Ins & Outs of Client-Centered Therapy
Updated: Dec 8, 2022
What is Client-Centered Therapy?
Client-centered therapy is also referred to as client-centered counseling, person-centered therapy, or Rogerian therapy. It was developed by Carl Rogers, a humanist psychologist, throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Rogers created client-centered therapy to counteract the impersonal, more “clinical” therapy models that were common during the time.
Client-centered therapy is a non-directive talk therapy, in which the therapist allows the client to guide the conversation rather than controlling it how they deem clinically appropriate. Rogers believed that clients are the experts on their lives and situations and that they are equal partners in the therapeutic process. He was confident that people are born with an innate self-actualizing tendency, and that by allowing them to lead the therapeutic process, they would pull from their own strength to fulfill their desired change(s).
Client versus Patient
Rogers intentionally used the word client, rather than patient, as he believed that the term patient suggested that the person was seeking a cure from their therapist. Utilizing this term, he highlighted clients’ inherent strengths, resilience, ability to heal from their difficult experiences, and control their journey. Therapists who use client-centered therapy view the client as an equal, active partner in the therapeutic process.
Techniques of Client-Centered Therapy
To create comfortable, non-judgemental, and empathetic environments in which their clients are able to heal and change, therapists rely on three techniques: unconditional positive regard, genuineness, and empathetic understanding.
Unconditional positive regard is critical to the therapeutic process. In unconditional positive regard, the therapist fully and non-judgmentally accepts the client for who they are while offering care and support.
In genuineness, the therapist is comfortable with sharing some of their own feelings with the client. This influences a healthy, open relationship while modeling vulnerability and effective communication.
Through empathetic understanding, the therapist extends empathy to increase the therapeutic relationship and will seek to act as a mirror for the client’s thoughts and feelings. Reflecting the client's thoughts and feelings back to them enables them to feel understood and heard, offer clarification, and grow in self-awareness. Reflection also allows the therapist to maintain sensitivity and awareness of the client’s experiences and worldview.
Benefits of Client-Centered Therapy: How it Helps
Client-centered therapy improves self-awareness, self-actualization, and self-concept. Self-concept is vital to understanding how a person perceives themselves and how they view and interact with the world. It may be beneficial to those experiencing anxiety, psychosis, dementia, depression, mood disorders, and negative thoughts correlated to post-traumatic stress disorder. Utilizing genuineness and congruence results in better therapeutic outcomes. Unconditional positive regard and empathic understanding are effective at improving well-being and positive outcomes among individuals with mood and/or anxiety disorders.
What to Expect in a Session
In client-centered therapy, the client does the majority of the talking. The therapist will not be proactive in directing how the conversation plays out but will use reflection and empathy in a non-judgemental manner to restate what the client has discussed. This is beneficial in offering the client opportunities to process, clarify, and/or change what they have expressed regarding their thoughts and feelings. There may be moments of silence throughout the sessions - these moments provide the client with time to process what they have shared and facilitate self-awareness, self-discovery, and self-acceptance. Through doing so, it cultivates an environment of healing and growth.
For client-centered therapy to be effective, the client needs to be able to vulnerably share experiences and concerns without the guided direction of the therapist. As the client, you get to decide what and how is discussed during the session. It should be noted that some clients may not be comfortable having so much autonomy and control over their sessions, which is perfectly acceptable and understandable. Clients who are not comfortable with this approach may find it more beneficial to see a therapist who uses approaches that are more directive, such as dialectical behavioral therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, cognitive processing therapy, or eye movement desensitization and processing (EMDR).
Cherry, K. (2022). What is Client-Centered Therapy? verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/client-centered-therapy-2795999
Client Centered Therapy. (2022). Client Centered Therapy. CMHA. https://cmhastarttalking.ca/addiction-services-information/client-centered-therapy/
Person-Centered Therapy. (2022). Person-Centered Therapy. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/therapy-types/person-centered-therapy