment flowing in him” (Rogers, 1961).

Unconditional positive regard – Rogers defined this as allowing a client to be free from the threat of external evaluation and judgements, things which take place constantly throughout our daily lives. Therapists should show non-judgemental warmth and acceptance towards their clients, totally accepting the person who they are trying to help as a worthwhile human being. Rogers believed you don’t have to approve of a client’s behaviour, but you should still see them as a human being of equal value at all times.

How do these core conditions support a client during therapy?

These core conditions can support a client in a number of positive ways. Firstly, a client can manage the information that is disclosed and discussed in a safe environment which is created by the therapist. Within this environment, the client is fully respected and does not have to be worried about being judged. It is an environment full of trust, which strongly supports a client’s self-exploration and self-growth. There is a strong co-operation between the therapist and client, in which the client is perceived as an expert. The language that is used during therapy may have a strong impact on the way client sees himself (using client not patient as an example) and so a supportive relationship, independent of other factors, may potentially improve a client’s self-esteem.

Limitations of this Approach

As with all things, there is no “one size fits all” approach to therapy or how a therapy session should be structure. For this approach to work during therapy sessions, all three of the core conditions have to be provided and received by the person being helped in order for any helpful changes to be made. It may not be the best approach for individuals who are very shy and who are not able to openly discuss their problems. Being the center of attention may be very distressing for such individuals and an unstructured session may cause anxiety and distress for a client. Because of these limitations, it is important to understand that Rogers and the humanistic, person-centered approach is just one approach a therapist may take when treating clients. That is why psychological therapies are so diverse, with different approaches used to treat individuals with the same mental health difficulties. What is clear however is that all therapists must treat their clients with the respect and dignity they deserve. This approach also raises some interesting questions for everyday life. Is it possible to be fully genuine and at the same time provide an unconditional positive regard in each encountered situation? Can we fully preclude our own opinions and biases? Is it possible to fully comprehend emotions and experiences of others?

 

About Matt Savage

Matthew Savage is an associate triage practitioner and neurological personal trainer. He has two masters degrees, one in psychology, another in clinical neuroscience at the distinction level and is also a Level 3 Personal trainer. Matthew combines his knowledge and interest in neuroscience, cognitive and physical rehabilitation and general wellbeing to provide positive physical and mental support to his clients.

References 

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (2022). What is person-centred counselling? Available online at: https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/types-of-therapy/person-centred-counselling/

Cherry, K. (2020). Carl Rogers Psychologist Biography. Verywellmind. Available online at: https://www.verywellmind.com/carl-rogers-biography-1902-1987-2795542

Rogers, C. R. (1995). On becoming a person (2nd ed.). Houghton Mifflin

Carl Rogers

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